Karen is from Connecticut. She has a degree in education. She loves game shows, animals, the beach, and her family.
My Hometown: I Saw the Great Escape
I’m often reluctant to tell people where I am from. I already know that they have never heard of it. I’ll go on record as saying it’s boring. I’ve tried to escape. I’ve packed up and driven away from the Connecticut shore many times, seeking adventure and opportunity, surrendering family and the familiar. I’ve made my way up and down the eastern seaboard dozens of times. I’ve packed a Honda to the gills and driven across the country, as far away as I could get without crossing an ocean.
I know the feeling of driving back “home” too though, even when it wasn’t where I rested my head every night or where I paid rent. Even when you find yourself living on your own, home has a way of still being “home.” For me that means I’m driving on I-95. I approach the Q Bridge going past Long Wharf. I smell dead fish and exhaust wafting up from the Long Island Sound, adding ambiance to the smokestacks and decrepit office towers. At that point the trek, long or short, is almost completed.
Facts about Home Sweet Home: Hartford Connecticut is the Insurance Capital of the World. Connecticut's nickname is the Nutmeg State. We've got taxes and Yale University. Connecticut has some of the best fall foliage in New England, if you don't count New Hampshire, Vermont, and probably Massachuettes. And it has some of the best beaches in the Northeast if you don't count Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. It was the fifth state to join the union. I’m sure it has a state bird and a state tree, but I never bothered to memorize that. I didn’t want the other states that I longed to be in to be jealous.
Connecticut has no major sports teams. Residents rely on cheering on Boston or New York teams. It’s a sharp division though. You got to just try not to get shanked in a parking lot for having a Red Sox bumper sticker in Fairfield County.
When I watch Jeopardy night the contestants are always introduced along with their hometown. Presumably they wish to bring pride to residents and give to shout out.. I figured I’d lie when I made it on the show. North Branford Connecticut is not a bustling metropolis. It does not have public transportation or much in the way of culture and entertainment. When my dad moved us here when we were still only tiny tots. Our relocation was part of a large urban sprawl to more suburban, rural areas. Presumably this would save us from diversity, and any of the ills that came with it.
The population of North Branford Connecticut at the time of the 2020 census was 13,544. To put that in perspective, the University of Central Florida, with the largest student enrollment as of 2022, has a student population of 69,523. That means the school has an enrollment five times larger than the population of the town I grew up in. My graduating class in high school had about one hundred students. Most college introductory seminar classes have more students than that. We saw the same people year in and year out. The kind of atmosphere where upper middle class kids with too much time on their hands drink in the woods and then drive home in the cars their parents gave them.
I never had a boyfriend until college. It was slim pickings among those incestuous tight high school hallways. Once you are labeled the chubby girl with frizzy hair in grade school, the same boys who taunted you ruthlessly aren’t lining up for dates, no matter how effective the eating disorder or the blowout.
North Branford has a grocery store, a McDonalds, a Dunkin Donuts, and a Dairy Queen that’s only open in the warmer months. There is one high school. The street lights blink yellow after nine pm. They hold a Potato and Corn Festival every summer, which serves to underscore the assertion that there is nothing to do. The only consolation is that you can get to New York in under ninety minutes and to Boston in about two hours. Most Connecticut residents like to point this out when trying to give credence to their poor choices.
I guess it’s a safe place to raise a family, maybe find a blue collar job. Once you dig yourself out though, it’s difficult to return to the confines created by farms and picket fences. I’ve lived in DC, and hopped on the Metro to visit the Smithsonian. I’ve lived in San Diego with its incomparable weather. In Los Angeles, I lived a mile away from LAX and ducked when the planes went by. I walked around Venice Beach and hiked in Griffith Park. I’d grown quite accustomed to city life.
North Branford is populated almost exclusively by senior citizens and young families. I estimate the closest attractive single man in at least fifty miles away. The most adventure your going to get is if a goat escapes the neighbor's yard.
A study from the U.S. Census Bureau with Harvard University reports that nearly 60% of young adults, around twenty-six years old, live within 10 miles of where they grew up. Furthermore, The New York Times ran a story in 2015 that highlighted that the large majority of all grown adults live eighteen miles from home or less. This is attributed to finances primarily, as part of the larger picture, but by examining closer we can see what it is that both parties get out of this. There’s childcare. There’s caring for aging parents. Adults save on travel time when it comes to visits and holiday gatherings.
It does seem to be the path of least resistance, but it doesn’t have to be the failure to launch I often see it as. I do not want anyone else caring for parents. They couldn’t do it well enough, and I’m not outsourcing family obligations. And I often see new parents struggling to find a qualified stranger, or generic facility, to parent their children for forty hours a week or more. It doesn’t seem right. I can’t see myself in that position.
Despite positively needing to flee North Branford like I was a raccoon trapped in a Have-A-Heart trap as a teenager, it is officially back on my driver's license. And for the time being I have curbed my wanderlust. We all have to grow up someday and if that means returning to my childhood, so be it. I don’t think the adventure is entirely over anyway. Flights leave daily. There’s money for gas.