"Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back."
- "The dog days are over" by Florence and the Machine
I am sitting on a bench on Water Street in Woods Hole. There's this little grassy area across from the WHOI/MBL library with a huge sun dial and a statue of Rachel Carson. A stone retaining wall separates the grass from a narrow sandy beach. I've heard it called Garbage Beach, because apparently some researcher back in the day wanted to study how garbage was broken down in the ocean and did so by covering the whole beach in trash. Ah, the good ol' days.
To my right, Nonamesset Island is shrouded in fog. To my left, R/V Neil Armstrong is parked at the WHOI pier. I actually just ran into an oceanographer I had been to sea with two years ago, strolling along Water Street after arriving in port on the Armstrong. Small world. A red-and-white dive flag bobs on the surface of the steely blue water in front of me. My boyfriend is underwater, practicing diving with some of his new gear. I take a deep breath of damp, foggy morning air and curl up in my fleece jacket on the bench. Life is good.
I have now lived in Falmouth, Massachusetts for 6 months. When I think about that number, there is just no way it can be accurate - it's either too large or too small, and I can never decide which. Because if I think back to the first 6 months that I lived in Oregon, then 6 months is a blink of an eye, and I've certainly been here longer than that. But if I think about the slightly less than 6 months I lived in Norway, then 6 months is an eternity, and there's no way I've been here that long.
In a lot of ways, Falmouth represents a new phase in my life. I'm out of grad school and finally have a "real" job. I'm independent in ways I have never been before, and I'm starting to view the world more maturely. I am in a relationship with someone wonderful. But in other ways, life in Falmouth is the perfect continuation of the life I've always been building. My research at WHOI directly builds on the work I did for my Ph.D., and as new scientific questions develop, I see my work getting more interesting and more impactful. I'm returning to old collaborations to strike out in new scientific directions. I find myself dreaming about meaningful contributions I could make to our knowledge of the world. I still think about new places I want to go, other parts of the world I want to explore. But for the first time, I don't find myself thinking about where I want to move after I'm finished in this place; I fantasize about returning here, to this place that feels like home.
Since moving to Falmouth, I have been struck by happiness in a way that I've never experienced before. It has been sudden, unexpected, and all-consuming. And friends, this is not a passing feeling or a superficial joy. I am happy in my bones. I have found a place in the world where I belong, and a person that I belong with. I have never felt more like myself.