Wasted potential haunts me. It is the shadowy boogie man creeping after me every day. I constantly find myself glancing over my shoulder, checking on his progress, how close or far away he is on a given day. Failure. To live up to your promise. To live up to the expectations of others. To live up to the potential and capacity roiling within yourself. That is the great terror of my life.
Welcome to Possum Springs.
I see it everywhere. Every gorgeous and tragic autumn leaf on the grass. Every crunching footstep, every crackle, every deep exhale as the cloud of cold air rushes out. Possum Springs is my home. I know these streets like the back of my hand. After the amount of time Night in the Woods demands you give it, I knew these streets. The tunnels, the back roads, the shortcuts, the off-limit areas, the woods. They were where I grew up.
Except, it’s distorted. It’s the funhouse mirror version of Nixa, my small Missouri town so full of promise, full of explosive growth, a mad rush of young families, and expansion. People knowing that the next generation was set. That we would be better off. I was lucky.
Everyone knows the town isn’t getting better. We all see it in each others eyes. We know, we just don’t say it. Walking through town for the hundredth or is it the thousandth time now I stroll right past the roads that were never repaired, the bridge to nowhere, the other half hanging off over the waters edge, the money ran out and it’d be finished when new funds were found. New funds will never be found. We all know. Abandoned businesses that dominated my childhood, that define generations of family dinners, parties, birthdays, and after school BS sessions lay gutted and empty. Once the plants and mines closed they just couldn’t stay open. Possum Springs is simply fading away.
Customers come up to Bea, or Gregg, or Angus and they all know. Every one of them. There is no going back. We exchange pleasantries and smile and nod but we all know. The town isn’t getting better. It’s never getting better. The best days of Possum Springs have slipped by, the hope and battle is no longer to be great, no longer to reach lofty heights. It is simply a rearguard action to try to stem the slow tide of the death of the town. The boogie man creeps closer on all of us.
I am in a constant footrace with my potential. With the dual forces of the greatness burning inside me and the shadowy boogie man of unfulfilled promise. I sprint, leap over logs, catapulting myself forward and run and run and run and run. I run so hard I get dizzy, my lungs scorching, desperately trying to suck in some air. My legs burn and I can’t go any further. But I run, I run. Wasted potential haunts me. So I run. I also stop looking back.
I walk past the old school parking lot. It’s deserted. All the kids are done for the day but even during the height of the year the parking lot sits half empty. An ever growing sign of the slow fall of Possum Springs. Once full of the shouts, screams, and endless, restless energy of teenagers and explosive hormones the school is now filled with an echoing and chilling silence. The air hangs heavy.
It’s always cold and deary in town. Of course, this isn’t actually true, Possum Springs is filled with the vibrant golden colors of fall, a beauty can’t help but be found. Yet, it nevertheless feels that way. I can’t remember the last time the sun shined through, the sky looking like a crystal blue shield from the troubles and problems of the world. Instead, a suffocating grayness slowly closes around us all. Nothing can escape from it. No one can see through it. The outside world continues to spin and move on while here in Possum Springs we remain trapped, stuck in place reliving our worst nightmare again and again. No one can see us and so the world moves right along as we slowly fade away.
Possum Springs is a town that probably voted for Trump. There are no dreams here, there is no higher ambition. No risks can be taken because they will fail. No larger dreams can be chased because the tools for success have been stripped away. Hope is given no home or quarter here. We are generations removed from our best days, from the best of us, now, now we are simply tasked with trying to keep things as clean as possible and not having the entirety of their work and legacy come crashing down around us. We are failing. So the town votes for mad men and prays there’s a tomorrow. With its dying breath Possum Springs seeks to send out one last loud angry primal scream into the night at what has happened, to mark a warning to all who come after to not follow our path. We can not know if anyone listened, but we scream nonetheless and then listen as the echo rings all around us. The boogie man creeps ever closer.
You are forced to make choices. There is no good answer, suddenly you are making compromises that gamble away everything. Bea’s mother died and her father couldn’t manage the grief, so she pushed off her ambitions and stayed. What choice does she have? So she loses 15 to 20 years of her life. No talk of her selflessness and altruism changes the fact that she’s just traded away the prime of her life. Everything is wasting away. It just sucks away at you, it devours you.
What is a place once its sole purpose for being is stripped from it? Blood was shed and lives lost in forging this town, in crafting its place in this community. Now it all seems to be a waste.
Looking ahead a few kids are kicking a can between themselves. They are probably ten or eleven. There’s no future for them here. They will have to leave town to find work, to find a life. We as a town kept pushing off the worries, the problems, the issues we knew were there, until ultimately we were forced to live through our worst nightmare, until they swallowed us up and engulfed our world in blackness.
What a goddamn waste.
Wasted potential haunts me. Legacy, promise, and greatness. These words filled my little head and blazed images of my future, of my town’s future inside of me. It can’t all have been for nothing I told myself.
Of course, that wasn’t true. History had told me otherwise. Wasted potential, a squandering of talent and skill has infected the species since our first disappointing reach for the apple.
When they write the story of Possum Springs we will be its end. The custodians of its demise. The watchkeepers as everything it once was simply faded out. The fall colors perfectly capturing the death of the town. You just sink deeper.
Death will visit all of us. This truth is usually given as a warning, as the truest most real horror story. Yet, perhaps there’s something in that fact that can compel us forward. The shadowy boogie man chasing after us catches most of us. But what if this time he doesn’t? Failure is a pit, it is a sucking and black place, yet if you are capable of climbing and clawing your way out of the pit, perhaps a lesson can be learned. Perhaps, you will never stop running. Run so fast you never stop.
I blow past all the trees, rocks, and twigs strewn across the ground. I fly over the boulders in my path, and launch myself forward, until broken and exhausted, with nothing left to give I find myself at the overlook peering out at Possum Springs. A town of broken dreams, shattered promise, and a place where hope was shriveled up and crushed out of town. It is a bleak and unsparing place, one devoid of so much, yet it is placed firmly in a hamlet of wonder and beauty. As the first snow begins to fall around me, as the pine trees are coated in a dusting of white, as one year gasps out its last breath and another roars awake with its first gasp of life I marvel at the world. As the sun dips below the horizon and an explosion of colors fill the world, crimson, purple, and blue rays dancing across the sky reaching up to the heavens, I am forced to pause and to wonder.
Possum Springs is not really dead. Hope is not so much crushed from this place as battered and beaten. People don’t talk about it but there is still a tiny shard left within them all. They believe. To hope is to be alive and there is still a fair amount of life here. It is tied to us, it is who we are. I hear the crunch of leaves as the boogie man edges ever closer, yet I also hear the slow rumble of cars, the creaks and bangs, and noises of the city. These people have sacrificed themselves to the world they find themselves inhabiting, they live not special lives, but to live is to be extraordinary and surely the denizens of Possum Springs are extraordinary in their quiet, determined, resolute passion to keep things going. It is easy to call them resigned to their fate, unable or unwilling to leave a cause they know is lost, but perhaps to them it is something altogether different. They are not a mining people, not really. They are a people who will never willingly give up on this place. Possum Springs is fading, it is dying, but it is not gone yet. They know the odds are stacked against them, but the odds have not been called just yet. They do not have the answers, so they work, they build, they go about their quiet, understated, extraordinary lives and keep a flicker of that most extraordinary of things alive, hope. For just one more day. For just one more night. Until, perhaps, maybe just maybe, an answer will come. A change will occur, hope will rise again.
Over the horizon the last faint flicker of light fades out and it’s just me, just the town, just a last dying gasp of hope, alone, at night in the woods.