By the time they’re ready to graduate high school, most kids have learned a love-hate relationship with the places they grew up. Some only love, and some only hate, but that’s really how life always is. I grew up west of Denver, in a place where nobody really knew where we were. The people in the city would say the Mountains, the people in the mountains would say the City, and the weathermen on TV always called it the Foothills.
It’s no surprise. We were always 3,000 feet above the famous Denver air pollution, trapped inside the city. We were in a place where roads were never straight or flat, where my biology teacher brags about how we have the second oldest exposed rock in the world (three billion years old, he tells us). A place where flash flood warning signs snake alongside the road which follows the river downstream towards the Atlantic, thousands of miles away. A place where there were more tourists snaking through the hills in the summertime than locals, where out-of-state plates started to look familiar. I grew up in a place where there were more than just local prejudices—most people seemed to think there was nobody different at all. Besides, people east of here were snobs; people west of here were hippies. Who knew what lay just outside the limits of the county?
We grew up laughing at the kids that lived just downstream from us, the ones that lived inside the city and who got stuck in Saturday morning ski traffic and didn’t have the luck to grow up in a place like us. We’d go to that familiar strip of Colfax and drive too fast with the windows down and the music up and laugh the summer air. We’d wonder what it was like to live in the suburbs, to drink city mandated water, to go to a big Denver public school. To have a clean SUV for our moms to drive, because, after all, the only kind of car we knew was covered in dust. We called them rich kids, snobs; we laughed the cliques we’d never be a part of. We rejoiced in our homogeneity.
I went to a small public high school filled with white kids. We’d laugh about that sometimes, how white we were. It was never a matter of exposure for us; too often I can remember the only minorities that ever came to live in our county were ridiculed until they left. I remember reading once that it’s hard to be different in high school—some of the kids I knew had that experienced amplified. They weren’t just different… they were the only different ones. Instead of encouraging diversity, we blocked it out, pretended it didn’t exist. In a city with one of the highest rates of expanding Hispanic population, we had not a single one attending our school. I can distinctly remember the reports from the state about our school’s performance that always seemed to include a side note that said 99% White, Not Hispanic. It was funny—to read about the “melting pot” of America, but never to experience it. I grew up in a place where nobody wanted to experience it. It was a surreal experience, a thrill, to finally meet people that were not in the same Census categories that I was.
Where I grew up, the best feeling in the world was getting woken up at quarter of six in the morning to the sound of the phone ringing and a whispered conversation about a Snow Day. I’d look outside to see an expanse of untouched white, a feather bedspread across the forest, piling high on every surface. Like cartoons where three feet of snow would fall all at once, that’s how it seemed those mornings. For a few moments, the snow would be completely untouched, still completely frozen from the night before, and life would stand still. I could take a deep breath and fall back into my pillows to sleep the morning away. When I woke again, the snow would usually be melting off the pine branches and making tiny splatting noises against the ground and the windows. The sky would be so blue, so clear, it was impossible to imagine it had been any other color; impossible to imagine that in some other life clouds had existed. On those mornings, I could look out my bedroom window and see for miles and miles, an expanse of already-patchy white interrupted by the meandering dark gray turns of the highway.
My childhood is marked by mornings like these. I grew up in a place I’ll never forget, in a place I’ll always love—but for me, living here really is a love-hate relationship.