April 16, 2013

For Boston

I've left Boston twice in my life: once in 2003, after spending my freshman and sophomore years at Emerson; and once in 2011, when I moved to New York, after another four years getting a Master's, and a wife, and a handle on the world. It was tough leaving, both times. But I've never regretted not being there as much as I did yesterday.

I should start with a confession: I never actually watched the Boston marathon while I lived there; usually, because of the long weekend, I was out of town. And yet one of my most vivid memories of the place is from the Sunday night before the race in 2006.

I was living in Montreal then, and had driven down with some friends for the premiere of an old Emerson dorm mate's first short film. We went out drinking afterwards, or tried to; I didn't have a U.S. license or a passport, so nowhere wanted to let me in. Until, finally, we got to the Bukowski's on Dalton Street, where I hopefully showed the bouncer my British license.

HIM [THE BEST BOSTON ACCENT YOU CAN IMAGINE]: Sorry, bro. Can't let you in on this.

ME: Please. Please. Look. I'm here with all my friends. We're going back to Montreal tomorrow. I'm driving. I just want one beer.

HIM: [SIGHS]

ME: Please.

HIM [LOOKS ME UP AND DOWN]: You ain't gonna start any bahroom brawls, are you?

ME: Are you kidding me? This sweater is from the Gap.

HIM: [LAUGHS] Okay, bro. You're alright.

So I had my one beer, and then I had another, and I made out with a cute girl. And then I drank two glasses of water and me and my two friends got back in our rental car to drive back to Weymouth, where we were staying that night.

The crowd barriers were already up for the race, and the BPD was beginning to close off the streets to traffic for the next day, too—but somehow, we made it through, and cruised down an almost empty Boylston Street, windows all the way open and WERS blaring on the radio, and I remember thinking (this is the vivid part): life is pretty good. And this is a fucking great town.

The first week I lived in Boston was the week of 9/11, and I guess that's the obvious comparison to make here, watching the news from afar just as I did with New York back then. But actually, even with the fighter jets overhead in Boston that week, the fact that it was all happening in New York made it seem unreal, somehow. Like something that didn't really affect me. Even when the BPD stormed Copley Square on 9/12, searching the hotels for signs of the hijackers, I watched it all from the big screen in the Emerson dining hall and it didn't really feel like it was happening.

Instead, here's a better comparison, and another of my most vivid Boston memories:

I'm sitting in my first ever apartment, a tiny nest on the "cheap" side of Beacon Hill. Again, it's a Sunday, the morning this time, and instead of dragging myself to campus to check my email, I've fired up my trusty old modem and am crawling through the internet. And there, on the front page of the BBC, was the headline: "Edinburgh fire 'could last for days'." A blaze had started in a nightclub in the historic city centre, and whole stretches of it were now destroyed. Bars. Homes. University buildings. Fringe venues.

I still get sad thinking about that day, about how terrible it was to watch from so far away as somewhere I care about—somewhere I think of as home—got so devastatingly gutted. I wanted to be there so badly, to go down and stand by the cordon and breathe in the smoke, not so that I could say I'd been there, but just so that I could have been there. So that I could suffer with everyone else. Because as good as TV and the internet are at broadcasting pictures and videos and words about events like this, they still can't communicate those intangible things, whatever they are, that let you grieve with friends and with the community at large. Those things that make you feel, no matter how little you're actually doing, like you're doing something.

And yesterday, ten years later, watching Boston suffer on TV: fuck. It felt—feels—exactly the same way. It feels painfully real, and painfully, laceratingly distant, and I wish I could do something other than sit here blogging about it. Part of me wants to hop on a Bolt Bus right now. Part of me wants it to be that first week in September again, or my first week back in 2007, or my last week there in 2011 when so many years of friends came out to see me off, just because those are the times when the city came into sharpest focus for me; the times when I really experienced Boston. All of me, though, wants it to be before yesterday, again and forever.

But then again, if yesterday hadn't happened, I wouldn't be able to watch over the coming days and weeks as Bostonians do what they do best, namely, go about life knowing that they live in the greatest town in the world, with such fanatical conviction that anyone else observing can't help but start believing it themselves.

Because you're going to get better this month, Boston. And you know what? Even from afar, it's going to be inspirational to watch.

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