my town

Generally not a fan of country music, but there’s this one country song that resonates with me–echoes through my head as I drive the familiar roads of my hometown.

This is my town

where I was born, where I was raised

where I keep all my yesterdays

Where I ran off, ’cause I got mad, and it came to blows with my old man

Where I came back to settle down, it’s where they’ll put me in the ground

This is my town

(my town–montgomery gentry)

I wasn’t born here. I was actually born overseas in a military hospital. But I was raised here. I say “town,” but really I guess I mean “towns,” because the city I was raised in officially only has a population around 45,000 or so, but the boundaries bleed together with two other towns so the combined population of all three is 111,500. This is my town.

My town is linked by an Intercity Transit System–a bus route that will take me all the way from one end to the other. There is a train station, two bus stations, an historic downtown shopping area,  an awesome comic book shop, two Costcos, two Fred Meyers, six Safeways, and (collectively) about 30 other grocery stores–co-ops and local chains and market stalls and whatnot. There are the usual big box-store shopping options, a mall, a now-thriving shopping center that used to be a dead mall.

When I was a kid, the mall–the one that’s still functioning– used to host this Christmas/ Holiday village or train every December. It was really cool. They’d set up a series of train cars or a village row along the hallway, and the kids could go through the little rooms doing different crafts. Volunteers dressed in elf costumes would sort of guide/ corral the throng, and there was a table for gift wrapping.

I guess it was free, or very low cost, because I remember my parents taking us every year. We’d make things like cotton ball snowmen and paper snowflakes and foam-cutout ornaments, and at the end we could get a picture taken with Santa at the Sears studio setup (that did cost something–my parents never did that part). They don’t do that any more. I don’t know why– maybe because for a while there in the 90’s, the mall was trying to rebrand and be all cool and updated and a lot of their community involvement seemed to go by the wayside during that time? Changed their signage, tried to get everyone to call it something something shopping center, I dunno. We all just kept calling it Capital Mall, like always. Recently I noticed they have the old signage back up, from the 80s.

There are approximately 30ish elementary schools, and about 20ish middle and high schools (combined), and three colleges–one community, one public, and one private. There’s a ridiculous amount of churches. Someone once told me–I don’t know if this is true or not–that Washington has the most amount of church buildings per square capita in the United States, but the lowest church attendance. If true, it’s certainly amusing.

There are two hospitals. Soon to be three. Six funeral homes. Two public cemeteries and one (possibly two) private/ religious ones, that I’m aware of. Technically, each of the three cities has a separate police force, and there’s also a county sheriff’s office, as well as the Washington State Patrol. So  I guess we actually have five separate police precincts in the area. For most of my life, it’s felt like a safe and generally crime-free area.

Growing up, I used to sneak out of my bedroom window late at night and walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t up to anything, I just couldn’t sleep and felt restless. I lived in a split level suburban house, in a neighborhood that was pretty evenly divided between owned and rented homes. Down the street was an elementary school, and up the way was a public park and the post office. The neighborhood had no street lamps to speak of (still doesn’t); no light pollution to drown out the stars. I would walk in the cool dark night, alone and unafraid.

In high school, most days I walked home– 2.7 miles, stopping at the library on the way home. I could’ve ridden the bus, but I hated the bus and I like walking. So I walked instead.

Foolish, I guess.

There have been several rapes and sexual assaults reported on trails in the area over the past year or so.

They are on trails I used to walk on. Trails I used to rollerblade on. I used to rollerblade at night with a friend, from our neighborhood to the state capital campus and back home again, for hours and hours in the summer nights; unconcerned by the darkness or presence of strangers.

The other night my husband and I went downtown for a #blacklivesmatter rally. Neo nazis lined up in opposition, trying to drown out our solidarity by screaming invective and hate. Several others milled about, trying to simultaneously distance themselves from the neo nazis and convince us to discard the #blacklivesmatter movement because #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter. It was an impossible argument to make.

I feel like, when your allies are neo nazis, you should re-examine your position. Maybe consider the somewhat confrontational and uncomfortable notion that you don’t actually have all the information and historical context you think you do.

