It struck me recently that I’ve spent almost my entire life in the same county; I grew up in Hartford County, I moved back here after college, and I live and work here now.
I feel anxious about that, and I’m trying to figure out why.
This all started when I followed a bot on Twitter that was posting pictures of every census tract. It’s the sort of thing I really like. When it got to Hartford County I retweeted my favorites, and wrote a little bit about each. I grew up and went to elementary school in census tract 4946, spent my teen years in tract 4942.01, went to high school in tract 4737, and live now in tract 4808.
<3 home sweet tract <3 https://t.co/UpiFkHhIc9
— Susan Jane Bigelow (@whateversusan) February 7, 2019
I’d never really put it all together like that, before. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but yes, I am sharply defined by the borders of a county that only exists on paper. And, now that I don’t work in Massachusetts anymore, I rarely leave.
What does that make me? Is this a good or a bad thing? Am I parochial and narrow, so fixed into my surroundings that I can’t see beyond them? Am I missing things because I’ve been here so long that what’s right in front of my face becomes invisible?
Why does this bother me at all?
I think I have some answers. I’m going to try and work through them.
This might be some sort of family thing. My parents moved us here when I was three, back when Connecticut was somewhere people moved to instead of away from. But my sister couldn’t leave the state fast enough, and my parents eventually moved back to Pennsylvania. There’s a little voice in my mind that chides me for not leaving, too, as silly and irrational as that is.
I know it’s a class thing. I grew up in the upper middle class, and I went to a prep school where I mingled with kids whose parents owned massive houses in West Hartford. There’s a class expectation that children are supposed to go out and make their way in some new and exciting part of the country or the world. Most of the people I knew in high school and college are gone. People in the social and economic class I grew up in move around the country like it’s nothing. Staying put? That’s for those poor saps who can’t afford to leave.
It also may be an American thing. We’re a restless people who are always on the move. The vast majority of us don’t have an ancestral village anywhere on this continent, we’re not as tethered by the weight of history as people in India or Ireland or Iran. There’s a rootlessness in us, a constant need to keep moving.
It’s definitely a Connecticut thing. People talk about leaving so much that deciding to stay becomes, either a political statement or, depending on who you are, a statement of utter stupidity. This is a hard place to be proud of being from. Everywhere else seems so much less stressed and depressed. Even going up to western Massachusetts feels like shedding this massive psychological weight.
It’s a me thing, too. I always dreamed of traveling the world forever, I naively saw a kind of romance in drifting from city to city, never really staying in one place. Plus, it’s spring. I always want to travel in spring.
I’ve been lucky. I live in a little house on a quiet street in census tract 4808. I always know exactly where I am whenever I drive somewhere or take the bus. There are mountains to climb, trails to hike, cities and towns to explore, and always something new bubbling up to the surface. I haven’t been forced to leave for work or survival, but, on the other hand, nobody made me stay here either. And whenever I leave, I can’t wait to come back.
I’m here because it’s home. The people and the places of Hartford County are a part of who I am, and if I left, I wouldn’t quite be me anymore.
No, I didn’t choose to be from here. But I choose to stay here because I like it, and because it suits me. It’s a place worth being in, and a place worth fighting to make better.
The call of somewhere else is always strong. But the call of home, for me, is always stronger.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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