It takes the first sulphurous whiff of a papermill on my way in to town to smother my hope and raise the vapors of despair in my soul. The decay and desparation in Texarkana is palpable. I may have been born here, I may have spent the bulk of my young life inside these city limits, but after finally, resolutely, pushing my way out and staying out, every time I come back as an outsider, I’m reminded of every reason I left.
Every family business shuttered because the next generation left town. Every stately house with a blue tarp hanging over some part of the structure. Every vacant lot that was previously the homesite of someone’s dreams. Every gas station turned into a payday loan store. Every quickmart turned into a smoke shop. Every stand of pine trees turned into a stripmall. Every stripmall turned into a godbox. Every steel-sided structure with a brick faÃ§ade and a cross on top. Every block of homes bulldozed for a hospital parking lot. Every hospital turned into a juvenile detention center. Every bogus statistic that tells you to fear the boogey man, because crime is on the rise (the cops said so). Every downtown intersection with the stoplights pulled down because it costs too much to keep them running. Every downtown business throwing in the towel because the money is along the interstate.
I hate change, I really do. My internal behaviour indicates this. Why? Because it’s uncontrollable. Change happens. I’d rather it didn’t. I’d rather things didn’t change, only improved, only maintained. Instead of letting things rot, instead of tearing them down, instead of building a new thing in its place, why not just maintain? We have no connection with the past; no sense of history. Our only sense is that old things are old and worthless, and new things are what we need, but now the only place to get new things is Walmart. And those new things are worthless, but we want them.
I think I’d rather have all the delapidated, crumbling structures torn down a la Detroit. Just vast swaths of nothing, empty spaces sold for their true value: nothing. This was once a booming industrial town — now it’s an in-joke. When I ask, “so, what’s there to do here nowadays,” the residents just look at me and brokenly laugh, shrugging, “This is Texarkana.” Why is there not anything worthwhile here? I currently live in a city where distractions are a dime a dozen. I mean, there’s got to be life here, activity aplenty, right? There’s got to be interesting things with lasting value here, right? Right? It just seems so small, so unimportant. So desperate.
Decay has happened, Texarkana. You did it. You let it happen. You failed yourselves. You stopped caring. You looked at the fuzz in your own navels and found it more interesting than your community, you sons of bitches. You had all the power to make your town a wonderful place, but you let it all go to Hell. Your fault.
My own problem with Texarkana, truth be told, is that it’s a reminder of my own failings, a signpost marking the source and shape of my own failings. It’s a damage that I’m trying to overcome. Were it not for my family who still call this place their home, I’m pretty sure I would have no problem with never coming back again.