IT SEEMS LIKE AN APT TIME to be thinking and writing about Boston. I spent a year living in that city as part of a university exchange to Boston College in 2010. It was perhaps the year that—when memory flashes—causes in me the most chest-wrenchingly mixed sense of nostalgia, regret, and fondness. I am, as clichéd as it sounds right now, grieving for Boston.
I am grieving for Boston on two fronts. One is obvious—attacks of terrorism on lands familiar cannot but spawn in us a sharp pang of pain, a jolt of fear, and a strangely sad gladness at the stoicism, sense, and quick-witted kindness of strangers under fire. I am horrified to think of nail-ridden bombs exploding steps from where I used to spend much of my spare time, maiming people like me, killing eight-year-olds, denying so many the ability to walk, to dance, to just be as they were.
The second way in which I grieve for the city is more personal, and perhaps not of significance to others reading my words. Yet it must be said, for I cannot believe that it means nothing if it means so much to me. Boston will always hold a ‘place in my heart’—if I may be permitted so maudlin a phrase. I flew out of Logan Airport on a cold, snowy day, and have never since been able to quite put down in words my feeling of the city. New York, on the other hand, I cannot keep quiet about; I have had no trouble writing about my love for that metropolis and I am apt—when asked about my time in America—to speak of Manhattan more than of the town that was my home.
I suspect this is because I cannot say my experience of Boston was entirely positive. 2010 was the year in which I learned the nature of fickle female friendships. I learned it hard. Alongside intimacy, fun, and a new level of low-key being (it’s all about jeans and yoga pants in Boston, literally and metaphorically), I learned loss, embarrassment, anger, and the sheer confusion that accompanies social calamity.
I flew into Logan on as cold and snowy a day as I left, yet from winter to winter seemed no time at all. I loved that city, as I swayed from prim middle-class Catholic households to bad pubs populated with those who liked to call themselves Irish, to pristine Cape Cod beaches, to pizza shops, Tex-Mex, and ATMs that accept cheques. When I think of Boston, I think of classes taught by inspiring ex-Harvard professors. I think of the shops on Newbury Street, the beautiful public library, the gardens in spring, the uneven brick paths of Beacon Hill and the houses whose windows I tried so hard to peer into and place myself within. I think of small things—my first ice hockey game, the convenience store opposite the college campus, the walk from share-house to classroom in the morning winter snow and in the afternoon summer sun, holding hands with boys I could never see again, and smoking my first cigarette in the garage of a friend.
I remember sitting on the curb of Commonwealth Avenue watching the runners on Marathon Monday. College kids sipped from sour lemonade bottles laced with vodka and egged on their competing friends. Marathon Monday—it was an occasion spoken of for weeks in advance, a day of great joyfulness and planned intoxication.
America, to me, is a strange and confusing place. Powerful, familiar, mine, but alien. It is hard right now not to think of this as a decade of disaster for the country—from the Batman shootings to Newtown to the Boston Marathon, awful, unimaginable things happen all too often. Yet I do think that if any city can cope with tragedy, it is probably Boston. The people I knew there were tough. I send them and the city my love, even if love has long since faded from the equation. I loved that city.