I began to look for something different. I didn’t have a sense of the possibilities innate in that wonderful word–different–only a vague clenched feeling deep in my chest, a tension that was boiling over at the regularity with which I’d been confronted so far.

My first implulse, like many before me, was to leave Deerton. That is often enough for someone I grew up with to declare victory, but I found the next largest town up the road to be more of the same. The same buildings, the same people, the same cars. Oh, there were superficial differences to be sure, but even the lightest nick or cut would reveal tired old archetypes in new skin, a town created from the same set of stencils as Deerton.

The regional center? Add taller buildings that looked much like the shorter ones when you wormed into them. Biggest city in the state? A beltway that’s nothing more than pieces of I-313 back home re-skinned and re-used. Even the really big places–even New York, Los Angeles–added simply another layer of ornamentation to the basic structure. What, after all, makes a meth addict on the street all that different from a heroin addict–other than the size of their wallet? What, after all, makes the corrupt boss of Deerton’s Republican machine all that different from the corrupt boss of New York’s Democratic one?

Everything I saw and experienced was obstinately similar to what had come before, and that knot in my stomach refused to fade away.