What a now-defunct Walgreens taught me about living
(originally posted on Medium.com)
The town I grew up in has 28,625 people. It’s a town my sister left, flying all the way across the country to find herself. (While I chose the more expensive route of hospital stays and therapy.) It’s a town full of memories and pain, nostalgia and heartbreak. But mostly, it’s full of family. Family get-togethers, birthday parties and Christmas brunch, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Fourth of July fireworks from my parents’ front yard.
From my parents’ front window can be seen a now-defunct Walgreens, a big empty building right in the busiest part of town. The part of town where there are dogs barking and cars honking and people shouting and businesses booming. The part of town where, even at midnight, cars go rushing by.
We don’t talk about how the world we grow up in shapes us.
My parents stuck me in therapy when I was in fifth grade. Her name was Patrice or Patricia or something. Sometimes she would bring her dog to our sessions, but most of the time we just played games. I don’t remember if we talked about life much. I don’t remember if I talked much in general, which is why I was there–in a world full of noise, I chose to be quiet.
I chose, instead, to drag people by the hand and point to what I wanted, thinking my words to be unimportant. Maybe if I conserved them long enough, stored up enough of them, one day I’d have enough to explain what was going on inside.
Words didn’t seem adequate, so silent I stayed.
David Levithan wrote, “You’d think silence would be peaceful, but really, it’s painful.” To stop the pain, I repressed the memories. Until I couldn’t remember why I was silent in the first place.
There was a time a few Octobers ago when I didn’t leave my house, nestled myself on the couch all day and watched Netflix. I tried to find solitude in the midst of my screaming mind. Maybe a screaming Gordon Ramsay would quiet my thoughts. But, even now, I keep returning to my past.
There’s this phenomenon in psychology known as the “Return-Trip Effect,” where the ride back home seems shorter than the original ride to your initial destination. I’m sure you’ve noticed it before–it’s the sudden realization that oh my goodness! You know where you are! You’re almost home! You blinked, and all of a sudden, the eight-hour car ride home disappeared before your eyes.
Psychologists have some theories as to what causes this phenomenon. The most prevailing is that travelers are often optimistic at the start of a journey–they’re ready to get to where they want to go. This optimism causes the trip to seem longer than it actually is: you want it to be short, which causes it to feel long. This feeling of a ride that goes on causes pessimism on the return trip. “This is gonna take forever.” This pessimism causes the ride to actually seem shorter.
Our expectations affect our perceptions.
I have another theory: size of home versus the size of destination–aka, familiarity. We are familiar with where we grow up, so we can be miles from home and still feel at home.
I’m familiar with my past, so even miles from where I started, I feel like I’m still stuck there, like I’ve taken up residence in my own backyard.
And I’m trying so hard to break free.
Where the now-defunct Walgreens stands, there used to be a one-way street. A sleepy street with three cozy houses nestled among the busyness. In my parents’ backyard stands the bottom half of a dead apple tree, with new saplings starting to grow from the roots. Life amidst destruction. Silence among noise. Hope in the face of destruction. New life growing from the pain. A town just as much about the past as it is the future.
My sister packed up her bags and left. I’ve planted roots. But maybe we’re all searching for the same thing: our reason for living, our purpose in life. And maybe I’ve found mine in filling the silence with typed-up words, reminding people they’re not alone.
In my town of 28,625 people, there are 28,624 stories waiting to be told. It’s so easy to feel alone when the only thing filling your life is the pain of your past. But emptiness isn’t a death sentence.
Someday, that defunct Walgreens will be filled again, or, at worst, torn down and rebuilt with something even better. Thousands of dollars worth of therapy later, I stand. I’ve realized that what I was searching for all along wasn’t silence but peace. And sometimes peace is found after a lot of kicking and screaming; after the storm comes a rainbow.