Robin called me upset the other night. Like normal, I was out having some beers with the grad school crew, and like normal she was jealous. "I am afraid of my future, because I'm afraid of my present, " she said. What a precarious situation to be in, I thought. I told her that I'm so damned excited about my future because each moment of my present only gets better, and she told me I need to grow up and move back home. "I need you to live closer to me," she said.
I told Robin what I should have been telling myself for a couple years now. I'm not prepared to go back to our small Mississippi town because I don't know how to be an adult there. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm new at it, but I'm doing alright with this whole adulthood thing: I pay all my own bills on time, I have my own health insurance, and I know how to penny pinch. What I meant when I said that is this: I have never lived as an adult in my hometown. I packed off to college when I was eighteen, and spent my summers in transit between Mississippi and Arkansas, then eventually exclusively in Arkansas. Now I'm in Tennessee, an adult living my life in a way I don't think I could back home.
I have so much freedom living away. I don't feel compelled to come in at any certain time or restrict what I say (or what I write) certain ways. I'm not looking to get married and I don't care to father a child any time soon. I don't have to constantly look over my shoulder to see who is going to report back to my grandmother who they saw me out with and where. This seems to be the life that I would have to lead if I answered Robin's call and headed back.
Robin is a different kind of adult than me. She got sucked into the perils of small town life, and I regret that for her, because she was too smart to let it happen. But I imagine she had a harder time being a girl with parents who didn't really support her going too far away to college, who pressured her to get married when she was 22, who never seem to be satisfied with what she does with her life unless she mimics their lives. Robin has been my best friend since we were in 10th grade, and I remember she had big dreams. She wanted to work for the FBI, wanted to investigate alien abductions like on the X-Files. She went off to Ole Miss and got her bachelor's in Forensic Chemistry, even went on for a year of graduate work, only to get scared, drop out, and move back to Horn Lake and in with her husband's parents. To top it all off, she got a job next year teaching at our old high school. None of this is what she ever wanted to do.
But she did it, and now she's unsure. I try to tell her that she'll be fine, that's she's doing great, that everything happens for a reason. I want to be there for my friend, at least emotionally, but I don't know how to help her out of the hometown rut, because in many ways, I never experienced it. She has her life planned out for her: high school teacher, wife, SUV driver, soccer mom in the same town where her parents did the same things. It's different for me. I don't know where I'll end up, because I'm not giving up my dream of the writer's life. After taking a year or so off after this MA degree, chances are I'll end up in a Ph.D. program somewhere, then enter the job market and take employment where I can find it. Used to, the thought of spinning out of my hometown's orbit scared me to death, but I'm dealing with the encroaching reality of distance much better now. It's thrilling to think I might wind up half way across the country.
As for Robin, well, bless her little heart. I'm not prepared to be her neighbor again in the foreseeable future, but I know I'll keep on answering the phone when she calls for me to put her back together then school me about being an adult.