Leaving town

Like a painter who likes working in blues or a musician who returns to a familiar chord progression, there are certain words I like to use, or if I'm honest, overuse.

I'm admitting guilt in hopes of a reduced sentence.

A good word, to me, feels like hard candy in my mouth. I can feel it first click against the back of my teeth before it dissolves, releasing butterscotch across my tongue.

One those words, is "wistful." It means "full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy."

It sounds melodious and looks pressed-flower pretty on the page. I say and write it a lot.

In fact, some very close friends of mine had a field day razzing me about it earlier this year, while we had a drink at the Columns Hotel in New Orleans, which was the setting for a memorable, romantic day I had once.

I was sort of quiet, and when they asked why, I remarked about my wistfulness and, then the jokes ensued. "Hey, everybody, Steve's wistful ... etc."

Sarcastic friends are the best kind to have.

But for the past few weeks I've been, yes, wistful.

See, after nearly eight years of living in New London, I'm leaving.

I'm moving to New York City, Brooklyn to be exact, this week.

I've been infatuated with New York for some time, and I want to experience what it's like. To put it another way, people go skydiving every day.

I've always thought the idea of "leaving" is something fundamental to American culture. The country is made up of people who left some other place, either voluntarily or through enslavement. And some of the people who arrived here forced others to leave.

From "Huckleberry Finn" to "Born to Run," the culture is rich with images of people leaving places in hope of something better.

It's a great subject, but you didn't come here for an American Studies thesis.

Instead, I talked to some people who have left New London in recent years.

I caught up with my friends Tim Grimes and Alicia McAvay, whom I got to know while covering the music scene in New London.

Tim played in several bands, and Alicia once helped organize a rock festival for young people in Groton.

They married and, in January 2010, moved to Portland, Ore., where they have thrived.

Both Grimes and McAvay are passionate about locally grown food and have been working in related fields.

Eight months ago, their son, Kiernan, was born.

I talked to them separately about why they left New London, but they said similar things.

"There were so many great things and opportunities in New London, but we were ready to try something different," Grimes told me. "I wanted a challenge, and I was feeling too comfortable."

A few minutes later, Grimes put McAvay on the phone.

She said that she moved around a lot growing up and that the five years she lived in New London was among the longest stints in her life.

"I think I wanted some adventure," McAvay said. "New London was great, but it was really comfortable."

There's that word again: comfortable.

I then talked to my friend Amy Jean Pupillo, who grew up in Waterford and was an active member of the downtown New London art crowd. She and her fiance, Jakob, now also live in Portland.

She also mentioned feeling "too comfortable" in New London and felt a move was almost a primal need if she was going to "make anything of her life."

"I thought, 'How do I change my life for the better?'" Pupillo said.

Grimes, McAvay and Pupillo didn't heap any negativity on New London. They all talked rather glowingly about the city, but I see what they mean about the twitch that "being comfortable" can give you.

Certainly, there's a lot in New London that inspires comfort. It's small and easy to negotiate. The fact that it's urban means that people are forced to get along, or at least deal with each other. It breeds friendships and relationships. It lets you be a little weird. Plus, it is the greatest summer town in the world.

Of course there's this: For all those who left, or are leaving, or hope to leave, there are plenty who are going to stay here and do great things.

I've told several of my close friends that I didn't expect to feel so, yes, wistful, as the departure date loomed.

New London and the people who live here got to me. It really did. You really did.

So leaving town has been like breaking up with my six-square-mile girlfriend.

It's not you, it's me.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lived in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.


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