When I moved here six years ago, I was like so many young people. I came to the big city holding tight to my dreams, and I envisioned a burgeoning creative community that would welcome me with open arms. And when I settled here, I didn’t mind the hustle and grind, the perpetual crush of bodies on the bus, the endless cycle of too little money for too much expense, the screams. I knew I was putting in my time so that when the moment came, I would “Make It.”
But six years later, I now have to admit: I was wrong. Dead wrong. And that’s why I’m leaving Derry.
What, really, do I have to show for my time here? A string of dead-end jobs, a few sticks of secondhand furniture, and a shockingly blasé attitude toward child abduction. My soul, like my apartment and my bank account, is mostly empty.
It didn’t start this way. When you’re a sensitive and awkward boy growing up in small-town Maine, city life seems like heaven. The vision of so many new friends, lovers, and opportunities all clustered in one mid-sized burg that sports shockingly low rents and an up-and-coming vaporwave scene was too much to resist. “Derry’s on the upswing,” they said. It’s not like it used to be. It’s warm and inviting, and they finally fixed all the drainage issues.
And yes, my early days after moving to Derry had their perks. The old-fashioned soda fountain was charming, and people seemed open-minded and friendly, if a little… vacant, I guess? I wasn’t expecting it to all be easy street. Okay, three (!) roommates in a row disappeared and were later found dismembered in a culvert. Okay, the pipes in my apartment would whisper my secret nickname known only to me and my long-dead grandfather. Okay, Maine winters are a little long. But them’s the breaks, right? Wrong.
After six years of searching for some greater substance to Derry, I’m here to tell you: there isn’t one. The vibrant cultural center we were promised doesn’t exist. The closest you come to finding it is when a funky new coffee shop opens on the corner where there used to be a Chipotle, the kind of coffee shop in which I always imagined I’d write the great American novel — like, exactly imagined, down to the color of the upholstery (dusky rose) and the music playing on the stereo (Art Blakey) — except nobody else but me seems to notice this coffee shop is even there, and then when I walk in all the baristas are rotting cadavers shrieking racial slurs, and so many balloons just bouncing around where food’s being prepared that it has to be a health code violation, not to mention just gauche. That’s bleak, but it’s the truth, and it’s not just me. Ask anyone and it’s probably happened to them. That exact specific thing with the racist corpses. Not exactly the multicultural paradise you thought, huh?
Plus, it’s an absolute ordeal to date in this town. Everyone is so emotionally closed off. No joke, I’ve actually had girls ask if I’m going to literally transform into their dead abusive father and crawl out of their fridge, like their last boyfriend. I’m sorry you had a rough childhood and some bad relationships, but that’s just rude to ask somebody on a first date.
I used to think that loud, cramped BYOB parties in overheated apartments were the crucibles of human connection and inspiration. Now I see them for what they are; a shelter where underpaid and overextended adults swill bad wine alongside the similarly afflicted, all the while clinging to the ever-fading vision of a secure future. It’s toxic and petty and there’s always that one guy who doesn’t actually know anyone there and who spends the whole night peacocking in a clown suit trying to talk girls into following him to the bathroom. Coke? Really? At his age, it’s just sad.
Do I still love this town? Yes, of course. The modern architecture along the main drag, which they rebuilt after some massive explosion a while ago that destroyed half the town and that nobody can seem to remember (talk about a lack of community), is breathtaking. I can still spend entire afternoons birdwatching in The Barrens, though all the birds are gone now except for the enormous one with Steve Bannon’s face, which I definitely imagined. I still enjoy being woken up by the soft chime of Amber Alerts. The lobster rolls are still delicious, but the vitality is gone.
You never see the soulful hallmarks of a real city; the art spaces, the warehouse parties, the graffiti. I can barely remember the last time I saw the hideous things my grandfather did to me spelled out in arterial blood on the walls of the library.
I know what you’re thinking. Another aging hipster whose rent got jacked and who suddenly thinks his urban ennui is unique. But here’s the thing: I know I’m not alone, and that’s why I’m writing this. There’s something wrong about Derry. Something evil underneath the surface of the town. It spreads everywhere and it sucks the joy and life out of us, and nobody wants to talk about it. Maybe it’s out of fear that they’ll have to confront their bad choices or admit that they’ve been laboring under a delusion, but everyone’s afraid to call it by its name.
But I know what it is. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I descended into an improbably large cavern and chewed on its tongue so I won’t get cast into a hellish dimension of pure energy (which was overrated, btw.) And I’ll say its name:
Let that sink in.
Face it, folks: Derry’s done. Don’t believe the blogs, the thinkfluencers or the cultural gatekeepers. The real community that used to live in the heart of the city is gone, not because it’s “moving to the new lofts in Derry Heights” or “disappearing suddenly” and “being found torn into several pieces and posed in the thrift store’s window display.” No, they’re running away — like me. They’re fleeing from a specter that chews up dreams and spit out failure. They’re decamping to the promised land, in Bridgton and Castle Rock, places where you can find community and soul and way better weather.
So goodbye, Derry. It’s been “real.”
UPDATE: FWIW I don’t know what kind of health curriculum they have in Derry Public Schools, or if it’s just smartphone culture, but kids in this town get sexualized WAY too early.