This Must Be the Place
by Kara Brown
by Kara Brown
When you tell people that you are moving to Vermont on Wednesday, they tend to react with disbelief.
I was living in a small town, the town I grew up in. I was living with my parents. I was teaching where I had gone to undergrad. My sister was off for her turn at grad school. My best friend moved to Korea to teach English to kids. Most of my friends had moved away. Hell, I had moved away and come back. I still felt like a kid in so many ways, locked into old habits and mindsets. The town was full of specters--memories good and bad, that had gone on repeat and gone stale.
None of my three part-time jobs since graduating with a master's in literature and film were panning out. As much as there is to enjoy about Georgia (there are some things...), I was surrounded by backward people and encroaching suburban sprawl--a Wal-Mart was opening in my hometown. I needed to get the fuck out.
And the question gets asked, Why Vermont? And truly, I have no answer. It was a whim. People tell me that I was brave; I don't feel that way--there was nothing else for me to do.
So what actually is appealing about Vermont? As a 20-something leftist stuck in a gorgeous but conservative Christian complacent state, Vermont's liberalness was an obvious appeal. (I once told my ultra-conservative aunt that I was thinking about moving to Vermont. She said, "You need to be careful." I thought she meant possibly the rough winters. I asked, "Why?" Her answer: "It's pretty liberal up there." My only reply: "Well, I'm pretty liberal myself." The conversation ended there.) I was told Burlington was similar to Athens, Georgia, so there was that connection. I had a friend at Vermont Law School in South Royalton who said Burlington was cool. Burlington seemed to have the most options as the biggest city here, yet small enough to be manageable. Though I've never been to Vermont, I've loved every time I'd visited New England. Civil unions (and now gay marriage) are legal here. Howard Dean used to be governor. I think Bernie Sanders is awesome.
None of these are reasons to move to a place; like I said, there was no reason. Why reason? These are simply whiffs of whims of appeals.
So I found a room to rent on Craigslist. Furnished, check--since I barely own any furniture and certainly couldn't bring any up in my tiny 1993 Honda Accord. The owner of the room, who needed a six-month sublet (perfect), grilled me on music, movies, books, and drinking habits. I passed. And if those were the things that were important in this house, I knew I would fit in.
I fell in love with Vermont on the drive up. North on I-89, I saw the snow-covered Green Mountains and tears came to my eyes. Dramatic, yes, but I was moved by their foreign yet familiar appearance. Vermont seems to be the best parts of Georgia--a mix of urban and rural--without all the aspects that drove me up the wall. I stopped at a small gas station around the Windsor/Hartland area for some caffeine and a bathroom. It was small and quaint and sold homemade pastries and had country music playing on the radio. The deja vu was not depressing, but rather reassuring.
I have lived in cities and in the countryside, and I enjoy both for their own qualities. But this place seems to have struck the perfect balance. I love walking to work, to the store, to the bar. Sometimes I actually resent having to drive my car. I love having interesting places to eat and music venues and art galleries within a minute's reach. But I'm also surrounded by trees and mountains and water and sky. I can still see the stars at night while sitting on the hood of my car in front of my house.
And I am under no illusion that Vermont is some fairytale homogeneous utopia of a modern liberal Eden: that would be boring and silly. But it's the little things that make the difference: no one freaks out or feels personally affronted when they find out I don't eat meat; saying you're an atheist doesn't carry some heavy stigma; eating local is seen as a virtue; worrying about the environment doesn't automatically make you a delusional softie; broad denunciations made against high-fructose corn syrup and bottled water are usually met with agreement instead of confusion. Of course the downside to all this tolerance is that I worry I'm losing my edge, becoming an actual liberal softie.
I also worry about wasting my time, of taking my two degrees in the humanities and and briefly serving as a 29-year-old intern who isn't even in school and also working in a co-op. Some days I think my job is futile: what am I doing--putting cans on shelves? It can be endless, tedious. Yet most days, I like it. I work with my hands. I help supply food to people. All the tedium and time gives your mind time to expand, to think, to be with itself (for better or ill some days). It makes me tired, but not exhausted. It doesn't come home with me. And I get a discount on groceries.
And as I settled in with roommates and job and newness, winter turned into spring. I could invoke T. S. Eliot--"April is the cruelest month"--because for someone who despairs of too much cold and grey, spring was an unfulfilled promise, even as everyone around me was assuring me that summer would be amazing.
The official first day of spring made me cry. I saw March 22 on the calender, clearly labeled "First Day of Spring," and I looked out the window to still-chilly temps. Disheartening is not a strong enough word. Also, the broad swings between pleasant and miserable weather didn't help. On the first sunny, slightly warm day, people went nuts; I did, too. It's like the world was new. People smile on the streets. You see grass instead of frozen dog shit. You go without a hoodie in the evening, though you huddle into your chest a bit at the end, because you are determined to enjoy the not-freezing fresh air. Drinking beer seems a celebration rather than distraction.
So even as I loved so much about Burlington and Vermont, I found myself being miserable, without reason. The violent upswings and downturns of transitions--the ones, try as you might, you cannot completely wrap your head around as they are actually happening to you. The only thing that consoled me was that there were leaves on the trees, a fact which seriously amazed me every single day. One day in May, it seemed I just woke up and there were green things outside on the trees. I think I did a double-take.
There was a month when I was determined to move back to Georgia at the end of the summer. The best thing about my life was my job. Not only is that surprising in itself, but compound it by the fact that I was stocking groceries. I had friends. I had things to do. I had places to go. But I hated all of it. Hate is too strong a word--I simply felt disconnected from this town. I remember walking down the waterfront in late spring and watching the sparkling water in front of the Adirondacks. I knew it must be beautiful, but I was unmoved. It's odd to feel the baking sun when the only heat is from the rays themselves and not the air around you. One small cloud could make it cold again.
Then somehow weather redeemed Vermont again for me: the summer that everyone promised. Where every day seems new and magical (I know, I know...). But how else are you supposed to feel when you are addicted to bike rides and sunsets and farmers markets? Every day that I can, I sit in Battery Park and gaze over the water. The lake is beautiful. The lake is always beautiful.
I have already started to dread the winter--the cold, the length. I'm going to have to find a winter activity to keep me occupied. (I don't ski, which is apparently a shocking thing to tell a Vermonter.)
But the other day I had a minor epiphany: maybe the beginning of winter will hold its own magic and beauty, just like the beginning of spring and summer did. The ups and downs of living in a temperate climate: you're never bored by the weather.
So the fall will be gorgeous, and then ease into the desolate white beauty of winter, and I'll see what more Burlington holds for me, including specters later on, I'm sure. Soon, more than likely. Good and bad. But what's life but a little bit of longing?
Most places are pretty much the same. I could have been in Georgia. It was a summer day. I was across the street from an auto parts store eating soft-serve from a redneck rip-off ice cream joint, sitting next to a white boy.
And I was right where I was supposed to be.
[submitted to Seven Days, The Sun, The Believer; all rejected.]