Last weekend we made a last-minute trip to Nebraska. It wasn’t anything that was really planned in advance. We didn’t decide it was the right time until a few days before, and most people weren’t even told we were coming until the day before we left.
It was a good visit. Like our last visit, this trip was good. It was shorter, but fairly stress-free. We saw everyone we wanted to see, ate where we wanted to eat, and I got my local coffee fix and we did it without stumbling over ourselves, trying to fit it all in. It just worked. Less planning and it just happened. Second time, which makes me think last time wasn’t a fluke and there really is something to this “just go with it” thing.
But this last trip made me ponder the idea of “going home again”. I don’t usually think about it when we visit, or even after, for several reasons. I don’t miss anything about Nebraska – the place. I mean I miss two coffee shops and one local restaurant but otherwise there are no places, venues or activities in Nebraska that I long for. It’s all about the people. I’m sure that’s how it is for a lot of people who go home again, but for some reason I feel it’s different for me. Maybe I’m a narcissist or maybe it is different, at least I think it is when I reflect on my feelings and compare them to those that others have shared about their own experiences. If the few people I miss (and when it’s less than ten for an entire state, I think it qualifies as just a few) got up and moved, I would never go back to Nebraska again. Ever. I wouldn’t think about it. It wouldn’t be something to consider, because there is nothing to consider. And that’s when I think I understand why it’s different for me: Nebraska was never home.
Growing up, I hated Nebraska. Not like people dislike where they lived because it was a small town, for me it wasn’t about neighborhoods or the city or a school district – it was the culture and the institutions governing the place on a statewide level and down to every city, county or district.
I always knew I was gay before I knew what gay was. I never felt comfortable with the mainstream idea of being a boy. I wasn’t a girl, but I was somewhere in between. I didn’t believe in hiding. I didn’t find who I was to be wrong. Even if everyone around me pounded it into my brain: YOU ARE WRONG. I was in kindergarten the first time I was harassed because of what I was, who I was. And it continued until I left Nebraska after college.
I hated Nebraska for the bigotry and the rednecks, and the politics. I organized my first political protest in the third grade. I went on to organize citywide marches protesting anti-gay and anti-women legislation by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I fought for GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) and other inclusive student groups in more than sixteen high schools, including my own. I was harassed by teachers – sometimes I was not allowed to use the restroom or have any sort of “pass” to anywhere. Many teachers tried to publically humiliate me. Of course, I was lucky to be in a district (the only one in the entire state at that time) that specifically stated students were not to be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. When my English teacher told me she didn’t like that I wore a cross (I liked how it looked) because she was Christian and I was not (I was actually Catholic, the whole “you’re not” was due to the gay thing) I told her tough. It was a generic symbol that many people wore and legally she couldn’t bring religion into school. Any teacher who tried to embarrass me, I turned the tables on them. Sometimes that got me sent to the principal’s office but they couldn’t do anything. I didn’t start it, I just finished it and the teacher was always out of line. The few times the principal didn’t agree I just cited the Code of Conduct and mentioned contacting Channel 7 or simply filing suit and seeing where it all landed. That always did it.
I was forced to go to church until I interrupted a sermon about homosexuality being a sin. I asked the priest if we could pick and choose our bible and when he said we couldn’t, I asked him if he was also going to hell for eating shrimp that night. (I was also forced to work in the church rectory, like it would make me straight or something.) My parents were told very clearly not to bring me back. I wasn’t welcome – thank God!
Police were called to my house countless times due to child abuse allegations. I turned my mother in once, when I was covered in bruises, but the police dismissed it because my parents had money and were active at church. It didn’t matter that more than a dozen teachers and counselors made reports out of concern for abuse or neglect (it was clear I wasn’t being fed on a regular basis, plus bruises, plus the constant lying – my whole life was a lie to make excuses to make home safer). It didn’t matter that when I was six months old I was in police custody due to a traumatic brain injury that could only be caused by violently shaking a baby. None of this mattered. Seventeen years later when I tried to leave a boyfriend who had hit me, he physically held me against my will. Police were called and they just mocked me, sent me on my way and because I was severely injured and still being held when they arrived, legally they had to take my boyfriend in and book him. After I left, they let him go and he busted down my apartment door less than twelve hours later.
So when I say I hate Nebraska, I HATE it. It’s where I learned about the ugliest parts of humanity. It’s where I learned how cruel people could be. It’s where I learned about injustice and prejudice and hate. It’s where I learned about religious extremism. It’s where I learned to be wary of police because the good ones are few and far between.
It’s not like every experience my first twenty-one years on the planet was awful, but the good ones, were somewhere between seldom and rare and they’re through a bad lens, so they’re tainted in a way.
I did my undergrad in Nebraska because the idea of trying to find a new neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon and cardio team on top of school was daunting. I have never been a runner and for me leaving the state just because I hated it was running away. I wanted to be going towards something instead. And I did when it was time for grad school.
Whenever I visit Nebraska, I have to mentally prepare myself. The place is just a hotbed of triggers for me. But while I am anxious and hoping to “just get through it” I am also excited. When it comes time to leave I am relieved and anxious to get home, and I’m also sad we’re leaving. It’s weird, or at least I think it is. I’m so torn whenever I visit, I want to stay but I want to go as soon as we can. When I go back, the only thing I know I feel like is an outsider. No matter where I am, I just think, “This is not for you.” And frankly, I don’t want it to be.
But who knows, maybe this really is how everyone feels like when they go back to the place they were born and raised. On the plus side, the clear “this is not for you” feeling I get, even when the rest of my feelings are conflicted, makes it easy for me to let it go. Because it makes me that much more aware that I do have a home, and it isn’t there.