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“Is It Really Better Out There?” For Those Who Grew Up In a Small Town and Left.

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life

We rolled down the country road in a white pick-up truck, a six pack in the back seat and nostalgia in the air.

His beard was that of a proper mountain man, eyes as blue as high school. We were coming down off the mountain after an afternoon of shooting—as in actual guns. I’d never shot a gun before—am I even allowed to do this as a liberal?—but another forever friend had graciously insisted. “Come over on Saturday,” he had said. “We’ll teach you.”

This is home. It’s a place where old washers are strapped to the back of pick-up trucks and people stand outside smoking cigarettes in their bathrobes. There is a sign-up sheet for pumpkin rolls on the counter of the local pizzeria—name, phone number, and how many y’want—and a pencil-scrawled list of those who have been banned from the local bar. An old girlfriend pulls up next to me at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru: “I saw you cruising through town!” she said. “I knew it was you!” (Mind you, I am in a nondescript rental car, making this moment even more serendipitous for both of us.)

For as much as this town isn’t me, anymore, it’s entirely me. Even the smell of cheese fries and gasoline, as men from Texas frack the land and look on with lonely, saucer-filled eyes—that’s me, too. I know the old dirt roads just as well as any one of ‘em. I’ve worn those same Carhartt jackets, too, as I felt my fingers freeze at the tip of the steering wheel.

We idle in a gas station with the smell of beer on our breath, when my friend—the blue-eyed one—spoke:

“You’re the only one from our class who really left,” he said.
“That can’t be true,” I replied.
“Trust me.”

These are the conversations that make me pause. Is he upset with me for leaving? Have I abandoned those that I love?

“Every time I see some new fucking picture of you from somewhere else in the world,” he continues. “I think—there goes Ashley.”


I tap my foot. Pick at my thumb nail. Brace myself to be chastised. But what he says next takes me off guard. I am unprepared. It is not what I expected him to say.

He looks at me with earnest eyes:

“Is it really better out there, Ash?”

I look down. There is silence. A decade of divergent life experiences rushed in between us. There are a million different answers I want to give, but all of them feel superficial, hollow, only a tiny fraction of the truth.

Soon, though, he changes the channel on the radio and turns up the volume—perhaps to save me from answering. Perhaps to save himself from the answer. And onward we drive.

And so I have been thinking about the question non-stop for the past three days. How do you bottle the world and show it to someone? How do you explain, in a few words, how big the ocean is, and whether it is better than a pond?

So I asked Twitter: for those of you who grew up in a small town, how would you respond? Here were their answers.

I still haven’t formulated a proper response, but I can tell you this: as I accelerate onto the highway, I look around at the barren winter trees, the tractor-trailer-filled truck stop, and the big yellow bulldozers, and I cry. I cry for my past. I cry for the death of innocence. I cry for the people who are just as part of me as I am, myself.

And I cry because, once again, I must choose.

With every mile I drive, I choose.

With every place I go, I choose.

I choose to be both more me…and less.

Never better, but always different.

Jun 25


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Yesterday was my birthday. I flew from Ecuador to Chile on Friday so I could spend my birthday with my best girl friends in the whole wide world. Sure enough, they surprised me in the airport with glittery welcome back posters, prompting me to scream like a hyena. I had no idea they were coming. […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


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I Hate Mantras, And YET—I Love This One for When You’re Kinda Sorta Shitting Your Pants

I have a mantra (despite wanting to slit my throat upon hearing the word “mantra.”) Are you ready? My mantra is this: WHO CARES HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT IT? GO ANYWAY. Which sounds really kinda wrong, right? We’re a culture based on f-e-e-e-e-e-e-l-i-n-g-s. But sometimes, you have to override the ones that I call false […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life


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He sat in the far corner of the room–no clip board, no notepad, no smile. I couldn’t make out his face–the room was dark and the curtains were drawn. I waited for Al Pacino to bust down the door, cigar in hand. I was seated near the door, at a table, with a woman named […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


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You know those creeps who never drink any water and you’re all, “BUT YOUR CELLS! YOUR CELLS ARE SHRIVELING LIKE LITTLE CALIFORNIA RAISINS!”  (Unless this is the kind of thing that only goes through my brain, in which case, welcome to my inner landscape, ya’ll.) I feel the same way about time. There are so many people who aren’t drinking […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life


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On My Red Hot, Sinfully Sexy Affair.

  I’m currently gnawing on a big, squishy, ripe red tomato. Right now. As I type this. I’m forking salty chunks into my mouth as I hope (but not pray–I’m pretty bad at that) that tomato seed juice doesn’t dribble all over my keyboard. Before my current lusty, red hot tomato affair, I was getting […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


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