I live in Carrboro, North Carolina. There are 17,931 of us here, but it seems smaller, like the size of a camera hidden in the light fixture of a seedy motel and monitored at home by a registered sex offender. That’s also how living here feels sometimes—like people watch each other through windows and tell their friends whose beds have chains on the headboard and who sleeps with a teddy bear and who cries at Adam Sandler movies.
In a town where the co-op lawn is the hub of activity—the place where hula-hoopers in backless shirts and bare feet spin circles and beat the grass into dirty submission, where children run into your shins and then cry like babies when they fall on their diapered butts, where the rest of us grudgingly buy our carrot juice and hummus and talk about how coagulated the hot bar is—of course your neighbors’ behavior is public domain. There’s not much else to talk about. It’s like we’ve all given up on doing things and resigned ourselves to thinking about doing things. We all know each other, at least by terrible reputation, and we all talk. And I’m as guilty of stirring and spreading and meddling as anyone. More, even.
This didn’t bother me at first. I moved here from Portland, Oregon, where I was completely anonymous. I was every other early twenties gayelle, holding hands and working at coffee shops and riding bikes and reading in bars when there was no one to talk to. There was nothing about me that deserved attention, and I like attention, so, at first, Carrboro was a pleasant reprieve from anonymity. When I first came here, I planned on taking just a short break from Portland, just enough time to recalibrate after some significant life changes (i.e. falling in maybe-love or at least pitter-patter-love with someone who was not my girlfriend; subsequent break-up with said girlfriend; subsequent week of homelessness without pillow, clean socks, phone charger, or wallet; subsequent final fuck you; subsequent teary goodbye.). I thought I’d be here for a few weeks, maybe a month, and go back to Portland and find the girl I had fallen in maybe-love with and deal with the strangers and the anonymity and be happy and changed. That was two and a half years ago.
I stayed in part because my sister lived here and it was nice to have a built-in friend, someone who had to go on walks and split meals with me, if for no other reason than DNA and guilt. I also stayed because of the people. I made more friends in the first weeks of being here than I did the whole time I was in Portland. My friends have become my family. We spend our days and nights together. We talk about how someday we’re going to have a house that’s actually a lot of houses, one for each of us, with a big courtyard and an outdoor kitchen in the middle and mango trees and family supper and a sun that shines when we want to surf, which we will be able to do because we will have a beach and because we will know how to surf, and rain that rains when we want to stay inside and watch movies. So I like Carrboro. I like our fantasies and I like our fun and I like our nights that are like no other nights and our nights that are like all other nights. Or, at least, I did.
But now I’m done. I have no job, no money, and absolutely, definitely, unequivocally, no chance at ever, like ever, finding a girlfriend. I have ruined my reputation to the point that some anonymous Craigslister wrote that I’m “shady and everywhere” for all of Missed Connections to see. I once met a girl at a bar and our conversation naturally deteriorated from books and politics to sex and love. We agreed that men are stupid and women are crazy. I said something about how this person I had slept with the night before talked about furniture all the time and then the blood rushed from her face to her heart and she jumped off her bar stool and ran out without paying her tab and, yes, the person from the night before was her person. And even though I didn’t know that person had a person and was so drunk that I can’t even remember if we had sex and or maybe if we ate popcorn and cuddled, this is the story of my life in this town.
We are full of boredom and drama and we let things that aren’t real become real. I recently learned that I fucked a homeless man in an alley while still with my ex. And while it’s not implausible and maybe is entirely true that I did cheat on my ex, I can’t even sit on other peoples’ furniture, much less fuck someone with scabies and a shopping cart. I accidentally touched a dreadlock a few nights ago and had to bust through a crowd of sweaty people to get to the nearest bathroom and scrub my hands so hard that I no longer have fingerprints. I’d wash my sheets twice even if someone in a full-body snowsuit slept on them, so even if I liked to sleep with men and even if I liked to get shoved against brick walls, my neuroses make this scenario impossible. It wasn’t reality, but now it is.
I’m at the point now where I can laugh at these rumors, be flattered, even, that I’m the subject of stories and gossip in this small town, but my friends are trickling away, to New York or LA or San Francisco or Portland or Seattle or to husbands and wives and jobs and children. Why be here, in this place of so much comfort and so little potential, when my family is leaving? I’m ready to be anonymous again.