By Meredith, Illustration by Emma Meyler
“And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born, then it’s time to go and define your destination. There’s so many different places to call home.” – Death Cab for Cutie, “You Are A Tourist”
“So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain, light a cigarette and wish the world away. I got out, I got out, I’m alive but I’m here to stay.” – Jake Bugg, “Two Fingers”
When is the exact moment when you become a tourist in your hometown? Is it when you go off to college? Or is it the moment you realize how much you hate your hometown? For me, it was when I went home from college for the first time over Thanksgiving break. My hometown felt like a foreign country – I didn’t belong there anymore. My town was so quiet, too quiet. I was now trapped with a craving for more and I had to adjust my behavior — tone it down — which was hard for me. It didn’t reflect how pent up I was feeling and all I could do was drive. The most extreme thing I did over break was drive to 7/11 to buy cigarettes and a Slurpee. On my way out, I saw a kid I used to go to school with. Our eyes locked, and he didn’t recognize me at first. Had I really changed that much? I got in my car and pulled out. He was in my rearview mirror when he finally realized who I was. I drove to Hilltop, filled with new apartment complexes where the old jail used to be. I spent my childhood up here roaming the woods and the abandoned jail with my brother. It felt like a different time completely. My Slurpee was already melted but I drank it anyway. It was Coke, which was my favorite when I was little but even that tasted different. “I Am A Tourist” by Death Cab was ending when it hit me. I was now a tourist in my hometown. I felt empty, like the wood laid out in front of me – once full of so much life and hope, now dark and barren of any life at all. The song faded into Jake Bugg as my thoughts faded into one another. I had done it. I spent so long dreaming of getting out of this stupid little town and I did! I got out. A cold November breeze carried the cigarette smoke and Jake Bugg’s voice out of the car and into the night. The New York City skyline was behind me. But the hills of New Jersey laid in front of me. I started crying. Which was my home? I couldn’t tell if I had changed or if my town had. But as I drove around more, I realized that I had changed. Growing up is pretty scary, but what is even scarier is losing the people you were once so close with. I drove over to my friend’s house for a reunion of sorts. In high school, I always thought that my home was with my close group of friends – that was where I really belonged. But we just spent the whole night trying to one-up each other. We had grown apart. We had changed. I looked around at my friends and it dawned on me that I had sold myself short in high school. I spent the whole weekend trying to shake the feeling of nostalgia. I had spent my whole life looking forward – hoping that the future would be better because that’s what I had been told. I put so much into getting where I am now, that I wasn’t able to enjoy my hometown and my teenage years. I gave it all up because I was too busy dreaming of tomorrow. Is what I felt nostalgia? I was nostalgic for a home that I had never really accepted as mine. I regret not making this town truly my home when I had the chance. I spent so long dreaming of getting out of my hometown because it never felt like mine. But getting out made me realize that there is so much I can have now. I should be happy that I got out and I should embrace my newfound tourist status. Being a tourist makes you realize how much you have in your own day-to-day life. The quietness of this lost home gives you a chance to escape the chaos and enjoy the world that is no longer yours. You can look at your childhood home in a new way – see it for what it really is.