I left Sayre when I was 18, and that was nearly two decades ago. It was a month after I graduated that my dad and my friend Joy helped me load the U-Haul in front of the rent house I had been living in and head two hours East to Oklahoma City. There are parts of me I left in that town. I buried them in the cold red clay and walked away. Discarded pieces of the person I used to be and no longer wished to remember.
Just like that I moved into a rent-controlled apartment in a not so nice neighborhood with no friends. I lived by myself and nearby distant cousins; family members I did not know that well, truthfully. The city had close to a million people in it, and the town I had just left had fewer than 2,500. Geographically it was about two inches on a map. But those two inches were a world apart.
Those first few months I drove back at least once a month and visited my friends, but eventually I did not even do that. That town became like a faded photograph, a memory that I could once connect to with ease had now become an image I didn’t see myself in at all.
The parts of me I left behind, those parts were what people remembered about me. As if by shedding them and leaving them there I was making sure those were my trademarks.
Ideologically I could not be further from that scarred girl who drove off to the big city to live by herself and go to college. I knew that the only way to grow was to push myself as hard as I could to be the person I wanted to be. I used to drive into the center of the city and then find my way home to my lonely apartment each night. Before GPS and cell phones I knew that the only way I would be able to get around would be to memorize the layout in my head. Along the way I would see signs advertising jobs and I would apply. It didn’t take long and I had a job, I made new friends, I started college. Then, I got married, graduated twice, bought a house, had a kid.
And I didn’t really ever look back.
There are still good people there. People I care about and people who know the core of who I am. But I haven’t been back to visit in years. My parents live outside of town so I will go and visit them and then return home all without setting foot inside the city limits.
I think now that I have avoided having to reconcile the “me that was” with the person I grew into. They are two sides of the same coin. I could not be who I am now without her, but there are days I have a hard time facing her. And she is intricately woven into the fabric of my hometown and the people that I grew up with.
So, to ignore her, I blocked them out.
This probably would have been the end of it. I might not have thought that much more about it, in fact, if it weren’t for what happened last night.
Last night there was a tornado that started near my parents’ property and their home and traveled just a few miles to the East and into the neighboring town. I realized that even though I have no claim to this land anymore that it still hurts. These people, many who I grew up with, were suffering and I felt bad with them. I wanted to let them know how sad I was or how it hurt to see someplace I had been so many times as a teenager left in ruins.
I felt myself wanting to share in their collective pain. But how could I? After all, I was the traitor that left and no longer had ties to the town. I was the one who had done nothing but peripherally stay current on social media with all of the people who had once been close friends. What right do I have to share in their pain and their agony? Who am I to offer empty words of sympathy?
While I do not know if I have a right to lay claim to the pain and sorrow that I am feeling right now, I want everyone affected to know that I feel your loss too, and it hurts much deeper than I would have believed.