Part One: A Dismal Portrait
If you used Google maps to get directions to Kirksville, Missouri, it may ask you if you’re sure you typed it in right. Do you really want to go there? Are you positive?
K-ville. The Ville. The Northern Star of Missouri. What happens in K-Vegas stays in K-Vegas.
They built a bypass on the highway just so people traveling north on 63 didn’t have to be subjected to it. Baltimore Street is the main artery, and it belongs to a man in his upper fifties who’s been eating excessively and failing to exercise for the past twenty years. The fast food strip is actually the entire length of the town, ending in a Wal-Mart and a slightly disenfranchised Home Depot a bit further up the road, toward Iowa. The last McDonald’s for 60 miles.
Kirksville is a town dedicated to inconvenience. The banks close at noon on Saturdays, and the only place open on Sundays will set you back 400 calories. The movie theater doesn’t accept plastic payment methods, and the Square downtown is all one-way roads and four-way stops. Even the convenience stores are inconvenient. In the winter they cut their hours, turn off the lights, and sit in the dark.
Darkness. A dearth of street lamps. Brick streets, abandoned buildings with the guts falling out, lead paint snowflakes blowing out of empty windows. Potholes so big they’ll knock your tires out of alignment. Broken glass, more weeds than grass, garbage cans, feral cats.
When I first came to Kirksville I was a senior in high school. My parents and I drove three and a half hours on a Saturday morning to tour Truman State University. I was sick that day and nearly fainted in the basement of the Student Union Building. Off to a good start. My first impression was that I hated it. I hated the campus, I hated the town, and I was not going to go there for college. No, sir. Absolutely not.
A platitude that should have applied: Go with your gut. But after several weeks I convinced myself that being sick had somehow tarnished my experience. I visited Truman State again, this time with my mother and my potential roommate, my best friend in high school, and her mother. It was a pretty day. I felt oriented and excited. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, I thought.
I applied to Truman State University and Washington University in St. Louis. I didn’t get into Wash-U, which is how I ended up here in this town that I hate. I’ve spent the majority of the past three years of my life here, a fact that shocks and horrifies me, makes me feel sick to my stomach.
Where I’m from there’s a pulse. Where I’m from one business closes and another one moves in to try and do better. People take care of their houses, their lawns, their cars. There’s a pride in ownership and a drive to repair and improve what’s broken.
Here here’s a murmur, a backwash of vital fluid through the clogged, plaque-filled arteries. Failed businesses sit with sagging ceilings and rot into their foundations, black vacant windows coated in dust. The houses are slanted, the yards are overgrown. There’s no pride in anything, no drive to renovate.
Kirksville is a stagnant, viscous pool slowly evaporating in the summer sun. And here I am, treading water.