I grew up in Boerne, a suburb of San Antonio, Texas. A year after I graduated from high school, my parents moved to Georgia. When I go "home" for holidays now, that's where I visit them. I haven't had any reason or desire to go back to Boerne in a year. Except, last weekend, I had to go back for a funeral.
My trip would only last two nights, but when I stepped off the plane at the San Antonio airport, I started to feel panic. The brevity of my trip did not matter. I immediately felt suffocated by my old life, and afraid that I wouldn't be able to leave again.
During my time there, we drove a lot: to a restaurant after the airport, to the cemetery, to this side of San Antonio, to that side of San Antonio. I saw a lot of places I used to frequent, like the gas station by my school, or the fairgrounds off the rural highway that led to my old house. The roads themselves, too, felt haunted by my past life.
What interested (and terrified) me most was that these places didn't feel familiar; they truly felt haunted. I could recall things that happened when I lived in Boerne, but the memories played in my head as if they happened to someone else. I feel so separate from the person I was when I lived there that all I have left of that place -- memories, in my own mind -- look like they belong to someone else when I see them.
Because, it wasn't me who went to school there or drove down those roads or went to those restaurants. It was, undoubtedly, someone else, and that person is now a ghost. That person loved different people and different things. She believed things that I, now, consider completely corrupt or arcane. If I ever met the version of myself who lived and loved in Boerne, we wouldn't get along.
She doesn't bother me much when I'm in New York, or even when I'm in Georgia. Reasonably, she only haunts me when I'm back in Boerne, and her ghost suffocates me. I feel a closeness to my old self that is only cultivated through a long-standing distance, and when my new self lands in Texas, the distance shortens, and I worry I'll never get far away again.
Now, I find myself writing this in Brooklyn, perfectly far away from the haunted hill country roads. I still have these memories, though, of how it used to feel to be me, but they don't belong to me. They belong to my ghost. They happened to her, and maybe I'm who I am now because of it, but I can't carry them anymore.
The distance, both physical and mental, from my childhood and adolescent life provided clarity. I am sure that if I'd never moved away, I wouldn't have changed at all. I would've remained stagnant, and boring, and eventually I would've been stuck haunting myself. This isn't to say that I think it's healthy to just leave places when things get hard, but I do think that it's important to give yourself a chance to change. If I had moved away but found, still, that who I was before was a good person, that would've been just as well. But, I found the opposite, and when I go back to Boerne, the differences between my old self and new self are so strikingly apparent that the place itself becomes unbearable.
I'm glad I left, even though it means going back hurts. I won't become who I am if I don't look for her.