“It’s like all I want to do is be in Portland in June.”
That’s what my homie Tom told me on the phone last week. He’s going to school in Montreal, one of the few of us who somehow found a colder environment to live in. His eyes froze on his walk to class the other day.
This has been a common sentiment lately among “the kids I know from home” (that’s how you have to refer to them when you’re in college; or, “this kid I went to high school with”). I think it has something to do with the longing for summer that hits all New Englanders this time of year, combined with some freshman-year growing pains.
Do y’all know that Death Cab for Cutie song, “Why’d You Want to Live Here”? It’s about their lead singer’s dislike of L.A. My favorite lines are, “I’m in Los Angeles today / asked a gas station employee if he ever had trouble breathing / and he said, ‘It varies from season to season, kid.’”
That’s how I feel about Maine. Actually, that’s how a lot of people feel about Maine.
I was on the phone with my friend Raizel, who’s a freshman up at Colby, and I asked her if the people she goes to school with are surprised that she’s from Maine. They are. “You knew what this was like,” they say. “You knew how soul-crushing it is to have the sun set at 4 p.m. and constantly have a brain freeze from the frigid air, and you choose to stay?!”
Why do we all subject ourselves to this hell? I have two theories.
Reason 1: People stay for the ridiculous beauty we have in so much of the state. That’s what most of my friends say, anyway. And it’s probably no coincidence that the people I know who stayed in Maine for school are all studying something with “environmental” in the title.
My dear friend Simi is studying art in Baltimore. They were telling me how they love living in a bigger city, how it’s so convenient, but also that they miss trees. Like, a lot.
My best friend at college happens to be from OOB. The first time we went back home, they got a pine tree tattooed on their back. The ocean too. Everyone misses the ocean.
Emily goes to school on Staten Island. Like Simi, she likes being in a bigger city, but is also surprisingly homesick, because she couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Portland. She and Simi and Sascha, who is on a gap year in New Zealand, are the only kids from home I know who have been lucky enough to end up on a coast. But none of them thinks it’s the same as Maine. We all want to jump into Casco Bay at pretty much any given moment of the day.
Reason 2: People stay because Mainers are stubborn as hell. You know we have more old people than young people in the state. I’m young and spry, relatively active, kinda hardy. But even I, a 19-year-old with good bones and cells that still regenerate, feel the toll of the Maine winter like a mofo. When I was home for break, I ate shit on the ice outside the front door and got whiplash. So why the heck are all these old folks living here? They’re stubborn as hell, that’s why.
I think Mainers share some type of twisted kinship. It’s the pride in doing things a harder way, a tougher way. We’ll suffer through long winters because at the other end is June up at West Quoddy Head, down in the Old Port, at Two Lights munching on some chicken fingies, watching the hipsters drink Bissell Brothers or Trulys on the ferry out to the island.
I asked my friends living out of state what it would take to bring them back. For Simi, it was a more interesting music scene, and/or a good job. For Raz and Tom, good job prospects, as well, but they’re both on the teaching track, and not too worried about finding a position. Em wants to be a teacher too, but isn’t sure Maine is the place for her. Her family and friends are here, so she says maybe she’ll give it a shot.
I’m having trouble feeling like I’m just sticking to what I know. I miss Maine so much, and I’ve hardly explored Northampton at all. Because it feels temporary. Like my life is still in Maine, waiting for me to get back to it. It’s funny to be living (and loving) this completely separate life states away, yet feel like my real life is still at home.