I think every place means something slightly different to each person that’s been there. It is fascinating to me that my experience can be completely, radically different from someone else’s, even if we happen to be standing on the exact same spot in the exact same moment. I think that’s something to remember… that our minds and hearts and lives shape the reality we create around us, the reality we see and feel, and that we can’t presume to know the colors and frequencies of the strangers that move around us. Even people that we do know well have hidden parts of themselves… and if you’re ever let into those spaces, you are a very special person indeed.
That said, here is what Boston is to me.
Boston is the T, another subway system to master, another subway system to get lost in before then. But this one is smaller, and I have the knowledge I’ve hoarded away in my brain from my attempts at independence in another larger city, and it doesn’t take quite as long. Boston is more little paper tickets with the arrows that point their way into the machines that grab the edge and suck them in and spit it back out, gates opening abruptly. More little tickets only good for one use, accumulating in my pockets and the back of my phone.
Boston is the car with its flashers on, the car coming to pick me up, pluck me out of the wet, dark streets. Boston is a friend I haven’t seen in a couple years. Boston is familiarity I’ve forgotten, a face and voice that hasn’t played clearly in my head in some time, not since that year when he called me on my birthday – it made my day, although T. probably doesn’t know it. When people do things like that, you know they won’t mind when you show up at their door.
Boston is a cute, clean apartment in the second story of a family’s home, back entrance atop slippery porch steps, through the edge of a muddy yard. Light wood floors, cards and pictures, plants, spinning chairs. Memorabilia from landmark moments, tags from used salt containers and a wrapper from a round of chocolate gifted on Christmas, all stuck to the wall by tan masking tape. Boston is a guitar in the corner, a surfboard behind the door, a Millennium Falcon pencil sharpener on the desk piled with haphazard papers. A whole drawer full of loose leaf tea and chocolate – the best logical combination for two things living in the same drawer. A Harry Potter mug. A taco ornament perched on the cabinet in the bathroom. A vase of clementines on the counter. Boston is the mini rubber ducky tea steeper that bobs in my cup, perpetually smiling up at me with its orange beak.
Boston is E., the girl T. moved to Boston for, on very short notice, I might add. I like her immediately, her pixie cut contrasting wonderfully with T’s shoulder length hair, slender and bright, eyes and voice full of life. She’s someone who has light in her, and depth. I quickly inform her that I forgive her for stealing T. away from all of us. Boston is E’s laugh in response.
Boston is figuring out the bus system. And realizing my card doesn’t have any money on it, but the bus drivers really don’t care. Boston is waiting and waiting and then walking and walking until I pop into the doors which open up to grey-tan walls and holds I recognize. Boston is feeling relief at the comfort of being around a place and people that are somehow familiar even though you’ve never met them. An unfinished puzzle on the table. The growl of drills held by routesetters crafting new problems. Boston is shredding my skin all too fast, feeling my heartbeat kaboom in my throat at the top of boulders that are a wee bit taller than I’m used to, and feeling my muscles give out faster than I’d like. Boston is watching the couple in the overhang, the easy language of laughs and brief touches, somehow casual and somehow more. Boston is wishing I had a friend to come with me.
Boston is the Turkish bakery with the menu up on cardboard sheets and sharpie letters, chocolate ‘earthquake’ cookies covered in powdered sugar which I promptly make a mess of, pita bread with piping hot sausage and spice. Boston is coming back the next day for another cookie and coffee with an inch of foam on top. I fish out what’s left at the bottom with my finger. Boston is Boston cream pie, cobbled streets, subway ride after subway ride. Boston is pouring down rain, pelting and pelting, puddles so deep I don’t walk through them for fear they will overflow the top of my boots. Boston is my phone almost dying right when I need it, and barely squeaking by on 7%. Boston is that happening a million times.
Boston is the cemetery, almost misty in the descending dusk, closing in about me, wrapping itself around the white statues and gray tombstones and wet, dark trees. I walk up to the tower, feeling like I’ve stepped into a Gothic novel, feeling like ghosts could actually be a thing, peeping down into green glades and almost-there paths branching off from the safety of asphalt and disappearing. I look out at the city from the base of what looks like a giant castle chess pawn, out at the lights, yellow and white, glowing through the mist of near night. Boston is the cemetery that closes at 5pm. Boston is me discovering that the gate through which I planned on leaving is actually closed. Boston is sprinting through the looming grounds as night claims its reign, making it back to the huge iron gates, still open, with only a few minutes to spare.
Boston is a small bookstore, poetry books under my arm in a brown paper bag. Boston is reading in the museum lobby in the kids area with the picture books and the bright green shag carpet and the hanging letters on a string which say, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.’ Boston is the enormous stained-glass globe I walk into, mesmerized by the colors and lights that wrap around me, encompassing and beautiful. The tour lady tells me that each one was handmade, that the globe is frozen in time after World War II, that if you stand under the North Star the room’s acoustics amplify your voice like a microphone, that the other day there was a visitor from Christchurch, New Zealand, who turned out to be the choir director of a Protestant church who burst into boisterous song as soon as he stepped inside the world, standing suspended on the walkway, and the lady was scared he was going to break the glass, like in the cartoons. Boston is me looking at all the countries, at me whispering my own song that’s in my head, listening to it echo, wishing you were beside me to hear it.
Boston is watching a Japanese reality show with E., which actually turns out to be pretty cool. Boston is play-arguing with T. about literature and categories of fiction and what literary fiction is and isn’t and what genre fiction is and isn’t and does it really matter in the end? We talk about jobs and school and transitions and trying to find community. Boston is finding out I kind of like port. It’s rich and red and not as dry as wine, but tiny little sips in a tiny little shot glass are enough for me. Boston is snooping in the rich neighbors’ huge house because T. is dog/cat/house-sitting and trying to get the weird dog to play with us and petting the insanely fluffy cat that yawns like a lion and playing a cooperative board game and failing to stop the epidemic from spreading to the whole cardboard world and not caring because it was fun anyway.
Boston is sipping tea and talking with E. much later than either of us had planned to. We talk about friends and relationships and holes and balance and work and struggles and hard things and beautiful things and pretty much life. We both say things which make each other think, make each other smile. We understand each other more and deeper than either of us were probably expecting. We make the air between us a comfortable space to sit in and speak into. Boston is her fierce hug the night before I leave. Boston is knowing I can come back, and they can always come to. Boston is sleeping on an air mattress at least two feet tall. Boston is a fleece blanket. Boston is watching Sherlock in the light of a reading lamp. Boston is stealing one last piece of chocolate before walking out onto the frost-slick predawn street.
Boston is knowing myself better. Boston is still being the same me. Boston is friendship, known and unexpected. Boston is being alone. Boston is thinking, and Boston is talking. Boston is balance. Boston is wishing, and Boston is exploring. Boston is not wanting to leave.