Monday, November 05, 2012

Going Back, Pondering Home

The past few months have been pretty eventful, to say the very least. I moved on from a job that wasn't taking me where I wanted to go. I found a new gig blogging for The Stir, which is fun and challenging in ways that are surprising and make me strive to be better at it, and I reconnected with a lot of old friends.

It's been refreshing and sometimes a little daunting -- making big changes, revisiting your old self as your new self. I went back to Boston for the first time in seven years in October, and the things I saw were both familiar and alien in ways I hadn't anticipated. I went to see J and M and their kids, which was wonderful and I loved spending time with all of them. It was the city, though, and the memories it held that left me curious and conflicted.

I got up early on a Saturday to fly up, and made it to Boston in less time than it typically takes to get to the Upper East Side. And as we began our descent, lowering over the city, I looked out across it and the first thought I had was: "I wonder where the cemetery is... Where Phatiwe is now..." I know I could see it. I wasn't sure which direction, South, I think. But I looked out and wondered how it would feel to be back in the city where I'd watched her die.

Recently my aunt and I talked about who our people were -- the ones we could say anything to -- she had been mine. So when she passed away in 2005, I lost more than a friend. I lost my person. The one who did not judge. I know many of my dear friends also do not judge, but... but you know what I mean. We all have those people. Who we trust with our deepest, darkest selves. And who handle them with care and love us more fiercely for it.

I was going back to our home, and I was afraid.

M picked me up though, after my failed attempt to enjoy a pumpkin spice latte (those things are like sugar and chemicals mixed with caffeine. poison!) and I got to spend time with her and the kids. I was pretty psyched that by the end of day 2, the little one felt comfortable enough to plunk herself down on my lap. Auntie win! But I digress. I spent some time with them, then went to Harvard Square, to see it. I felt older. I felt wiser. I felt more worldly than this little brick square that I'd found so captivating when I'd been 20-something. New York does that to a girl. Brooklyn is no small town. Cambridge is.

I went to Urban Outfitters, because I hadn't packed warmly enough, and that seemed like a good idea. I got a granola bar and a coffee in a cafe and ate it on a bench. I walked past the two streets of things... Then down Mass. Ave. toward Central. Everything was so much closer than I had remembered. Or else my concept of scale had grown. Now a 20 block walk is normal. Unless I'm lazy and get a cab.

I lived here.
I walked past my first apartment after grad school. 334 Harvard Street, apt 6E, I believe. I forgot the building's weird 60's architectural flare. It was a misfit in that neighborhood. I took a photo and kept walking, back into Central Square. Past restaurants and cafes and bars that I knew I'd been to, but which felt... It felt like being in a movie. I recognized things, I remembered being in these places, but I couldn't remember what it felt like for that to be my life.

That afternoon, though, we drove up to the North Shore -- to Amesbury to go apple picking. And we drove through Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Ipwsich and Essex. The stomping grounds from my first newspaper job. I told M and C about those towns, what I knew of them when I covered them for the paper there. I passed things I'd passed every day, and that, somehow, felt real. I knew this town. It was a part of my life that was, actually, mine alone. My days roving around, scouting for news. Visting town halls, libraries, the schools. Figuring out what people thought, what they cared about.

It was so wonderful to drive down 1A and see them all. Then we had an amazing fried seafood dinner and I got to drive home with J, talking about stuff and things.

Once we got back to Cambridge, it was bedtime for the kiddies, and I was going out to meet some other old friends to drink beers and listen to some music. They are an entire other story, but that... I didn't recognize the streets that had been like five blocks from where I had lived for 2 years, but falling back into hanging out with them was effortless. It was like not a minute had passed, let alone 7 years.

Sunday we had some apple scones made from our apple-picking bounty, went to the MIT Museum, which is really great, and then I went and hung out with other J. Watching football, catching up, having a lovely day. I flew home Sunday night, uneventful.

The thing that was striking to me was how faulty the memory can be, how things are erased to make room for new things. Streets go missing in one's mental map, but somehow the menu at Mr. and Mrs. Bartley's is forever. Storrow Drive was longer than I remembered. Mass Ave much, much shorter. I didn't venture toward Kendall Square or Inman Square, my last stomping grounds there. The heart of Cambridge was enough for a first trip.

I told an ex in Boston once, after he asked why I didn't live in New York, because it seemed to suit me so much better than Boston... Why I still lived in Boston. I told him then that I knew once I moved to New York, I'd be home. And so I didn't want to do it until I was ready to mean it. And then one day I was.

Now that other life I had feels like a hazy dream. A dream in a small town with brick sidewalks and a Trader Joe's with a parking lot. With Harvard Square. Places I went from being a kid to being too old for my own good. It was a very good weekend. And then I came home.