I grew up in a non-place. My home town does not feature in movies, books, plays, or any other artistic medium. The town does not distinguish itself by industry, tourism, or natural features. Its name marks a highway exit easy to forget. Beyond its residents, the town has made no mark on the wider culture. The one major historical event associated with the location is usually named by the nearest large city because it took place before the town’s founding.

Growing up in a non-place, I learned about a world that always felt distant and inaccessible. Major events in politics, business, or entertainment happened elsewhere, in places I could name before I could locate them on a map. As a small child, I did not understand that my town was in the United States because “the United States” seemed so remote. As an adult I feel a lingering wonder and disdain for these cultural focal points. They are pilgrimage sites that offer a taste of their enhanced reality but require the lion’s share of attention as their price.

In my adolescence I began to see the choice between staying and leaving as existential. Some people escaped and changed their lives. The ones who stayed became part of the obscurity of the place, gradually decaying into the various despairs of poverty. To be in a non-place is to be easily forgotten, a statistical consequence made abstract by uncaring law and policy. My family, my schoolmates, and my community appeared to the world only as part of aggregate poverty.

Once I found my escape, I continued to run. Home remained a spectre, a place I could find myself if I failed and could not recover quickly. The fear of that despair, falling back among the forgotten and abandoned, primed me to prefer desperate risks to the familiarity of home. I moved away, and I stayed away. I moved further away, and when I found myself pulled back once, I swore it would be the last time. On each opportunity I chose to place more distance between myself and my place of origin.

Now that my immediate family is gone and the house dispossessed, I feel both comforted and saddened. There is no longer a refuge for me there, but also no more trap. I am not afraid of needing one if I fail anymore. The town would have been a grave rather than a refuge had I ever needed it. Nevertheless, I have no more reasons to walk streets I know so well. The familiar and the poisonous blend with memory. As I fear being alone, my family’s graves are alone, unvisited by a more distant extended family. The most familiar place holds no belonging for me. I am from no-place, and I belong no-place. Only the body is home.