October 06, 2014

Just Remember Where You Came From

When I decided to get a long overdue pair of new running shoes this weekend, I didn't have a lot of options. And by "not a lot of options," I mean I had one.

You see, I was staying at my parents' house, the same house I spent the first 23 years of my life, right in the middle of a small-but-growing Baltimore suburb. Maybe there is more than one running store there now, but Charm City Run is the only one I know.

I walked into the small running store around noon on Saturday and the first employee who acknowledged me was a girl around my age, crouching next to a customer's right foot. She looked up at me and instead of saying hello, asked, "Do you know Erika?"

I told her that I did indeed know my often overwhelmingly social best friend, and asked how she knew Erika. "Just through running, I think."

Later that day, I ran into my U10 soccer coach browsing the Jacoby Jones' jerseys at Dick's. He gave me a hug, and I asked him about my former nine-year-old teammate (his daughter). She's a teacher now, teaching math to kids the same age that we were when we met.

You see, the town where I grew up is that town. That town where everyone knows everyone.

And when I left for college seven years ago, I hated that. I felt trapped. I felt claustrophobic knowing that if I wanted to go get a gallon of milk, there was a 70% chance I'd know the cashier. I couldn't wait to get out of this little town and surround myself with people who didn't know me when I was nine. Anonymity just seemed so anonymously ideal.

So I went hundreds of miles away to school. And since college, I've stayed that anonymous face in a crowd by moving from big city to big city. I thought it was exciting every time I started over; I had a completely clean slate to reinvent myself. No one knew who I was two days ago, let alone two decades ago. I could be whoever I wanted to be.

But the thing is, no matter where I moved, I was always still Nicole. Living in unfamiliar new places with unfamiliar new people changed some parts of me, but no matter how many chances I got to reinvent myself, I still always turned out to be me, the slightly sarcastic, borderline smartass, quiet 'til you know me, grown up version of that U10 soccer right fullback.

The nice thing about being back home is that I don't have to wonder if people "get" who I am... because these people have seen me become this person. The girl who sold me my new Asics and my U10 soccer coach don't know all the nuances of 24-year-old Nicole, but they do know that I'm a runner who hangs out with Erika, or the bigger version of the quiet blonde nine-year-old who could out-sprint anyone.

Anonymity is fun and sometimes it's amusing to knows that to the stranger next to me on the subway, I could be an Eastern European indie rockstar. Or I could I work at CVS. I could be mean or I could be sweet or I could be into drugs and rock and roll.

But really, I'm none of those things.

Maybe this is just my inevitable quarter-life crisis kicking into gear, but lately I've started appreciating more and more what it means to belong somewhere. I've actually enjoyed being around people who know where I came from and that it's not Eastern Europe. Maybe it's boring, but it's nice to be part of a community.

So here's knowing the guy who rung up your gallon of 2%... it's good to be home.