How to Forget Where You Came From

First, be from somewhere shameful.

You must make sure you are from someplace run down, broke and broken, unwanted and unwieldy and unwell. Most of the time it is dirty. Your home town must be an embarrassing fact that few people know, or if it is a big place, they must not know which part of it you’re from.

It is not a secret, exactly. It is quiet. You were probably unloved there, persecuted, fearful, abused. You were almost certainly poor.

You are not poor now. You are striving to be less poor with each passing day.

Many of the people you grew up with are poor. Even your family may be poor, even your siblings. This is better. You will understand them less and less as you get older. It will be easier to drift apart.

The people you knew when you are young will seem mysterious — their life choices were different from yours. They may not have gone to college; if they did, they went to college nearby, or moved back home after college. They may be on drugs or drinking or depressed. They may be fat, or poor, or unhappily married. They may work very hard for what seems like very little. They are open about these problems on Facebook.

Your life on Facebook must look perfect.

Your schoolmates’ children are older than yours, but if things had gone slightly differently this wouldn’t be true.

You made some hard choices to make sure it was true.

Be proud of those choices, but do not talk about them.

Once you are from a forgettable place, the next step in forgetting where you came from is to move away. Farther is better. Even better to go across the country for school and never come back. Best is to find a good job somewhere else.

You cannot find a good job in your hometown. There is no such thing.

Your parents sacrificed everything to get you where you are, and this is good. This is what parents should do, if they do not have enough. Parents must get their children to their best possible place in life. All the parents of your better friends have done this, although for them it did not take everything.

For your friends’ parents, it may not even have been a sacrifice.

You should feel grateful to your parents, but not too grateful. Express your gratitude, but do not fawn. If this is confusing, watch what your better friends do and say to their parents, and do the same. Maybe a little less.

It is good practice to watch your better friends. Watch friends from places that are not embarrassing and do not have garbage in the lawn or holes in the roof or incomprehensible disabilities in the relatives and neighbors. Often, their relatives and their neighbors are different people.

Because of this, these friends know the right things to do. They are better people than you. Their families are better than your family.

You may not have believed in better people before you met them, but now you understand.

Admire the better people you copy; copy the people you admire. Say what they say, and do what they do. Eat what they eat, watch what they watch, read what they read, drive what they drive. Laugh when they laugh, live where they live, marry who they marry.

Do not worry about loving what they love. Once you have forgotten where you came from, you will not love anything for a long time.

The better people do not cry.

If you are careful and quiet and smile a lot, you can learn the language of the better people. They move through life easily, and they do not feel ashamed.

You have longed all your life not to feel ashamed.

To avoid feeling ashamed, you must keep your friends from finding out where you came from. You must not let anyone know you worked in high school to buy groceries, or that you learned to use food stamps before you had a bank account, or that you know what dog biscuits taste like. Do not tell anyone you skinned cats to sell as rabbits. Mention military service only obliquely, or to other veterans.

Don’t tell anyone you married up.

Share your knowledge about wild foods or dumpster diving with your friends, but do not tell them why you know.

Do not mention shoplifting until everyone is very drunk.

Do not tell the truth about where you came from. Do not lie about it either. If you lie you will be found out, and being caught lying is gauche. It is best to tell factual anecdotes that hide the truth. Anyone’s mother might have forgotten them after volleyball practice. Anyone’s father might have traveled for work.

No need to mention the long nights of loneliness after you put your siblings to bed. Likewise, it will only depress people to hear about the times you walked three miles home.

While you are forgetting where you came from, it is important to keep a sharp eye on where you’re going. You should aim for your dreams. While you’re aiming for your dreams, you should make sure to only dream of things that match your new life, not your old one. Spend your time, your energy, and your money accordingly.

Of course this means being only and always trendy. Save money when you can, but some luxuries are necessities.

It is better to buy your morning coffee at Starbucks than at McDonald’s, but a local roaster is better. French wine is better than Californian. Local breweries are better than domestic; you may drink imported beer if you must. Buy new clothes, not thrifted. Lease your car. Change cars when the lease runs out.

Buy a house in a good school district if you can. If you can’t, or if the good school isn’t good enough, send your children to private school.

If you have spent all your money this way, you may go into debt, but don’t complain about it. You may occasionally complain about student loans if you are under thirty, but not after. You may allude to the high cost of home repairs or your children's tuition, but don’t use exact numbers.

Do not mention medical debt at all.

Above all, do not tell anyone if you must help your parents, or siblings, or cousins with bills. If friends need help with bills, ghost them.

Your children may ask for help until they are out of school or twenty-eight, whichever comes first.

It is easy to resent your children if you have forgotten where you came from, but if you’ve truly forgotten it may be hard to remember why. They will seem ungrateful, ungracious, heartless, and unaware of your sacrifice. If you have raised them correctly, this will be true.

Remember: if you’ve forgotten where you came from, they don’t know either.

If you are intent on forgetting where you came from, you will teach your children that appearances matter more than realities, and that all that matters is what you can get away with. You will also be angry when they reflect this back to you. This is normal— you are working very hard to suppress your instincts and desires so they can have a better life — but you must hide this.

Be careful of telling your children stories of where you came from — children are terrible at keeping secrets, and once they know it will be harder for you to forget. Your stories may also give them a sense of learned helplessness, because no matter what they do, what you have done will still have been harder.

Remember as you raise your children that you will not truly have forgotten where you came from until they are living happy, well-adjusted lives. Forgetting where you came from is very painful, so it can be hard to teach your children to be well-adjusted or let them be happy; do your best, for their sake and yours. It is difficult to make children fake happiness: a measure of empathy is necessary for normal human interaction. If you are a real monster it is acceptable to try.

Do remember, if you endeavor to teach your children to be plasticine and perfect to enhance your social status, you must also teach them to hide it.

When you have forgotten where you came from, you may deal with feelings of inadequacy and unreality. You may wonder if you really deserve what you have, or if your friends, your job, your spouse, and everyone you interact with are merely humoring you.

This is fear.

You think if everyone knew you, the real you, the real you, they would not love you. They would not care about you. You think if they knew your father’s net worth, or how many years you skipped school on picture day because of your clothes, or why you got married the first time, they wouldn’t respect you anymore.

You’re also afraid they might pity you. So you hide.

If you really want to forget, you’re right to hide.

You may be wrong about how your friends and family would treat you if they knew your real life story. It depends on who they are. This is not why you must hide where you came from.

The real danger is this: if you speak the truth you have to know the truth. Remember, you’ve forgotten where you came from.

You’ve carefully forgotten where you came from.

You worked so hard to forget where you came from.

Don’t ruin it now.

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Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

I still write sometimes, and I have a buttload of already-written stuff. So there you go.

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