I remember when I was 17 or so, my older sister taking me downtown for a concert or something … I was supposed to be her chaperone, ha. She wore a long sweater over opaque tights, like a minidress, and lent me her button-down brown leather skirt, which I wore with a cream crop top. So 90s. There as an alt band playing, something in the vein of Sleater Kinney grunge. The door was black with stickers on it, and the air smelled like weed and cigarettes–both of which I smoked back then, although I pretended not to, around my family. The crowd was too noisy for me, and when my sister found her date, I bummed a smoke from a stranger in the crowd and slipped out the door to stand in the alley, which was quiet and smelled like weed. I’ve never been a fan of concerts or live music.

The downtown core was littered with used needles. There have always been drugs in downtown, but I swear the drugs are different now. When I was 18/19, I lived downtown for a while, as part of the drifting/ homeless scene, while I dated one of the downtowners. Harder drugs were available, and a lot of my friends used them (I stuck with weed and cigarettes), but mostly I recall people being into weed, hallucinogens, and maybe a little cocaine. I never tried anything like that–cocaine, heroin–completely off-limits to me. D.A.R.E. had well and truly frightened me with their narrative of the one-time-use addictive properties. I can’t even recall meth. It must have been on the scene, by then, but I just don’t remember it.

Today weed is legal, which is good, and (ironically) I no longer use it. I’m generally pro-drug legalization, as I believe in taxation and regulation. When I walk through downtown, the smell of weed no longer seems to permeate each alley and doorway–probably because, as part of the legalization process, restrictions were placed on public usage, but there are used needles everywhere. I guess we must not have well-funded needle exchange program.

I feel tired.

There was a shooting in my neighborhood in June. Three people were killed. There was another shooting in downtown in July, over a traffic disagreement–a pedestrian and a motorist disagreed about right-of-way, and the motorist shot the pedestrian, then drove away and called 911. The pedestrian is in critical condition at the hospital.

Side note–the disagreement started when the motorist allegedly violated the pedestrian’s crossing space, and the pedestrian slapped the car hood, then used their skateboard in anger and slammed it against the motorists’ vehicle, causing the driver’s side window to shatter. While I admit this would be frightening (having been inside a car in the driver’s seat when an abusive ex kicked the window of the car in on my face), I would also point out that the motorist was still able to drive away from the scene, as evidenced by them doing just that moments later. 

The shooting was unnecessary–they were inside a steel cage of a vehicle powered by gasoline. The pedestrian was, well, pedestrian. A year ago, a police officer in the city used a similar defense (felt threatened by a skateboard) to justify shooting a black youth in the back. Skateboards: A real threat.

There was a quadruple shooting in a home of one of our towns in July. The officer on the scene said it was the first such shooting in the town’s history.

Apparently, 2012 public records showed about 10 percent (rounding up) of adults in this county having a concealed carry permit. That’s a lot of guns. Pew surveys show that most Americans who own weapons, own multiples.

I think about that, when my son goes to a friends house. I think about the news story about the kids on the military base just a year or so ago, about my sons age–around 12-16–and they were goofing off, playing in a field. One of them had found their dad’s handgun, and the familiar story played out.

There was a shooting at my old high school in 2015. My nephew will go to that school. My son practices drills at school, in case a disgruntled classmate brings a parents’ gun to school and tries to kill his classmates and teachers. In the past four years, he’s been sent home three separate times because of gun threats to the school.

My brother owns guns. He doesn’t speak to me for unrelated reasons. Sometimes I wonder if the next time we hear about each other will be a news article about a school shooting where one of us has lost a child, or a mass shooter at his place of work, or someone going road-rage on me and shooting me while I’m riding my motorcycle.

It’s weird to live so close to someone, and be so far apart.

It feels like a metaphor, almost, for the town. Like all my yesterdays are laid out in landmarks, mapped out close to the touch in happy memories across this beautiful place with its awesome parks and trails and libraries and shopping and everything I love … but then, there are also used needles and a growing white supremacist movement. There’s a subtle racism I didn’t really notice when I was growing up, because, well, I’m white. There’s a disturbing amount of unsecured guns. There are school shootings and threats. There’s classism and unemployment and homelessness, and all these other awful things I hate, things tainting my adoration of this place. Things that make me feel far apart from the community, things that make me want to scream for the pain of it.

I’m furious at the inequalities inherent in the system. I want to scream, because trying to engage with the status quo is so frustrating–the business owners, the politicians, the community members. Trying to support and fund actionable, research-based solutions to systemic institutional inequalities is seen as unfair–“welfare,” “rewarding laziness,” “encouraging drug use,” “affirmative action,” “harmful to small business owners,” “unconstitutional,” and their just interested in preserving their financial security and social privilege.

 

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