The teacher who performed my daughter’s kindergarten screening was a college friend of my mother’s. My son attends day care with the children of my former high school classmates. My husband has closed deals using legal counsel whose son played soccer with my sister. One of the guys I regularly work with is a friend of the guy who taught me to swim.
This is what happens when you move back to the town where you grew up. The world isn’t just small, it’s a studio apartment. Lives don’t intersect so much as overlap.
I thought I would hate the familiarity.
I don’t. I love it.
When I left Maine to go to college, I did not think I would ever come back to live here. I knew I wanted to go to law school, and I thought that I wanted to practice in a big city. I had grown up always feeling way out of my social league, and I could not imagine returning forever to the place that reminded me of my personal struggles and youthful disappointments. I suppose I craved the anonymity that “away” promised.
I went to law school. I got a job litigating at a large New York City law firm. I married a man from Puerto Rico. It seemed my life faced evermore away from Maine, even if I never broke the habit of referring to Maine as “home.”
Then, out of the clear blue sky, my husband received a cold call from a headhunter, looking to staff a corporate attorney who was a native Spanish speaker. The only problem, the headhunter told my husband, was that it would require a move to Maine.
The call was as random as that, but it was also fortuitous. When my husband answered that phone, we were over-worked, over-extended, and over-wrought. It was as if life wanted to show us that she knew better, was full of surprises, and could sometimes work in mysterious, awesome ways.
So here we find ourselves, again and not again. For nearly 2 1/2 years we have shoveled and weeded and gasped at heating bills. We have taken our children on walks after a snowstorm, walks on the beach, and walks to their grandparents’ house. We have rediscovered what weekends are, and we have confirmed that they, too, are awesome.
Along the way, we have crossed paths with people I’ve known since I was as young as my daughter is now. I’m in the same drop-off and pick-up lines as the upperclassmen who used to make me blush. My husband has met the woman who taught me French and the man who tried to teach me math. My daughter takes piano lessons from the same woman who taught me.
People often ask me how all of this must feel. When they ask, there is usually a note of gentleness, perhaps even concern, as if they are trying to express both curiosity and sympathy. Three years ago, I would have been using the same tone, imagining the claustrophobia and fatigue that must predominate an adult life lived on the same streets as a childhood.
The genuine enthusiasm I respond with surprises even me. It is reassuring to know where to go, how to get there, and why a plow truck can never be trusted. It is equally soothing to hire the kids you used to babysit to babysit your children, to pick a preschool because all your nice friends went there, and to find a plumber by asking your parents to send over theirs.
Also, it is just plain fun to rekindle or recreate friendships without all the “stuff” of adolescence that always got in the way. Teenagers, I’m finding, grow up to be really great people.
Sure, there are times when I miss the anonymity. Those times are usually when I’m at the grocery store with un-brushed hair and a stain of unknown origins covering my entire front while my son screams “MINE MINE MINE!” as the girl who stole my prom date happens to pass.
But basically, those interactions serve the broader purpose of reminding me that I need to find my comb. And they’re certainly worth the trade-off.