The finished essay takes on a different tone than this snippet. But it's fun to re-enter the writing fury of my early drafts.
Driving over the bridge toward Cape Ann, you should cover your heart or wear some sort of armor. Do not be deceived—it’s a dangerous place. You will likely be assaulted by some corner of your heart you never noticed before. The sea will call you. The waves will not let you sleep. The gulls will charm you with their constant voices. The smell of salt is not for inlanders—perhaps you should pinch your nose and not let the air in. But you can’t prevent it. Within minutes of arriving you will no longer be satisfied to be near the Atlantic, if you could be close enough to see it with your own eyes.
Do not adjust. Remain firm. Do not swoon.
It’s hopeless, isn’t it? We come here from suburbs and dry places, brown places, conquered flatlands with orderly grids of roads. This place is madness, full of siren song and rough granite. Lash yourself to the masts and plug your ears with wax.
How do I say what I didn’t know? I was a 28-year-old series of Chinese boxes. I’d never paid rent, never shopped for an apartment, never paid an electric bill. I came from the Midwest, a flatlander easily lost. I owned a car with stickers from Erie, Pennsylvania and license plates from Washington state. I’d never been A Neighbor—I’d been THE Neighbor, running college dorms for six years, and managing a small conference center over the winter. I’d been living in one sort of Christian community or another for ten years.