I knew it was only a matter of time. When Mike and I started dating, his love for his home state was palpable. He wouldn’t stay in Boston forever. He couldn‘t. It was like seeing a lion at the zoo. They don’t belong in something so gray, crowded and confined. A Mainer’s love for their home seeps out of their pores and trickles into every conversation.

I understood. I’d spent my childhood in upstate New York, and a part of me also ached for looming mountains, luscious grass and the peace that pairs so well with the quiet. But 12 years in Boston proved to be a habit that was hard to break.

Buildings up and down the streets housed memories from my 20s – the dorms where I met my best friends, the sticky bars we frequented after long shifts at work, my old apartment stoop close enough to Fenway that I could hear concerts in the summer even though I couldn’t afford tickets. I was there for Red Sox parades, the stress of a Super Bowl score flashing 28-3, the terror of the bombings in 2013 and the swell of community that followed. I was born in New York state, but I grew up in that city.

And yet, I remember the moment the thought began to creep into my mind, too. The year was 2020. Some time between baking our hundredth loaf of sourdough bread and binging “Tiger King,” we heard a noise in the apartment. It was so faint we might have missed it if not for the way our cat perked up, awakened from his nap by primal instincts.

Five days later, the cat brought us the seventh mouse he’d caught in the apartment. Nice gestures, but I’ve gotten better gifts. Between the mice in our kitchen, the rats in the alleyway and the COVID-19 keeping us quarantined between them, I was done. At the end of our lease, we packed up, waved goodbye to the rodents (who had by this point set up their own profiles on our Netflix account) and drove north.

We landed in Portland. After finding a 100-year-old apartment to rent with tall ceilings, blueberry bushes out back and neighbors who waltzed over with coffee to introduce themselves on an early summer morning, I was smitten.

But just like in the first few months of any new relationship, I was still a bit on edge. I found myself desperately trying to find my sea legs – a lot of times literally. My first Maine summer was quickly filling with activities I’d never tried, places I’d never been and foods I’d never consumed. Overwhelmed, I stumbled along trying to participate in traditions steeped in a history that wasn’t mine. I knew not having a lineage extending generations back in Maine made me “from away.”

I’d read discourse online about how out-of-towners were ruining the state, and my people-pleasing self was terrified to add to the narrative. But in daily life, I met friends who happily shelled my lobsters for me, smiling encouragingly as they broke down each step the way you’d help a child tie their shoes. Friends who showed me the best place to find beach parking – refusing to gatekeep even the most sacred of knowledge. And who took me on my first adventure to Renys, checked in on the coldest winter nights and brought cold beers on the hottest summer days.

Over the past year, I’ve seen time and time again how Mainers show up for each other, in situations big and small. I’m inspired by it, and I’m grateful to be able to pay it forward. I wasn’t born here, and I know I’m “from away.” But I think I’ll stay a while, if that’s OK.

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