“Where you from?” is usually the first question I get, after “Does that hurt?” referring to my soda can sized ear lobes or “What are those?” motioning toward the circular sub-dermal implants that reside on the back of my hands. “Brooklyn” I say, to which I usually receive the retort of “ah, that makes sense”. That is, until they learn that I am referring to a small town in Iowa rather than one of New York’s most famous boroughs. I usually wished I was referring to New York.

You see, for several years I was living, working, and traveling outside of my hometown, doing my best to get as far away as I could from the memories that I had left there. I would occasionally return for family gatherings and despise even being within the city limits. I harbored a lot of ill will towards that town and when I crossed those railroad tracks back to the city limits each time I did not gain the welcoming feeling I’d hoped to.

As a child growing up I got on well with everyone, though I know I was viewed as the “Weird Coburn Kid” by many. This is not an assumption, it is truth. (Remember that just because people look a bit different it does not make them deaf.) I sometimes wondered what I put my family through by changing my appearance slowly over the years, when it was still so rare in such a small town. I knew they heard negativity too, that is what frustrated me most. I felt as if I was causing undue pain and drama to my family for simply choosing to be myself. I knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t know how to fix it either.

I left my home town with memories of feeling misunderstood, like an outcast, and I viewed it as my fault. Fact is that it was my fault. It was my choice to so heavily tattoo my skin. It was my choice to let the negativity creep in through the cracks. It was my choice to try to escape my problems and leave them in that small town I ran so quickly from.

Years later, here I am returning back home. Not just returning, but promoting I am returning, for one night only, in a Public Library I had never set foot within, to speak to the general public. This would have been my worst nightmare a few years ago, but today, today I look forward to the moment that I spend some time in my hometown.

Sure, this is a place that I felt misunderstood; this is a place that I felt isolated, but this is my hometown. This is the place that created me. I could still walk every sidewalk in town and point to where I used to ramp my bicycle over cracks & misshapen concrete. I can still walk past homes and say, “That is the old such & such residence.” even though that family has not resided there for decades. More importantly, I can see faces that I have not seen in years and change the way I view them.

I can now see that not only may I have been misunderstood, but I misunderstood much about my home town. I misunderstood how many good people lived there, and still live there. I misunderstood the unity that living in a small town can bring. I misunderstood the knowledge that was passed around in the early morning hours over coffee at the local donut shop (for those of you that can remember that far back). I misunderstood why I had to grow up there, isolated and unhappy.

My hometown would provide me with stories to share with my children, just the same as my father would share with me.  My hometown would provide me with a sense of pride that so many great people, who I failed to get to know, came from here as well. Time and perspective can change your future, but it can also change your past. I now realize it was my choice to be unhappy and isolated when I could have chosen to be more open and willing to learn.

Brooklyn, thank you for the childhood memories playing little league, the hard work taking care of lawns for seemingly endless summers, and most of all, thank you for the time spent at the local grocery store where I would have the pleasure of serving smiling faces of the small town’s residence each day. Brooklyn, thank you for all of your support over the years, thank you for making me who I am today, and thank you for teaching me lessons that only a hometown can teach. I am blessed to have a hometown as great as Brooklyn, a hometown that is only as great as the families that live there.

See you soon Brooklyn, I will do my best to serve you when I return. Thank you for welcoming me back.  -Joshua Coburn