April 20, 2013 by themommahen
I’m from North Carolina, born and raised for 18 years of my life, but like so many others, I came of age in Boston, as a college student. At the very last minute I had decided to attend Boston University instead of my lifelong love, UNC-Chapel Hill. So agonized over the decision to possibly attend a school that worshiped hockey and not basketball, wore scarlet instead of Carolina Blue, I committed what I now know to be almost a sin of college applications. I double-deposited, telling both universities that I would see them in the Fall of 1991.
After reflecting on my life in a small town and remembering how awesome my Boston visit had been in the Spring before and second-guessing how much I could actually spread my wings going to school 20 minutes from my house I grew up in, I took a leap of faith. I eschewed athletic and academic scholarships from much smaller colleges (my poor parents) and officially said goodbye to my lifelong dream of graduating as a Tarheel to become a Terrier.
I remember the 15 hour drive like it was yesterday, in the minivan my parents had rented just for the occasion to take me to this strange land of concrete and steel, taxis and trains. I arrived in Boston on day two of our journey. We stopped in Watertown – now infamous – for a last lunch of sorts. My last meal before I became an official college student. And then we pulled into Boston. I was terrified. I had ridden the whole way with a knot in my stomach, with a monumental case of buyer’s remorse. What was I thinking? I’d left all my friends, was leaving my family, was going way outside my comfort zone and jumping into a much larger pond than I’d even been in. What the hell was I thinking?!
I saw the people on the streets, walking so confidently, knowing where they were going and where they’d come from. I watched the traffic, and wondered why pedestrians weren’t routinely killed every day. I looked at the trains, the T, with its green cars above ground on the BU campus, then disappearing into the tunnel below Kenmore Square and wondered how I’d ever figure out what train to take, what stations were which and where the different colored lines went. Even though I’d ridden it by myself during my Spring trip, it was different now. Then I’d been a high school senior from North Carolina unafraid of just about anything. Suddenly Boston had me on my knees, unsure of who I was, what I was becoming and how I was going to get there.
I still had big 80s hair with lots of hairspray, a love of biscuits and a heavy drawl. I was an outsider.
One of my first memories as a college student was standing in a line at the Li’l Peach in Kenmore Square, waiting to buy a Diet Coke and 3Musketeers. The person in front of me was still pocketing their change when the guy behind the counter, without looking up, said gruffly, “Next!”
I walked up, big smile on my face, and said in my slow drawl, “Hey there, how are you?”
Li’l Peach guy didn’t even look at me, sighed, and said again, “Next!”
I paid for my stuff and left feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. Boston was a huge mistake.
My entire first semester, I planned to transfer back home for my sophomore year. I had finally met my match.
But then, things started to change. I went to my second Red Sox Game at Fenway. And then my third. And then more. I discovered Filene’s Basement. I bought my first winter coat with the help of some new friends from Brooklyn. I met a girl from Alaska who was one of triplets and was half real-life Eskimo. I went to my first Broadway play, Phantom of the Opera, in the Theater District. I got a job at the Bull & Finch Pub (you may know it as Cheers). I played volleyball. I walked the Freedom Trail.
I cheered on the marathoners on Patriots Day.
I became a Peer Advisor in my college. I got a work-study job with a woman who forever changed my life. I made friends. I had the same roommates for three years. I made lifelong friends I don’t get to see or talk to enough. I lived on the Boston/Allston line, then in Kenmore Square, then in Brookline. I had my car in Boston for the last two years and drove through that city like I owned it. I had the requisite college heartbreak followed by the redemption of meeting the man I now refer to here as The Husband. I was with my best friend from BU when we met.
Boston was at first my nemesis. An enigma. In the end, it was my home, a neighborhood, my playground. Boston was my training ground, the city that taught me that I like city life, am somewhat made for it, and can be as comfortable in the bright lights as I am under the glowing stars in my hometown I’ve returned to. Boston remains part of me, as so many others have expressed.
As memories do, mine specific to the city have faded. I haven’t visited in years, I haven’t gone to any reunions.Time slips by so quickly.
I no longer can close my eyes and move from the Commons to BU in my mind, naming the streets as I go. I can’t picture the MBTA map in my head anymore. My total recall of all things Boston has been blurred by time. But when a college friend of mine shared this link of the deserted streets of Boston, it jarred something in me that made me feel a bit empty too.
No people. No traffic. No trains. Just streets and parks and sidewalks and tracks. All empty.
And then I thought about how no one was gone. No one had deserted. I could almost imagine the buildings breathing with the anticipation and anxiety of the citizens. The streets burning with fury at the indignity of it all. The rails electric with impatience. The Commons blooming with hope, the names of those lost and wounded in such an unimaginable and senseless act carried on a soft breeze. And, yes, surely there was fear and uncertainty. But Boston doesn’t do fear and uncertainty so well. It abhors it, actually. Look at how the city responded. Look at how the first responders performed. Look at how the country came together, once again, to support one of our beloved cities.
So, Boston, this once big-haired-slow-talking-heavy-twanged-small-town-girl-who-once-couldn’t-wait-to-leave-you is so thankful for my time with you and immensely proud of my Boston connection. And even more so of your display this week.
And I sincerely hope you wake up tomorrow and say gruffly, “Next?”
- 10 Eerie Photos Of Boston Looking Like A Ghost Town (businessinsider.com)
- Spooky Photos Of Boston’s Deserted Roads (jalopnik.com)