I had to get used to something when I moved back to Maine in 2011, and that is the fact that people are nice. People smile and wave on the street, and it is customary to smile and wave back. And since I don’t present as a person who has a severe visual impairment, people’s feelings can sometimes get hurt if I don’t acknowledge them. This is very awkward for me as a blind person who “passes” as a fully sighted person.
This is also very awkward for me because I have social anxiety issues. Living in Portland has introduced me to the dual joy and terror of being recognized in public. I want people to like me, but I also have a disorder that occasionally causes me to fear them.
When I lived in Boston I could be anonymous. I could put on my headphones and sunglasses and just fade into the scenery. In Boston headphones + sunglasses = “I am invisible, please do not attempt to make conversation with me”. In Portland headphones + sunglasses = ”hello neighbor! I have many things to tell you about how my life is going, thank you for your challenging questions”. My headphones are no longer an adamantiumlike social barrier. To the relentlessly pleasant people of Portland they are about as visible as my blindness.
Headphones have always been my protectors. When I was a teenage weirdo in Oxford County I had David Bowie and Joy Division to drown out the sneers of bus loop bullies by day, and to lull me to sleep at night. As an adult I understand that the greatest pleasure of being single isn’t getting the whole bed to myself, it’s getting to fall asleep while listening to my headphones.
I moved here to get away. I think that’s a pretty common desire for people who come to Maine. I also think that part of what it is to be a Mainer is the need for solitude, a bone deep longing for independence. The trouble is that I have an Aroostook County personality and a Portland constitution I like to be left alone, but I LOVE my green tea and coconut lattes.
I’m going to be a weirdo loner no matter where I land, and it is to Portland’s credit that folks are so stalwart in their pleasantness. I might be an outsider, but at least the company is good.