That over there is a picture of Stafford Springs. But what it really is, is a picture of not Westport. When I started this blog I intended to write about exploring the parts of Connecticut I didn't know, which is to say, all the parts of Connecticut that were not Westport, not near Westport, and not reminiscent of Westport. Stafford Springs checks all those boxes. But I realized when I first saw it - and I realized again a few days ago while talking to an old friend from the old Westport days - that so much of my view of Connecticut, so much of why I like the parts of it that I like, has to do with the memory of this place that I hate.
We were talking about high school, and about those people from high school (and there are a lot of them) who, salmon-like, move back to Westport to spawn. We were talking about the "what ifs" of our childhoods - what if that boy had liked me back, what if that other boy had never liked me at all, what if my parents had not moved out of their fabulous West Village apartment. My current one is picking random Connecticut towns, and wondering, what if I had grown up there. In Norwich, where the kids don't look like they're paid to be flawless; or in Glastonbury, which sometimes strikes me as less a real town than the set of a musical; or in Stafford Springs. Of course counter-factual childhoods are as pointless as counterfactual history. And of course I don't think any of these places would have been perfect. I expect any of them would have provided an experience somewhat similar to my actual youth: small town, nothing to do, driving around, heartbreak, Dunkin' Donuts. But I think they wouldn't have been evil. I'm sure I would have gotten the heck out as soon as possible, just like I did in real life, but I think I would have been happy to come back occasionally. I don't think that I, or my friend, would have come out of the experience irrevocably scarred. I imagine, if my parents lived in Stafford Springs, that when I visited them I would not drive 20 minutes into the next town just to go to Walgreens.
I don't want to write about Westport. For one thing I don't want to give it the satisfaction, for another it's a tragically uninteresting place. But if I wrote about Stafford Springs, with its Old West-esque Main Street and its relaxed little park and its pleasantly shabby disused railway line (conversations about High School always cause Smiths lyrics to run through my head for days afterward), I would not entirely be writing about Stafford Springs. I didn't see it purely for what it is and what it has, but for what it doesn't have, for what it blissfully isn't. I saw it and I thought: this place, I wouldn't have hated. In this place, obscure and tiny and landlocked and possessed of a railroad that goes nowhere, I might have felt, paradoxically, free.