As many of you have read, I gritted, grew, and kept pushing forward in my life. Looking back, I wonder if I was just running. Hometowns are forever imprinted in the lives of the children who were raised there. Artesia has been embedded in my life in such unforeseen ways. I still yearn for small town living. My family is the center of my world. I still love the game of football and still carved out a pretty traditional life (married, two kids, nice house, safe neighborhood) that would be deemed a success in Artesia if I didn't happen to be gay. Artesia will always be a part of me, so I know that running isn't necessary anymore.
There has been a fog covering my time In Artesia that comes with the trauma I endured. But as the fog is lifting, I am beginning to cherish the memories that are taking shape in my path to recovery.
Exploring St. Pauls as if it were Disneyland, even crawling through the underground air-ducts seeking creepy corners and scary creatures. Remembering when we left the ducts open by accident and my cat Garth had his own exploration one Sunday morning. I can still hear his loud meows as my Dad attempted his sermon.
We rode our bikes for hours, covering what felt like miles and miles of territory only to find out later in life it was only about half a mile. We had provisions though. Our backpacks were filled with bologna sandwiches and Tang.
I remember touch football in the church yard.
I remember being able to walk to both elementary and middle school.
I remember weekend meals at La Fonda and burritos from Allsups.
I remember Friday nights with the town painted orange and black.
I remember cruising main street in my long bed Dodge Dakota.
I remember Sonic and cherry vanilla Dr. Peppers.
I remember our open campus and still wondering how we got to restaurants, ate, and got back to school in the 30-40 minutes we had for lunch.
So many memories with my friends are flooding back to me as I hear from them and feel their support through this blog.
I never realized how much I needed to reclaim your town in order to heal. My abuser took so much from me, but I don't want him to take my memories or my hometown.
In March of 2020 (before the Covid Pandemic shut our country down), my family and I flew to New Mexico and drove the three and a half hours from Albuquerque to Artesia, a drive I made 100 times throughout my youth. Through therapy, I realized I needed to make this drive, with my family, to make peace with town I had resented for years. I needed to stand tall as a survivor, father, and husband inside the city limits of Artesia.
We stayed just one night and one day in your town. We ate at La Fonda and my boys tried an Allsups burrito. I showed them Hermosa, Zia, and Park. I took a picture with my family right outside the portable classroom at Park that was the location of so many interactions with my abuser. I reclaimed that spot. I stood tall with my family.
I went to my childhood home, also one of the locations of my abuse, and I stood tall with my family. We recreated the old family photos that were taken year after year on its porch. My abuser doesn't get to own the memories of my home anymore.
On our way out of town, we decided to swing by Bulldog Bowl so my boys could see where I spent most of adolescence. They were in awe of your stadium. We were peeking through the fence when we noticed the gate behind the field house was open. I told my boys that we would head back there but prepared them to be kicked out.
Artesia, Bulldog Bowl is still such a beautiful sight and seeing it through the eyes of my kids was so meaningful. They were in the awe of your prized stadium. As we were looking, the caretaker came out of the field house. He went to school with my brother and recognized my last name. He offered to give us a tour of the updated field house. We walked by the record board seeing my name still posted for the best race I had ever ran. We walked past my locker and my boys wrestled on the big orange mat in the weight room.
I played football with my boys for an hour that day. They tackled each other on the giant 50 yard line bulldog. They scored touchdowns and celebrated with the imaginary fans that filled the stands. It was at that moment I felt I was reclaiming my hometown. The field was no longer a large shadow cast by my brother. It didn't represent the paranoia, shame, and pain my abuser caused during my years on that field.
I was just a dad throwing the football with my boys as my husband watched.
Artesia, my writing has shown that there needs to be a shift in the culture of your town. Uncomfortable and tough talks need to happen to truly protect the children in your town. The reputation of your schools and town needs to be put aside when moments arise where kids need the most support. Your image shouldn't be wrapped up in being perfect from the outside looking in. The children that walk your streets and school hallways will eventually leave your town and enter a great big world. They need to be prepared for what awaits them. They need to look back and feel supported by your town in every way possible, even in the ways that might make your town look bad.
I was raised within your city limits. I rode my bike down your streets. I ran through your banners and I walked your school hallways. I was also groomed in your town. I was abused in your town, and I was forced to drive away being hesitant to ever look back.
I know change can happen. The support from many Artesians has completely overwhelmed me. I never imagined this support to be an outcome from writing this blog. It has been the first time I have truly felt seen by my hometown and it was an important step in reclaiming the town my abuser stole from me.
When people ask me now, I will say I am from Artesia, New Mexico.
Jake (Robbins) Lee