For all of our married life, or as near as makes no difference, we have lived away from Steve's hometown. Not where he was born, but the place that houses all his childhood memories and the place that he would consider his hometown. Essex, a town on the outskirts of Baltimore, is an area of the country that fascinates and puzzles me. It is as different from where I grew up as night is to day.
Anyway, just two months into Steve's sophomore year, a school which housed 10th, 11th and 12th grades, his parents decided to leave. They pulled up lock, stock and barrel and moved to North Carolina to open a pizza and sub shop. Against all odds, Steve did not graduate with his childhood friends and so he lost touch with them.
Moving back to the Baltimore area didn't help. He would scan the crowds at the movie theater or the grocery stores, never seeing a familiar face.
This week, all that changed with Facebook. Steve has been an occasional user, and has something like 34 friends, most of them he would say are really my friends. On a whim, he started looking up people he went to school with. He is totally surprised to find that so many of them are members. He has thought Facebook a total waste of time, and I guess it can be, but if you limit your friends to people you actually know and care about, rather than "friending" every person you have ever known, it is very useful in maintaining friendships. It is also quite useful in locating long-lost friends and relatives.
It is another blog entirely to explain my husband's dislike of the police, so it strikes me as quite funny that the first person he found is a cop. Today, we drove back to Baltimore to meet this guy that Steve hasn't seen in at least 30 years. It was really cool. SH had put out a call to a bunch of people who had gone to school together, so Steve got to see several people he went to school with. And I got to watch Steve in a way I had never seen him before.
These people remember him as a young teenager, and a couple of them remember doing stuff together when they were kids. They talked about all these people they knew, not just kids they went to school with, but older and younger siblings and parents. Over and over I heard what I would rarely hear at home, "Oh, they still live in the same house they grew up in" or "he bought the house two doors down from his parent's place." They knew where almost everyone was and their life story, whose parents had passed and what people had done since high school.
In the past I would have found that cloying, it is so different from my own experience, but now it seems charming and rooted and secure. Nice, might be a better word for it. And now that I think about it, it is this very permanence that I enjoyed overseas. I liked the hamlets where parents lived a stone's throw from their children and their grandparents and cousins...I liked the idea of it, although at home in the U.S., I called it provincial and looked down my nose at it.
There are bad things about this kind of insular life, it can breed contempt for outsiders, it can be a hothouse for inbred hostilities and hatred toward anyone different, and it can put enormous pressures on anyone who is different or who dreams of a life other than what is considered normal.
But tonight I saw the good part of this life. These are friendships of a lifetime. They have been built over decades. These are people who know each other's families and who look out for each other. I cannot imagine a day when I could post on facebook for my graduating class to meet me at the local pizza parlor and more than two people would even be within 20 miles, much less have half a dozen people jump at the opportunity to get together with little more than an hour's notice.
I saw people who remember my husband when he was young and carefree, when he was daring and funny and happy. As he would say, before life beat him down. I loved seeing him that way. I loved seeing him with people who genuinely liked him and had such fond memories. I think he has felt out of place for much of his life, and I have never understood his resentment at being uprooted in high school. I was also uprooted. I didn't like it, but it wasn't the trauma for me that it was for him. It didn't alter my future in the way he feels it did to him.
I can see now, that if his parent's had found a way to stay where they were, to fight the demons that drove them to escape, that Steve would have been an entirely different person. He lost far more than I could have imagined when they moved. He lost the close-knit lifelong friendships that he would probably have maintained. He also lost the connections that help you out in life. He lost the connections that help you get into the field you want, and so many other things.
He has spent the last 30 or so years feeling like an outsider. I think that without me, he would feel little connection to the world and people in it. But now, perhaps, he is beginning to rebuild a network of people who may fill some of those holes inside him--the holes I could never begin to fill. They aren't my place to fill.
For many years we had a standing engagement with some friends we knew when we were first married and for the early years of childrearing. Even if we couldn't get together often throughout the year, we did get together for New Year's Eve. On the way, I would warn him, "No cop stories." I hate the cop stories. I hate the stories of him being pulled over, of him being arrested, of being mistaken for a bank robber and thrown to the ground...and so many more. But year after year they would egg him on. They loved those stories in a way I never really understood, except that they weren't living with the consequences of those stories. It wasn't their bank account which was depleted by traffic fines, by traffic school, or by attorney fees. They never had to go to bail him out in the middle of a snowstorm or in the dead of night in some scary out-of-the-way place. It never mattered that charges were dropped, always, always there were expenses to fighting the charges, whether simply exaggerated or bogus.
Over the years we have seen police do terrible things; unconstitutional things, evil things, foolish, thoughtless, harmful or even arrogant things. But I do not believe, as my husband does that all police are evil, foolish, thoughtless, arrogant or brutish. I've known too many decent police officers to believe that.
After a few hours with SH, and hearing things from his side, stories that turn the stomach and curl your toes, and getting to know this terribly decent guy all over again, my husband conceeded that not all cops are bad. So maybe SH will be another of his cop stories. A good one this time. One can only hope.