If you grew up in a town that you’ve since left behind to pursue further education, find a job or travel the world, and only visit during the main holiday seasons, going back to your hometown can feel really strange. It’s been ten years since I moved away and a lot has changed in my old hometown, making me an odd mix between a tourist and a local.
You forget how much time has passed since you lived there
It seems like only yesterday that you met your friends in that park, went out for the first time in that club (which has since closed down) and had your graduation ceremony in that building. It’s weird to be able to remember so clearly what happened over ten years ago. I visit three to four times a year, so most of my memories are from the time I still lived there, which makes it hard to realize just how long you’ve lived elsewhere. Seriously, ten years? When thinking about that, you’re also hit with the unpleasant realization that you’re an adult now with adult responsibilities!
You think you know the place like the back of your hand…
Nineteen years is a long time to familiarize yourself with a place, a lot longer than it takes to become an expert! You know the best shortcuts and the prettiest parks. I used to dream of one day exploring the world, and seeing new places – I still do by the way! – but having gotten lost in at least three foreign countries, not to mention Helsinki, I’ve learned to appreciate the joy of knowing exactly how to get to a place and how long it takes to get there.
…yet sometimes you get lost
Wait, there used to be a building here, right? Nothing stays the same for too long, buildings get demolished and others built meaning that once-familiar landmarks that used to guide you are now lost and, by extension, you get lost, too. I’ve never really known the street names in my hometown, but I used to know exactly where everything was, where my favorite clothing store was located and where the oldest building in town stood. My old town has demolished a ridiculous number of buildings and built new ones in their stead during the last ten years, meaning that most of my old haunts have moved elsewhere, and all this has made me a stranger in the place that I once called home.
Anything built since you left seems forever new
I keep referring to shopping centers that were built ten years ago as new, and getting weird looks from my parents and friends. Has it really been here for that long? I have a freeze-frame of the town in my head and adding new elements to the image creates a confusing effect.
The place is full of unfamiliar faces
If you come from a small town, like myself, you know what it’s like to recognize the faces of almost everyone in your age group. Whenever you were out and about, you’d bump into people who you either knew, or knew of. I used to hate that, but I have to admit, it seems weird now going to a café or shopping and not seeing anyone you know in town. Who are all these people, and where were they when I lived here?
I think I was around eleven years old when I decided that I needed to get out of my town – preferably somewhere really, really far away. Which is what I did eventually, right after graduating high school. I’m very happy with that choice, but even so, I can’t help feeling nostalgic when visiting the place that once felt too small, too boring and too inconsequential. For one thing, it brings up a lot of memories, and takes you back to a time when life was more simple, and you didn’t have to worry about student loans, paying your rent, making sure you pass your exams and finding a summer job. Life was more boring, yes, time went by slowly, and you couldn’t wait to grow up and get new exciting experiences, but at the same time, you weren’t yet restricted by the dull realities of the adult world and felt like you could do anything and be anything. Walking around the streets that saw you grow up allows you to revisit that wonderful feeling of youthful certainty. Quite simply, in your old home town, you don’t just go for a walk, you also take a walk down memory lane.
Photo by Sam Headland on Unsplash.