Living in Maine: A Love Story

I have a confession to make:  I am not a lifelong Mainer, I am “from away.”  I am originally from the far off state of Vermont.  (No, it is not part of Canada.)  Aside from this regrettable transgression on your sensabilities, I have been a  Mainer for the past 22 years.  I married a Maine native and gave birth to three more, does that help?  I hope so.  Here is our story.
I grew up in VT.  There is no ocean there, but we had a really big lake, some beautiful mountains and LOTS OF SNOW. By the time I was trying to figure out where to attend college, I was pretty sick of my high school cohorts, and decided to get out and see the big wide world.  So I chose the University of Southern Maine.
They were glad to accept me, because I had proven I could read, write and add, PLUS I was willing to pay out of state tuition, just so I didn’t have to ever see the kids I went to high school with.  (Aren’t 18 year olds brilliant?)
My first few months at school were challenging. I lived on the Gorham campus.  For lack of anything better to do, I started working out at the tiny gym two hours a day.  (This is before the  beautiful new facility was built.)  I didn’t kow anyone (as per my brilliant plan)  and the girls in my quad were all pledging a sorority, and were mean and exclusive.  I’m sure they were just mean anyway, but it left a bad Greek aftertaste in my mouth.
I made friends, and continued to read textbooks, write papers and add up loans that I would owe after I graduated.
In the meantime, on the same campus, there was a guy.  This guy grew up in Milo, Maine, a small defunct mill town near the geographic center of the state.  By the time he was looking to go to college, he wanted to “get away”  from the kids he went to high school with and see the big, wide world.  His parents had both attended USM when it was Gorham State Teacher’s College, and his Grandfather went there when it was Gorham Normal School, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
He was manning his work-study post at the gym, taking ids, and I was working out when we first met.  It was not love at first sight, but we became friends. We had our passion for physical fitness and  faith in common, so we hung out together on campus once in a while for the rest of the term.
At the end of that school year, he was going to live with his Great Aunt Alice, to paint her house Tampa Bay Green, and take a summer course.  He will tell you now that he doesn’t know why he did, but he called me to tell me he was going to be in the Portland area, and maybe we should hang out.
By that time, I had moved off campus into a Roberts Street apartment with a couple of other women in Portland.  I was working at the school library, a wonderful place, suffused with the smells of sholarship, old dust and copy machine toner.  I was also working at the McDonald’s on St. John Street.  After a shift,  I would emerge reeking of the  greasy french fry sauna, and my pores oozed eau de hamburger from working in the grill.
Because I was an out of state student, paying twice the in state rate for tuition, I had started waiting tables at a place called Sweetwater’s in Scarborough.  When I got off the breakfast shift, I drove over to say hi to Ryan, at his Aunt Alice’s house in South Portland.  I can still see him perched high on a ladder, in a ripped t shirt and cut off jeans, smeared with teal green paint.  The radio blared on the ground below.
When I wasn’t peddling fries and shakes or muffins and coffee, and he wasn’t on campus or painting, we discovered Portland.  We took countless laps around the Back Cove, talking about our families and school, what we would do in the future.  We went to the local beaches; Higgins was the place where we first flirted, sitting on the sand by the fenced off wildlife sanctuary, he stealthily poured sand over my knees as we chatted.  When I looked up into his impish face I was stunned by the beauty in  his blue eyes.
We explored and climbed the rocks and picnicked at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, with a mandatory ice cream stop at Red’s afterwards.  We played frisbee on the sand at Crescent Beach just down the road, and got ice cream at Kettle Cove.  We jelly rolled down the big hill at the Eastern Promenade.
Then the house was painted, and his class was done.  He was going home for a while, then he would spend the rest of the summer at camp Susan Curtis in East Stoneham.  I was going to VT to stay with my family at a camp they had rented on Lake Champlain.
Those were the longest ten days of my life.  We had left without confirming our relationship status (we didn’t have Face Book back then.)  We wrote letters to each other.  His were read aloud to my parents, siblings, Aunts, Uncles and cousins.  What was going on?  Did he really like me? I thought so, but couldn’t be sure.
When I got back to Portland, my roommates reported seeing him driving slow by the house.  Maybe he was hoping I got back early?  I had no time to find out; I had to work at McDonald’s that night.  Toward the end of my shift, there was a commotion at the front counter.  My co-workers had spied him lurking in the lobby, holding a bouquet of flowers.
When I finally punched out, he greeted me with the flowers and a hug.
“Be careful,” I warned.  “I smell like stale french fries.”  He didn’t mind.
“So,”  he said, clearing his throat.  “There is something I want to ask you.  I would like to take you on a ‘real date.'”
The french fry accepted.
On our first ‘date’ we ate dinner at Olive Garden in South Portland, and sat on a blanket under the stars at the Eastern Prom, oblivious to the mosquitos feasting on our exposed arms and legs.  That was the night we agreed to be committed to one another.
In the twenty two years since, we have finished college, gotten married, started careers, had children, moved, gone back to school, moved some more, and lived out the adventure together.  We talk often of what we will do when the kids are grown, and much centers around taking walks (that last weeks), exploring the outdoors (far and wide), and finding new places to enjoy good food and wine.  Whenever we return to Portland, it’s as if we are still a couple of college kids with life’s path open before them.  And we are.  And it is.

Joy Hayes

About Joy Hayes

I am a married full-time mother of three children, 12-18 years old. Each of my kids has a learning/developmental disability or autism. I have a "side-ways" sense of humor, which comes from a lifetime of caring for special people. I love to learn and live to read and write, therefore I am the best student I have had the pleasure to work with.