After my post about leaving Virginia ("I'm Not Wonder Woman"), I was asked by the Hartford Courant to write a story about why I was returning to Connecticut when so many people and businesses were leaving. This post is my essay that was published at www.courant.com earlier this week.
Twenty-eight years ago, I visited Connecticut for the first time. I was 18, a recent high school graduate from Seattle and I came to visit my boyfriend before heading off to college at Brigham Young University. I had never been to New England.
The first time I walked barefoot along the shore of Pleasure Beach in Waterford, the sultry air of an August night enveloped me. I could taste the salt air. That night, I fell in love with Connecticut.
Instead of attending BYU, I stayed in Connecticut, got married and enrolled at Mitchell College. Although graduate school and work took us out of Connecticut more than once over the next two decades, we always returned to Connecticut and considered it home…until nine years ago.
When my family and I left Connecticut for the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in 2007, we were leaving for good. My husband and I had each run for public office, and it was time for space, privacy and a slower pace. At the end of a half-mile dirt road in the Shenandoah Valley, we found a Civil War-era farmhouse on 20 acres. It became our refuge. There we raised animals, planted fruit trees and harvested everything from beets and sweet potatoes to peanuts and popping corn. There were fields to run in, creeks to jump over and woods to explore. Rockspring Farm, as we came to call home, was idyllic. I never wanted to leave.
While living in Virginia, we made regular trips back to Connecticut. On each visit, I carefully unwrapped my heart and opened the memories. They were like faded photos in a dusty shoe box. Upon blowing off the dust, the memories came to life. Not dates and times. Rather, images came to life illuminated by sounds, smells and tastes.
The crisp winter air against my face. The sand squishing between my toes as I walk along the beach. The sound of the ocean lapping at the shore. Stone walls — glimpsed through the autumn foliage — crisscrossing hills, meadows and woods. The smell of wood smoke.
But mostly, I kept those memories buried beneath my love for the new life we had built at Rockspring Farm. That life included opening our home up to the people around us who needed help: our neighbor who was raising her children alone, a sister-in-law in need of some emotional R&R, and another sister-in-law and her children who needed refuge from an abusive spouse. However, when we opened our doors to offer a safe haven to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at a nearby college where my husband worked, I never imagined that our support for these young people would lead to prejudice against us. But it did.
Most people were supportive. But a senior university administrator publicly reprimanded my husband. Worse, that same administrator went to an ecclesiastical leader in our congregation and questioned my husband's moral standing in the church. He even referred to my husband as "a shark." This oppressive atmosphere was suffocating and I started imagining a different life: those neatly wrapped memories of Connecticut were torn open like presents on Christmas morning. Suddenly, home was 500 miles north.
In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy visits fantastical, faraway places. She travels the yellow-brick road with new friends, facing moments of fear and happiness. She even meets a fairy and has the opportunity to live like a queen in the Land of Oz. But ultimately, she wants nothing more than to return to Kansas, telling herself: "There's no place like home."
Though returning to Connecticut isn't as easy as clicking my heels together, I can relate to Dorothy. I have asked myself, "Why Connecticut?" After all, the state is in the midst of a terrible fiscal crisis. The taxes are too high, the traffic is insufferable and the winters are long. But I feel at home in Connecticut: I fit in at the beach with a swimsuit, flip-flops and a book. I enjoy the proximity to New York City and Boston, my favorite cities. I like taking the train into the city to watch a Broadway show. I love fresh seafood. And when I see older folks wrinkled and leathery from the sun, but still swimming laps in the chilly Atlantic, I'm reminded that life is good.
There's something else. In Connecticut, my desire to help people, whether they are male or female, black or white, gay or straight is accepted. I'm not political. I'm normal. And that makes me feel like I belong here. In the end, the explanation for returning to this state is simple: Connecticut is home.