No Hard Feelings

Tourist Town

Maggie Burke · August 2, 2023

6 min read

I run from the town that raised me
out of fear of becoming stuck
keep moving if only to feel motion
sickness comes when the wheels quit turning
My toes don’t have to squeeze the same earth
where I ripped out my roots because I swallowed
these seeds and watered them with tears
from every goodbye and without knowing I grew
to become the thing I always hated most
And when people run from me
out of fear of becoming stuck
I long for any sense of home, whispering
my apologies to the ocean shores and beach resorts
who never meant to make me feel trapped and
I wish more than anything that I could’ve loved them back

When walking into a romcom like No Hard Feelings, the last thing you expect is to be confronted with a character whose depth and complexity is not only fun to watch but is driven by an external conflict closer to home than anticipated. Unfortunately, no one has ever offered me a car to sleep with their sweet-yet-shy son (yet), but Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Maddie, felt like a glimpse into my future had I fallen victim to the comfort of never leaving home.

Maddie is a lifelong local to the beaches of Montauk, and I spent my first eighteen years as a year-rounder on Cape Cod. Despite the obvious differences between New York and Massachusetts, all seasonal shorelines go through the same thing. Maddie hates the rich assholes who gentrify the land and hike up property taxes just as much as I hate the second homes that sit vacant ten months out of the year while locals struggle to find housing.

Through her friendship with her 19-year-old attempted conquest, Maddie’s resolution involves doing something she resisted the entire movie: selling the house her mother left her. Although she succeeded in paying off the property taxes she owed, by no longer feeling desperate to save the land from the greedy developers hungry to tear down the quaint home, she is able to realize that staying is not where her path leads. Instead, she realizes her mother only wanted her to be happy, not necessarily chained to Montauk. So, she sells the home to her married and expecting friends who were at risk of getting priced out of Montauk, and then finally leaves once and for all to experience the rest of the world.

What I love so much about this ending is that it shows that loving something and wanting to protect it, such as a quaint house on a valuable piece of land, doesn’t always require sacrificing your own growth. 

Before I left for college, I struggled with my feelings for the Cape…it was home. More beautiful when less populated with those who didn’t know how to appreciate the existing community. How could I leave it knowing that there were always outside hands coming to take rather than enjoy, hands that want to tear down decades old cottages to build McMansions on the edges of eroding cliffs? Hands who are more concerned with owning land that did not even belong to its current sellers centuries ago?

But the truth is that sometimes the best way to show love is by moving on. From places. From people, especially if it’s an outdated version of yourself. When September came and the crowds became stragglers holding on til October, I had my bags packed with sweaters and fear. And even though I came back for a weekend only three weeks in after promising myself I’d hold out until Thanksgiving, the more times I had to leave, the easier it became to stay gone, focusing on who I was as more than a collection of my surroundings.

Eventually the hard thing stopped being leaving, but rather returning. I had new stories, different friends, even the gas stations I frequented my family couldn’t relate to. I went to school in Providence, studied for six months in Amsterdam, moved to Delaware for another two years, and have settled in Boston for the time being. But no matter how near or far I am from the Sagamore Bridge, the sense of home that fills me when I cross the canal becomes weaker. Mostly because  when you grow in another place, the hole you left in your wake will try to squeeze you back into it, but like last summer’s jean shorts, it’s okay to admit you need resizing.  

Still, I know I would not have become the person I am today had I stayed. Someone who takes feeling uncomfortable as a challenge, like being 18 and meeting a hundred 100 new people a day trying to find a best friend at New Student Orientation. Someone who can soothe loneliness in the Netherlands by forcing themselves to go on a trip to the grocery store and strike up a conversation with the cashier. Someone who appreciates and recognizes community in places that do not belong to them and works hard to assimilate in order to create home in a place like Georgetown, Delaware. These things cannot be learned, either as deeply or at all, when standing still.

However, running to the new will always result in running from the old. But that is the risk we have to decide is worth it (and I’ll always bet that it is). Of course, those of us brave enough to leave do lose some comforts: stability, consistency, your first community. So maybe one day I’ll let the dust settle and I’ll have those things again. And it is okay to long for them now and then, although I’ll always ache for freedom and independence just a little bit more.

Although I typically hate movies creating a sequel where there is no need for one, I would love to see a No Hard Feelings 2, where Maddie returns to Montauk after her adventures in surfing along the California coast, and would easily eat up another 90 minutes about her reconciling her personal growth with the stagnant nature of her stomping grounds. But if the story ends with the first, then what I can take away is that Maddie finally left the place she loved because it was holding her back, and she left it with people who care as much as she does about keeping the local spirit of Montauk alive. For me, Cape Cod will always be home, and I love it more because I got to leave it, because I knew I was not meant to stay.

All photos in this piece were taken by the author.

Maggie Burke is a poet living in Boston, MA. She is currently earning her MFA from Emerson College, where she also teaches. She loves long romantic walks to Chipotle and is allergic to having a bad time. Follow her on Instagram @muuuurrrk (4 u’s 3 r’s).

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