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Deliverance in Dover, New York
It was May 2020, and I’d been holed up in the Hamptons for three months as covid lurked everywhere outside the compound I called home. I didn’t go out. I did Zoom calls. I cut my own hair—I think anyone who saw it on Zoom would agree that was a mistake. And I thrived. I loved the time alone for reflection. I wrote. I worked well, and I didn’t worry about the finances when I went to my clients and said we would work for free.
But on the rare occasions that I went out to pick up groceries, or fill up the car, or even go to the beach to get some fresh air with my dog, Bayley, I noticed that my fellow Hamptonians’ behavior often failed to meet what I considered the minimum of decency merited by that global crisis. My housekeeper told me that I was the only one who had continued to pay her when she couldn’t work, and she thanked me more than she should have felt the need to do. The parking lot at King Cullen was filled with discarded masks and gloves, as my peers just threw them on the ground. Who did they think was going to pick them up? When I did see people in the grocery store (I usually went at 7 am, when it was mostly empty), they were rude and would reach right over me to take that last can of soup or package of English muffins—and I could feel their excitement when they did it. Beating me to it? Was that such a thrill?
As time went on, I realized that I didn’t want to be there for the summer. The exodus from New York City had already made it too crowded, and the paper told me this would only get worse in the coming months.
Where to go? "Why, Westchester!" thought I. There’s an idea.
I went on Zillow to look for a short term rental, and I found this great renovated barn in Dover, New York. Never heard of Dover, but it was close to some cool towns. And besides, who knew when we were going to get out of lockdown? Better to go anywhere than nowhere at all. So I rented out my house in East Hampton, and off I went.
Driving into Dover was like arriving in Deliverance. MAGA signs everywhere. Everywhere. Trucks with Trump flags and American flags. (Why did I let them take over my flag and everything it meant to me?) One day, as I was sitting in my renovated barn, I heard gunshots. Many of them. Turns out it was my landlord having target practice with some buddies and a case of Bud Light in the field outside my living room. And in the parking lot of Walgreens, a man told me I must be a f(*&(ing liberal driving a car like that.
One afternoon I was out driving around, exploring the area, when I came across a development. New houses on two-acre lots, and a big sign advertising prices from a few hundred thousand dollars on up. I drove through the area, thinking how lovely the houses looked. Porches with rockers, and sprawling lawns leading to backyards filled with trees and rock walls.
Then I started noticing the street signs. Confederate Drive. Lee's Lane. And those trucks that loomed over my Prius in the parking lots of the grocery stores—they were parked in those driveways. I knew that the people living there had a vision for an America that was very different from my own. It took me by surprise. While I might have expected it when driving through rural Georgia, I was deeply saddened to see it in Dover, New York.
As has happened a lot since 2016, when my fellow citizens’ fractured visions for our future blew up my world, I wondered at how I had ever lived in such oblivion to other people’s views. How had it come to this? These people didn’t develop their beliefs all of a sudden when that man came down the escalator. They were there already. Silent—or was it even that silent? Did I just not want to learn, or even acknowledge, what they were thinking all along?
I didn’t go back to the Hamptons at the end of that summer. In the fall of 2020 I moved to Maine, where I am in sync with the geography (who knew pine trees with perfect posture would move me the way they do?), and with my own life. In some ways my life has become smaller over these past few years, but so much larger in terms of my own ability to think and speak about things that matter, and to leave behind the shiny objects that used to take up so much of my time.
As for Dover—I want to go back there and see if the development is sold out. If those houses are now filled with like-minded people who will spend this summer at barbecues together, plotting their vision for America’s future. I’ll let you know.