This entry was originally written in response to the “nostalgia” prompt on Femsplain.
A few weekends ago, the first person I ever told my mom I wanted to marry — Justin Timberlake — played in the annual celebrity golf tournament that’s been held in my hometown ever since I can remember.
I got a text from my best friend of 17 years about the event days before she drove home to visit her parents and watch the tournament. She told me she planned to bring a sign with her that said something to the effect of “January 31! You know what’s up!” (For context, my best friend’s birthday is January 31. So is Justin Timberlake’s. I won’t say that I remember hers because it’s also his, but I will say that I was an *NSYNC fan before I was her friend. Ahem.)
It felt weird to talk to her about this celebrity whose been on the periphery of my experience with pop culture since I was eight. She was never really a fan. When we became friends in the fourth grade because I had a crush on her older brother, the only cool fifth grader in my split-grade class, it seemed like we had basically nothing in common because she didn’t love The Best (Boy) Band In The World. Oh, how things change…
*NSYNC was my first concert. I plastered my walls with the visages of Justin and his bandmates for years before I started replacing them with posters of punk bands and, incongruously, Mandy Moore. (Years after I told my mom I wanted to marry Justin Timberlake, I told her over Facebook that I was dating a woman and then, later, told her I wanted nothing to do with men. Somewhere in my past, it appears that these women-loving roots began with Mandy.)
Even now, as an out and proud lesbian who’s happily engaged, I cannot shake my deep-set attachment to and fondness for Justin Timberlake. Getting that text from my friend resulted in me screaming like a kid again, then texting back a series of words that were in all capital letters and mostly lacking vowels — a sign, of course, that my hands were shaking as I tried to type.
I told my friend that if she didn’t get me an autograph, she would be dead to me. She failed her mission. Alas, she’s still my maid of honor, because 17 years of friendship is more important than 17 years of low-key smoldering attraction to a former Mickey Mouse Club member. Who would’ve thought?
It also felt weird to talk to my friend about Justin Timberlake playing in the annual celebrity golf tournament because it instantly brought back memories of when I was a kid living in that town. My mom worked at one of the local casinos, cashing out chips for people like Drew Carey and Michael Jordan. She would tell me about these people, seemingly unaffected by their celebrity, while I gawked. To this day, my mom is the most nonchalant person I know. It’s a skill she did not pass on to me, unfortunately. My excitement is often quick to appear and obnoxious to behold.
Despite the regular presence of celebrities in my hometown (there have even been several movies filmed there, ones I love to pick apart at the seams because the geography makes absolutely no sense in any of them), growing up I always felt like it was too small, too boring, and too disconnected from all the things I wanted to be doing. I wanted to go to every single concert ever and become a writer and meet someone and travel the world with them. I wanted to write books and interview famous musicians and be really, really cool.
I left my hometown eight years ago to attend college on the opposite side of the country. I don’t regret that decision even a little bit, but — I haven’t been back in nearly six years, and in that time, both Beyoncé and Lady Gaga have performed in the summer concert series and my Original True Love Justin Timberlake has played in a golf tournament. When I allow myself to get nostalgic for the life I had there, it sort of feels like I outgrew my hometown too soon. Then again, that seems to only be related to the celebrity I once coveted (and still do, from time to time).
Last weekend, as my friend shared photos and videos of Justin Timberlake playing golf in a town I remember in mixed shades of rose and dark gray, I struggled (not for the first time) to reconcile my nostalgia with my present contentedness.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed in my hometown, like so many people predicted I would; very likely, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake still would have made appearances. I would have gotten to share in the excitement of that with people I grew up with. But I also wonder if I would have stayed holed up, afraid to be myself and afraid to pursue my dreams. I can almost guarantee I never would have felt comfortable coming out as a lesbian. Life would have looked much different, for me.
I’m a happier, healthier person living away from there. Moving away was a painful process and I still get pangs when I remember favorite restaurants, local haunts, or experiences I had. It hurts to think about how long it’s been since I’ve hugged my best friends and heard their voices in real life rather than over the phone or on video chats. But in two years, I’ll be marrying the love of my life (someone who, incidentally, is not a famous Triple Threat) and some of those people will be coming here to celebrate with me.
I’ve done some really incredible things with my life since I left my hometown. I’ve been to dozens of concerts, met someone I want to travel the world with, interviewed famous musicians and written thousands of words, some of them published. I haven’t written a book (yet). I think I’m pretty cool, but that changes depending on the day. I didn’t feel very cool squealing over texts about Justin Timberlake as a 26 year-old lesbian. But it felt pretty cool to realize, when someone who wasn’t my friend tried to use his appearance to guilt me into visiting, that I didn’t regret not being there to see him play golf.
Golf is really kind of boring anyway. No amount of nostalgia can combat that.