Harm’s Way

When I was a kid there was little crime in my small hometown. Houses and cars were left unlocked, bikes unchained. Children as young as five (even younger) roamed neighborhoods unchaperoned. Older kids built hideouts in the woods, hiked along railroad tracks, swam in the river. Beer was accessible to teenagers, but drugs were for sick people. We had a sheriff but he had no police force. If anything serious happened, the state police had to be called. They were rarely called upon as everyday misdeeds weren’t reported or even spoken of: men who assaulted wives and children, teens that raped girlfriends or sisters, petty thieves (dealt with by family or victim), and brawlers. Drunk drivers, when caught, were driven home by the sheriff.
Mining accidents and disasters occurred. Occasionally an abandoned mine collapsed and swallowed a house. These were considered acts of nature even though nefarious men and corporations created the illegal conditions for these events. Residents wouldn’t dare provoke these companies and risk job loss or, worse, the company’s departure. But they left anyway—when it was no longer profitable for them to remain operational. Workers went “on relief” and awaited the not-so-distant future when frackers would cause even more lethal damage, and meth-amphedimine would plague the hills.
Every once in a while, a hunter would find a human leg or head in the woody mountains. These were presumably strangers as any missing resident would be noted, missed, and discussed. Perpetrators were never found.
Still, we weren’t afraid. The bucolic setting, starry night skies, and day-to-day reliability of experience established the conviction of safety in those days.
I was uneasy with the ersatz tranquility of my childhood, unable to accept the pace. I was bad at interpreting societal cues, and fighting a longing I didn’t understand. Despite deep connections to small towns, country life, and especially those starry nights (which you only get in the Planetarium here), I somehow feel more secure in the city. I’m not comforted by stillness and nature. I accept city rules; relish the embrace of tumult, the swirl of ideas, the Possibility that inhabits risk.

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