The first time I really fell in love with Connecticut was when I met my third boyfriend: exactly my height, wearing Vans sneakers with dress clothing, at a fencing tournament in a local shoreline town, eating a bagel. I have a tendency to rebel against the basic principles I believe in, and, at the time, I did not go near people who spoke in favor of Wall Streets and skewed tax brackets or Chris Christie being our next president, but he showed me what I was truly missing out on. It was time for me to change again. It was time to shed the confines of my pretentiously hippie-liberal skin that defined my previous relationship and find someone else… someone else’s (conservative) visions and (suppressed) emotions I could devote my time to while completing the busiest year of my high school career. Because I was “ready,” I said, and I wanted to commit.
And you’re not even supposed to find people at fencing tournaments. Everyone is either extremely odd, a tri-season athlete filling their time, or smart and rich. The odd ones date the other odd ones or barely understand the basic concept of social interaction, the tri-season athletes are douchebags, and the smart and rich ones are either taken or douchebags or both. But it was so early in the fencing tournament season, and I was in denial. And he made the effort to eat the classic tournament waffles with me in the cafeteria, while all the freshman girls on my team watched and reviewed him out of five stars. He smelled really good, but he had a lot of games on his phone.
I told people at my college orientation that I dated this fencer-turned-engineer and we went to New York City together all the time. That is so implausible. I barely worked when I dated him. I was so poor. He was the one who fronted the bill for Colony Grill and Wild Rice. That is also the thing. We dated for less than a month. But his staunchly white golf hats and terrible taste in movies awakened something in me: that Connecticut does not exist in the small-town vacuum I thought it does, that there is more to the left of New Haven than I thought.
My parents do not allow me as much freedom as most kids have, and in order to see him, I took trains. I drove an hour in a car over many crumbling bridges once as my mom complained about the world stopping once you hit the Q bridge. I listened to When You Were Young by The Killers and New York City by Among Savages in romantic excess, feeling the whoosh of the train pull away, back to my reality. It was so cold, and the layers of jacket coating my skin made me shiver with nostalgic anticipation, because I knew it would be short. I knew short replies and purely Snapchat would cause our affair to surface. It was cold in the way that my cheap faux-leather boots made my stockinged feet sweat on the red linoleum floors of the Metro North train I took through neighboring towns to get back to New Haven, and feel the quiet, humming disposition of the mirrored tunnels and tired people clunking their way up stairs and through Dunkin Donuts lines.
In that blank time I had the opportunity to think. That maybe people only knew what they knew, and boys had nine girlfriends in one year for a reason. And maybe it only takes a few dates to really show someone what driving a nice car through a rich city dotted with bulbous trees and sandy parking lots feels like. And it takes one second to remember that while you sit there in his expensive car driving through million dollar real estate listening to Coldplay, kids are fashioning drug deals and gun exchanges in Bridgeport streets only a mile behind you, and that he doesn’t care and you want to. And it’s okay that he wears Vineyard Vines, and you’ll buy your own long sleeve from a pretentious boutique in Madison with that whale on the front pocket months from now.
But it’s not okay to feel forced to watch Talladega Nights while giving a hand job, and no one should ever have to be ignored for hours straight in a sticky metal-scented high school gym, and hugs are not too much to ask for, ever, from anyone. Bronx style pizza is not the devil, food service people are nice and tired and deserve your respect, and your seventeen year old boyfriend does not know everything and will never. He will go to WPI and learn how to wear a hard hat and tell people who do actual work what to do; what he does best. And some day he will profit off of disaster if he uses his back-up plan, investing in medical supply companies that will eventually eradicate the Zika virus or whatever new plague that flourishes south of the equator because that is how the world works. And sometimes you have to walk through Fairfield to really understand Bridgeport, and it does not take much for East Haven to blend into New Haven, and you will remember this when you meet the next aloof one percenter with soft hair and a vague interest in internet memes: people miss out on you, and then they go to engineering school and hate math, because they hate themselves and ruin their skin bleaching grass-stained golf caps the wrong way and you don’t.