Not Such a Simple Question

Where are you from?

It seems like such a simple, basic, innocuous question. Where are you from?

What is the information sought by asking this question? Does the asker want to know where I was born? Where I live currently? What city/state/region/country/continent/planet plays a major role in defining my identity?

I’ve struggled frequently when asked this question. Most of my life has been spent in the Boston area, and how I’ve answered this question has depended on the zip code I was physically standing in when I was asked. If I was somewhere in the Boston area and I was asked the question, I usually answered with the name of the city or town I resided in at that moment. If I was anywhere outside of the greater Boston area, I answered by saying, “I’m from Boston,” even though I’ve never actually lived in Boston proper. I’ve lived in places temporarily (summer jobs or internships out of state), and I’ve lived in places where the culture was so discordant with my own that I felt I had to explain myself: “Well, I live in such and such, but I’m actually from there and so.” I lived in one place (South Dakota) where my state of origin (Massachusetts) was so distrusted that I answered with the name of the state I’d lived in most recently (Iowa). [Even though I’d long since lost my accent and probably could have passed for an Iowan, my internship supervisor ratted me out!]

So here’s the long answer to the question of where I’m from (partly to document the insanity of my life, and partly to attempt an honest answer to the question above). To keep this to a reasonable length, this is a list rather than a narrative. Each listing indicates a separate address. (If I lived there for at least three months, even if I had another residence, it made the list. If I lived there for less than three months, but had my mail sent there and had no other address, it also made the list. Different dwellings on the same college campus are listed separately, because if I had to pack up my crap and move it, it counts, dammit!)

1. Arlington, MA
2. Arlington, MA
3. Arlington, MA
4. Arlington, MA
5. Providence, RI (one semester)
6. Amherst, MA (one semester)

7. Arlington, MA
8. Arlington, MA
9. Arlington, MA (same as #7–my first attempt at solo living failed and I moved back home)
10. Somerville, MA
11. Everett, MA
12. Acton, MA
13. Shirley, MA
14. Leominster, MA
15. Leominster, MA
16. Allston, MA
17. Ferryville, WI (summer only)
18. Dubuque, IA
19. Binford, ND (summer only)
20. Dubuque, IA
21. Bloomington, IL (summer only)
22. Edgemont, SD
23. Dubuque, IA
24. Perry Hall, MD
25. Perry Hall, MD
26. Ocean Springs, MS
27. Medford, MA
28. Revere, MA
29. Marshfield, MA
30. Nashua, NH
31. Dubuque, IA
32. Moville, IA
33. Big Flats, NY
34. Harvard, MA

OK, I need to take a moment to go and cry a little bit. [sob, sniffle, sob] I’m back. No wonder I have such a visceral reaction to boxes!

Anyway, the truth is that all of these places have played a part in who I am, and have helped me discover who I’m not. There are places on that list that I remember fondly, and there are others that I’ll go out of my way to avoid ever going near again.

My current residence in Harvard is not permanent, but hopefully it’s not short term, either (I know, I’ve said that before!). And hopefully our next move will be the last one, and still in this general area. Because if you ask me now, “Where are you from?” I answer simply; I answer proudly.

I’m from Boston.


Our time in Harvard turned out to be shorter than expected–less than a year. Last spring (2012) we moved again, so the list is now a bit longer.

35. Nashua, NH

But I’m still from Boston.


And fifteen months later we moved again.  Still in Nashua, back to the very same house that is represented by #30.

36. Nashua, NH

And yes, I’m still from Boston.