“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
-Octavia Butler (admittedly via adrienne maree brown)
I arrived in Boston five years ago, moved my sparse belongings into an illegal basement apartment in Medford, and for months, sobbed routinely on the cold concrete floor. I had come from Minneapolis, freshly adorned with a PhD, and even more freshly adorned with a heart I had shattered myself. In the tumult of major life changes (and smack dab in the middle of my Saturn’s Return), I had separated from, and then shortly after officially left, my partner of four years. I loved him (so so much), but for reasons I didn’t entirely understand at the time, my gut told me to leave. The week I waited for my new job to begin--a Visiting Assistant Professor position at a private college, which had been the impetus of the move--I sat in a near-empty apartment, filling my time reading Buddhist self-help books, preparing my fall syllabi, and returning to a bulimia habit I thought I had kicked years before.
My surroundings were a mirror of my pain: my new neighborhood was crowded, dingy, with curving streets that frequently made me lose my way home. The air felt thicker than the Midwest, and the two-way streets were never wide enough for two-way traffic. I hit a school van in my car during my first week of work, an event that I would blame --along with the general disposition of drivers in Massachusetts-- for persistent and debilitating travel anxiety in the city. The coffee shops charged money for wi-fi and the baristas weren’t friendly. I was deeply homesick, heavy with the loss of my relationship, of the cat I lost in the breakup, of Minneapolis. I put on a brave face at my new job, but my commutes to and from were filled with breakdowns. I began putting makeup on in the parking lot of the college, rather than at home, given how often I’d cried it all off on the way there.
I threw myself into teaching, into therapy, into a second job teaching yoga. My days were a steady balance of tireless productivity and debilitating depression. That first autumn also included the death of my grandmother and my childhood dog. I continued to grieve my relationship, even while somehow simultaneously falling in love with a long-distance friend. I tried to socialize, an effort that often involved a lot of alcohol and a lot of regret. I found ways to blame my pain on the harshness of the city; I resented that it wasn’t a gentle place to live when what I craved so badly was comfort.
The first year was hard. In a lot of ways, the second year was harder. By my 30th birthday, a year and a half into my job, I was already in a new relationship and then shortly after in another breakup. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I went to sleep those nights dreading the energy it would take to wake up and endure another day. I was in a new apartment (an attic instead of a basement!), and I finally had a new (perfect) cat, but I was suffering.
It was in these darkest moments during the first two years in Boston, though, that I would learn how to be braver and stronger than ever before. Part of that meant relying on others for help (thank you M & G, & B, & M, & M, & & &...), part of it meant escaping into the yoga studio, part of it meant taking a break from drinking (and some days it meant the opposite). I found refuge in the coffee shop across the street from the attic apartment, which included free wifi, friendly baristas, and a regular who would become one my best friends (forever). I found solace in the conversations I had with my yoga students after class and with my fellow teachers behind the desk -- there I developed the kind of intimate connections that make you feel less alone, the kind of vulnerable affinities that make you feel understood. I found comfort in a book club full of women I’d grow to love and respect deeply. I found inspiration in the energy of the grrrls I worked with at Girls Rock Campaign Boston, and in the fierce determination of the Mass Bail Fund organizers. I found hope in the parts of my day that made me smile (and there were, despite all that I was up against, so many).
Things got better (I settled back into a stable relationship), and then they got worse again (I lost a friend to suicide; a year later I lost my job), but I continued to grow and be challenged in ways that charged my veins with magic. Literally, magic. (Is it any wonder that these years of deep pain lead me to finally admit I have been a witch all along?)
I have fallen in love and been broken here, multiple times over. I have felt entirely hopeless and also full of certain faith (in revolution, in our liberation, in the goodness of our neighbors). I have lost loved ones and watched new ones be born and grow into tiny walking speaking humans with personalities and senses of humor. I let myself dress sluttier (yay!), and I became a morning person who went to be at 9:30pm and woke up at 5am for yoga and coffee (also, yay!). I gave up my eating disorder and gave in to more ample hips. I indulged in eyelash extensions and acrylic nails and never felt more like myself.
And all the while, as I endured the tumult of my tiny life, I was surrounded by the chaos and wonder of Boston. The curious juxtaposition of the ivy league university riche with the disgruntled working-class townies. The crust punks who congregated outside the Harvard t-stop. The insidious gentrification. The thick East Coast accents of the gas station attendants coupled with the literal sweaters wrapped around shoulders of khaki-wearing startup bros. The racism and the groups organizing to fight it. The brilliance and the bigotry. The crowded streets, the ocean. New York City was a train ride away and I made it to England faster than I could fly to San Francisco. We made decisions based on “sides of the river,” we lamented about the rising cost of rent.
Boston never cradled me, but I was held. It was a support that made me work for it. It was a city that forced me into confronting all that I had pushed aside. It was a chapter that literally brought me to my knees, a chapter that made bleed.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
As I head back to the midwest, I do so with the tender scar tissue of injuries that made me understand my power. As I head back to the midwest, I do so with a genuine love and appreciation for a city I will really miss hating.