What’s Old Is New Again in New Hampshire

The unexpected thrill of rediscovering a home after 20 years away

February 23, 2024 9:46 am
White Mountain National Forest, Livermore, New Hampshire
"Being the only member of my family to move away initially felt like a badge of honor, but it’s gotten harder to leave each time."
Cloris Ying on Unsplash

No offense to my home state of New Hampshire, but I couldn’t wait to move away. Looking back, I have so much fondness for my youth there, in a humbly beautiful state filled with foliage, mountains and lakes, but the older I got, the more I realized I needed to leave. At least for 19 years or so. 

As a shy gay kid, petrified of being discovered and bullied in high school, whatever youthful verve for life I had was snuffed out of me, resulting in a downward spiral of skipping school way too often (sorry, mom and dad), blowing off family activities (again, sorry), and fooling myself into thinking I could have discreet hookups and weeks-long “relationships” without my parents connecting the blatant dots — turns out it’s a little hard to explain some random boy to your mom when she catches you sneaking out of the house with him in the morning. My increasing sense of isolation and implosion also triggered an eating disorder that almost killed me and effectively erased my positive memories of that place, replacing them with pangs of fear and self-hate, starved for control in the throes of a downward spiral. And so, after going to rehab, stabilizing my health as much as possible and eking my way through high school, I left. 

I knew my best hope for stability and survival was a fresh start on my own somewhere completely new, unmarred by trauma. I went to Chicago in 2006 to attend culinary school, of all things, and I began to deliberately shed New Hampshire from my identity. Even in conversation, when people would ask where I’m from, I’d often say Chicago and not even mention New Hampshire. As scared as I was to uproot and move to a major city entirely on my own, away from my safety blankets and my family who could look out for me, I knew how crucial it was — and I truly believe that Hail Mary of a move saved my life. It was a slow and steady process, over the course of several years, to establish a career and a true sense of self, but I wouldn’t have been able to do either had I remained in a place that felt stifling and became toxic. But like I said, no offense to New Hampshire. 

The author as a child
The author as a child in New Hampshire
Matt Kirouac

Only recently, upwards of 20 years later, have I started to refer to New Hampshire as home again. I had been so adamant about distancing myself from it, both physically and mentally, that for the longest time I would barely associate myself. For the longest time, my visits would be as brief as possible, just a few days here and there for a wedding or some other necessary occasion, but eventually, I started feeling homesick. Leaving would be hard, and I’d tear up looking around my old bedroom one last time, at my Destiny’s Child poster and Beanie Babies, not knowing when I’d be back. Quite a pivot for someone who literally and metaphorically slammed the door on it. 

I credit that full-circle change to a few factors. On a base level, it’s my natural emotional evolution of growth, maturity and stability, and the capacity to revisit a place I once shunned and see it in a new light. It’s how, after feeling like I’ve made something of myself and carved a life I’m proud of, I no longer feel too proud to associate myself with someplace that felt too small. It’s how, after 13 years spent living in Chicago and considering myself a die-hard city-dweller, I’ve begun to yearn for a slower pace, more affordable living and wide-open spaces. That’s part of why I moved to Oklahoma City in 2020 — a big city, for sure, but one that feels far more balanced and sustainable. It’s also seeing my family grow, and not wanting to miss it. In 2023, my brother and sister-in-law had a baby, and my sister got married. I miss having lunch with my mom, someone I can vent to and laugh with. I miss hiking with my dad, and how supported he makes me feel in all aspects of my life. Being the only member of my family to move away initially felt like a badge of honor, but it’s gotten harder to leave each time. As eager as I was to move away at first, saying goodbye to them that November morning was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. They have always been my home, it just took me a while to reconcile the rest of it. 

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Most importantly, though, this emotional homecoming wouldn’t have happened without my husband. Nathan isn’t from New Hampshire, but he visited twice on his own family vacations in the past, and he always talks about those trips glowingly. He talks about visiting Rye on the coast, where my sister-in-law works as a veterinarian. He talks about how he used to want to move to Boston, a city I always loved visiting as a kid (and still do). He talks about taking his kids to York in Maine for their first trip to a beach — the same one where my brother and sister-in-law took their son for his first beach adventure. Even just reminiscing about New England with Nathan was enough to cast my home in a renewed light, and finally all the pieces were puzzling together. For the first time since years before I left in 2006, I wanted to be back there, and I didn’t feel alone in those feelings. Trauma will always linger, and I’ve struggled with relapses over the years, but none of it is any match for a relationship that makes me feel confident, healthy and wholly myself. 

The author and his family
The author (second from right) and his family
Matt Kirouac

Our first trip to New Hampshire together was for my sister’s wedding over the summer. We spent a week that I treated as a giddy tour de force of nostalgia, spending time at my childhood home, time in Maine and time in the White Mountains where my sister got married. Every step of the way, I was excited to show Nathan my roots, and remind myself of the things I love about that place. Impossible to cram it all into a week, I gave him the Cliffs Notes version by eating chicken tenders at the Puritan Backroom, hiking to the fire tower in Pawtuckaway State Park, showing him the vintage arcade we used to visit during family reunions at Weirs Beach, playing mini golf at Mel’s Funway Park and dining at Horsefeathers, a cozy restaurant in North Conway where I vividly remember getting worms ’n’ dirt as a kid, but when I awkwardly asked our waitress for the kids’ dessert menu, she said they stopped serving that decades ago. That, or she just didn’t feel comfortable serving worms ’n’ dirt to a 36-year-old. I had done some of these same things on visits back home with my family, but there’s something special about experiencing them anew with the affirming partner you were meant to be with, who wants nothing more than to see you happy. 

Leaving at the end of that trip was the hardest yet. So much so that I Irish exited my sister’s wedding, because I couldn’t handle saying goodbye to most of my family. We spent one extra day in Boston, doing heartwarming touristy shit like eating Boston cream pie, my go-to birthday cake as a kid. I didn’t want it to end — the trip, nor the pie. In the subsequent months, that week has felt more and more like a complete rejuvenation, and my first real opportunity to reconnect with my beginnings in a state that, through hell and high water, shaped me into the brother, son and husband I’ve aspired to be. So much so that, after nearly 20 years of saying I would never move back there, suddenly it’s not looking so bad after all. It’s looking, once again, like a place I could call home.


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