I spent most of December in my hometown of San Antonio, TX, my first trip back since July. This marked my ninth Christmas since high school, and more than ever, I was struck by how strange it felt to be home. For eighteen years, San Antonio was my world entire. Though that’s not really true. Really, my world was a little neighborhood called Alamo Heights, one of the so-called “Island Cities” that straddles San Antonio’s northeast side.
Unlike San Antonio proper, which has sprawled itself into the role of America’s seventh-biggest city, Alamo Heights doesn’t cover much ground. It’s quaint and quiet, easy to navigate. And yet, every day I was home, I found myself lost, twenty-six-years-old and making the wrong turns, forgetting completely how to get to this restaurant or that store, the maps I once thought indelible eroding slowly but surely, like rocks in a river.
And it’s not just the places that go; it’s the people. I can remember so many trips home, back in college, and even in grad school, when every night I’d put in the requisite appearance at the holiday drinking spots. Dead-drunk and smiling, I’d shamble through the doorway of Bombay’s or the Broadway 50/50, and within moments find myself awash in the faces from my K-12 past, the endless string of repeat conversations: the hey-how-are-yous and the how-you-beens? I remember, too, the handshakes and the hugs and the real thrill you felt when you ran into someone you truly missed, even though, for some time, maybe a long time, you’d forgotten all about them. I can remember when the every day hangovers didn’t bother me, and my mother, smiling in that boys-will-be-boys smile that only moms can pull off, would chalk my debauchery up to nostalgia, and we’d go get tacos at Blanco or Charro. Then I’d rinse and repeat and do it again.
But not this last time. No, last time I hibernated. I told the three friends I still cared to see that I’d rather not go out, that I’d rather sit alone at my mother’s drinking the nice wine she buys and watching her huge TV. No, last time I silenced my phone and went to bed early. Looking back, part of me wants very badly to believe that it’s a sign that I’m starting to mature—that, nine years out of boyhood, I’m finally grown. I want to believe that, had I felt like it, I could’ve gone out to any of those bars on any given night, and those familiar faces would’ve all be there waiting for me, raring and ready to rehash the past, to hug and reminisce and laugh. But every night I was there alone at mommy’s, playing Mr. Refined, sipping the wine I could never afford, I saw more what it was I was doing.
And what I was doing was hiding. I was in fact staging a protest, saying without speaking how tired I was of seeing all of those Alamo Heights people, tired of hearing how they work for their parents, how they make so much money for doing so little, how they’re so successful, having never had to choose what they wanted to do. I wanted to tell these people that I might be from this place, but I’m not of it, and I’m sick to death of being jealous of you—you, who live your lives without thinking, without feeling. I wanted to stand up.
But I didn’t. And I couldn’t. So I hid at my mother’s until the arbitrary day in January arrived, and I deemed it time to load my Subaru with Christmas gifts and suitcases and made the long drive back to New Orleans, where, aided by a bravery only distance can afford, I continue to write stories ridiculing my hometown—stories that say what I can never bring myself to say to their faces—until another Christmas comes, and I come home and hide again.
William Torrey lives and works in Baton Rouge. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review, The North American Review, Washington Square Review, Colorado Review, the Hawai'i Review, New Madrid and Zone 3, where his story "Trabajar" won the 2011 Editors' Prize. He is currently at work on a novel. @wshametorrey | firstname.lastname@example.org.