As Saturday Night Fever turns 30 this year, I wonder how the movie will be remembered. Will people recall the healing power of disco’s gay liberation? Or will they trash the film and John Travolta’s Oscar-nominated role of Tony Manero as symbols of disco hedonism, which has been blamed for fueling the AIDS epidemic?

For this HIV-positive man, Saturday Night Fever has meant so much more. To me, Tony Manero embodies the angst of millions who’ve wanted to leave behind lives they were born into and did not love. In the disco, Tony was a king, hoping that his dancing talent might be a ticket to a “better” life.

Around the time I first saw the movie, I discovered that I had a talent—for writing—that I hoped might be my ticket out of rural south-eastern Connecticut. Taking a newspaper job, I fled the place where I was raised—a place where I did not disclose my sexual orientation—seeking a life of supposed urban sophistication and new, interesting friends.

Recently, at 49, I did something I never expected to do: I moved back to southeastern Connecticut. Comfortably gay for many years and HIV positive for the past two, I look at this place through very different eyes today than I did 30 years ago.

Just as Saturday Night Fever inspired me to pursue my dreams, the inner healing I have experienced since my HIV diagnosis has inspired me to embrace the very place I abandoned. Thirty years ago I saw suffocation; today I see opportunity. Thirty years ago I saw a hickish backwater town; today I see a humbling authenticity in the boats lilting in the inlets of Long Island Sound.

Returning to the place where five generations of my family have lived, seeing it through new eyes, has shown me that the hardest journeys in life are the ones within our own heart. How very far I have had to travel to finally come home.