20 August 2017

Life in Beaufort & the Five Stages of Grief

You know how some places in the world are really cool if you're passing through them as a tourist, but really suck if you live there as a year-round resident?

Beaufort is one of those places.

Having been firmly persuaded of this opinion almost from Day 1 of setting foot here, you can imagine my bemusement upon seeing Beaufort named as this year's "Best Small Town" by Southern Living magazine. (Never mind that getting an award for being the best small town in the south is, as Wesley is fond of saying, not unlike getting an award for being the smartest kid in summer school.)

The magazine write-up is charmingly deceptive. Almost all the photos are taken on Bay Street, a less-than-one-mile stretch of historic, scenic road when you first cross the bridge into downtown. This part of town is where you'll find the waterfront park, the boat dock, the old storefronts, the huge plantation houses. This is what people see first and they think, "Oh, what a neat little town!" As they say, first impressions are everything. And really, it's not a bad spot to hang out for an afternoon or a weekend.

But what Southern Living doesn't tell you, and what any honest resident of Beaufort will tell you, is that those photos aren't representative of the town as a whole. In fact, they don't show you more than a tiny slice of it.

Once you leave that stretch of road behind where the pretty magazine pictures are taken, there's little else to write home about. In fact, the rest of the place is downright depressing. Except for Marines stationed on Parris Island and retirees who buy up the big beach houses on the waterfront, there's little incentive to settle down here. The employment rate is on a steady decline, while the rate of violent crimes and drug trafficking incidents rival that of almost any major U.S. city. The fishing industry, once booming, is now virtually nonexistent. For all practical purposes, Beaufort seems to be on its way down.

But the gloomy statistics aren't what bothers me most about living here. No, it's more personal than that. Beaufort has almost nothing in a place I'd want to call "home", and lots of things I don't want. Like almost no opportunities to network and meet new people. A total lack of ethnic diversity. (This is a tough pill to swallow for someone who loved intercultural studies enough to get a degree in it.... twice.) The ancient telecom infrastructure that makes using your credit card at a restaurant or store a lucky occurrence rather than something you can count on. The fact that I felt safer on Los Angeles freeways at rush hour than I do on the roads around here...

The relentless gnats and mosquitoes.

The sewer-like stench of pluff mud.

The humidity that's so high, it's literally making our paint peel. I feel like I need gills just to help me breathe.

When Wesley and I got married, we knew we'd have to stay in Beaufort for as long as it would take to get on our feet, but now, we don't plan to stay here much longer. It does help to know that we'll soon be on to bigger and better things. But in the meantime, passing precious days of my life in a place like this is tedious at the best of times.

In fact, it's a lot like the five stages of grief:

Denial: Wow, this place is.... different. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I mean, it doesn't feel like home to me, but hey, whatever. I'm not going to live here forever anyway.

Anger: This place SUCKS.

Bargaining: Maybe if I go back up north for a visit every summer and Christmas, it won't be so bad. (I still haven't made it home for Christmas.)

Depression: I'm really stuck here.

Acceptance: There's something to like about every place. So help me, I will find that something here, or die trying.

They say it's normal to bounce back and forth among the various stages, and I know I certainly do. I've experienced all of them at one point or another (and sometimes all at the same time), but right now I'm still on the journey to attaining -- and maintaining -- Acceptance. Sometimes I think I've finally grasped hold of it, other times I realize I still have a long, long way to go.

But I keep trying.

Tomorrow is another day.

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