Boston will never be—if I had lived there ten years, would not have been—home. But I will always love it like I can never love another place. When I was in high school, I dreamed of being a young professional there, of living in a historical brick home and riding the train; lazing afternoons on the Common and laughing over takeout with friends in my garret. I never have a stronger urge to go back to talk to a former self, purely for the joy of seeing her face. When I think of those high school dreams, I am at once in awe that I achieved them and astounded by how small they were. How could high-school-me fathom becoming one of those bike commuters whizzing down Beacon Hill, dodging Duck Boats? Or working in the city’s underbelly as a caterer in the basements of its best museums?
Of course, I don’t think I could tell her about the highs of a night skyline in summer without the lows of predatory landlords and an exhausted hour-long commute at 2 A.M. The very specific loneliness of being crushed by people on the sidewalk, and how it doesn’t feel less lonely to know that they’re all lonely, too.
No one has ever really asked me what locals do in Boston, but high-school-me would. I would tell her that if you are middle-class or better off, you go to graduate school. I played an ultimate stereotype—passing through the city, using it for its books, and leaving more liberal than I came—but Boston never once derided me for sticking to that tired script. At least, I would tell myself, I had a dirty job. At least I walked many miles on my days off, til the map was part of me.
Other things locals do: put 80% of your income toward rent and heat. Crowd the neighborhood bar that has the cheapest Sam Summer once the temperature in your place tops 95. If you live on the green line, plan your days around the Sox, Celtics, or Bruins. If you do not live on the green line, refuse to ride the green line. Swear.
You see now, whenever I try to describe my fondness for Boston I tell only gritty, boring, maybe-depressing scenes. Maybe because everyone knows the bright, idyllic Boston I met in high school: sailboats on the Charles and rapturous cannoli. But it is also because I went to The North to get out of my Comfort Zone, and Boston did it for me—three years of unceasing discomfort.
Boston was full of people demanding I confront my privilege without offering an inkling as to how. It was also fond of judging my home states while itself remaining demonstrably among the country’s most racist, most segregated places. Boston gave me several weeks inventing new food combinations until I could buy groceries with the next paycheck. It was one spiritual or theological or identity crisis after another, culminating in my own personal Great Evangelical Betrayal.
All of that—it was a gift: much more than I bargained for, indeed. And through all of my throes and thrashing, Boston held me without sentiment and without judgment. Now there are sides of me that only the Charles knows. There are places I’d put my own historical markers: on this site in 2014, Lyndsey learned to be friends with women. Here, here, here, and here, she realized things were going to be OK. L and L once walked a marathon in a weekend, which began and ended here.
If you want to visit the shiny, nice, historical Boston, I can tell you where to go and wish you a very good time. But if you want to visit my Boston, I will tell you: walk and walk, then keep walking. Ask why things are the way they are. Tell the Charles you are in love with him. Get very sweaty and lost. Buy bread in the North End. Realize you have gone much too far. Then turn around and come back. And when you arrive wherever you started, and you are terribly exhausted and your bread is gone and you are grateful for a place to just be, then you are there. Share a three-dollar bottle of wine with someone and toast the safety of a cyclist and belatedly thank God, who happens to be around, for the bread. Swear. Swear especially if it makes you uncomfortable. It is good not to be so delicate; and so this Boston will make you a better person—a better lover—in the end.
This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home in the World, a book about home and other beloved places and a nine-month trip around the world with three kids. I love her Art of Simple life-vision, so I can’t wait to see how it translates to the un-simple endeavor of travel with family.