The Beauty of the Fallen

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I think of the fall of Rome.  I think of the incredible empire, the vicious rule, the reminder that it wasn’t built in a day.  And I think of the tale of Nero playing his fiddle while his city burned.

I think of advances in architecture and winding, complicated roads.  I think of advancing armies and victorious gladiators and Roman mythology.  I think of it all coming down, first all at once and then a little more as time progressed.  And then I think of the ruins.

I think of the ruins where buildings once were and I think of how tourists flock to them in the modern age.  I think about how the Colosseum is a top attraction, about how people come from all over the world to walk around former buildings, wrecked roads.  How people will leave their structured homes in structured cities and gladly pay the admission to walk amongst what was.

I think of all the photographs taken to capture the beauty of the fallen.  People will snap, pose, ask others to take pictures for them.  People will use up film, battery life, ink cartridges.  These pictures will be framed, put in scrapbooks, published to the internet — and people will be jealous, wishing that they, too, had a chance to go to Rome, to walk the ruins.  They will voice their desire to go there someday, to witness something so pretty firsthand.

And I think of how no one thought it was pretty when Rome was burning.  Even the music Nero played hit sour in people’s ears.  I wonder if anyone in the midst of the chaos knew what relics they were creating.  I doubt anyone who witnessed the wreckage firsthand thought about exactly how things would be when the dust finally settled.  Just what would emerge after Rome collapsed in on itself.  That there will be beauty in the fallen and beauty in what remains.

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Disjointed Summer Mornings

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If my childhood could be boiled down to just one smell, it would be the smell of early summer mornings after a rainstorm.  The tepid humidity, the wet gravel under your feet — the songbirds and the rising sun and the lazy, easy feeling.  Like all that was good and innocent about being a kid reemerges at 7 am.  The air is thick but welcoming.  It’s enough to make you excited for the day and wish it will never fully start.

It’s a smell you can only truly duplicate in the heart of New England.  Away from the seacoast.  It’s a smell that reminds me of Freedom, NH — of freedom, in general.  It’s a smell that reminds me of a now-defunct campground, of blackberry picking — of being blissfully unaware and of not recognizing that not all families behaved the way mine did.

If my parents are correct, my first steps were at a campground.  I was toddling around the perimeter of my Pack-n-Play, my hands guiding the way and I practice step after step after step.  At some point, I let go and started moving towards the center.  Four or five steps in, I realized what I was doing and immediately fell back down.  My body knew I was ready to let go the railing.  My mind wasn’t ready to recognize that.

I was a dirty hippy before I knew what a dirty hippy was.  I spent my summers running barefoot.  As an adult, I’ll still sprint outside without shoes, using the excuse that it’s my property and I can do what I want.  I would credit my tough feet on those summers, never having enough time to put on proper footwear.  It was pure luck I never stepped in any poison ivy.  These days, I get to use my status as a yoga instructor for my bare feet.  Look, I have the mat, the mala, the, “Ohm, shanti,” to prove it.  Just another dirty hippy yogi who prefers to drive barefoot.

Summer mornings mean I’m up even earlier than usual.  Seasonal affective disorder is not always a bad thing.  I sometimes see myself as a solar battery, only as powerful as the amount of sunlight I can get in.  The cloud cover will keep me listless but I’ll be ready to move as soon as those first rays come in.

If the rising sun is any indication, it’s going to be a bit of a scorcher today, the kind that open windows and fans will eventually lose its battle with.  We’re edging dangerously close to the time when we’ll shut the windows and put on the AC and go from one climate-controlled building to the other, holding our breath as we go outside and get blasted with the heat.  It only makes these mornings even more special.  Like childhood itself: precious, short, and incredibly fragile.

Boston: A Love Letter

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Stepping off the orange line and into the Back Bay is like stepping into an old friend’s home.  Long time, no see.  Welcome back.  Nothing’s where you left it but the refrigerator is stocked.  You’ve been missed.

Half a block down the street and the Prudential Tower comes into view.  From this angle, it is a perfect rectangle, its lettering above the top floor proudly on display.  For years, it served as my lighthouse, my beacon back home from wherever I was in the city.  Like a faithful friend, always there when you need them.  No, old buddy.  It’s you who’s been missed.

My time in Boston is incredibly short today.  I have a meeting scheduled in between the classes I teach in New Hampshire. More time will be spent on the road than in the neighborhood.

“Is it really worth it?” I’ve been asked. “Being signed to an agency in Boston?  Isn’t that commute a bit tedious?”

My meeting is not for another hour and I do what I do best: wander.  In many ways, the neighborhood has changed.  There’s construction equipment and dirt where there had been lunch tables and statues at the Prudential Center.  The front of the Boston Public Library is covered in scaffolding.  There’s a lingering feeling in the air from where two bombs went off two years ago.  There are new businesses and new storefronts and new bus stop advertisements.  But these are still my sidewalks.  The concrete might’ve changed in some areas, but it still makes the same noise under my feet.

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I’m in the best of moods when I finally arrive for my appointment.  Meeting with potential clients through my agency always has a way of turning on my most affable, social self — but now I feel downright effervescent, even as my high heels dig into my skin.  The people who may or may not hire me for their project bid me a good afternoon and tell me to enjoy the weather while it lasts.

I meander again.  The quickest shot back is to cross the street, board the orange line train at Back Bay again, and go straight home.  I hang a left instead, through Copley and across Newbury Street and towards the Esplanade.

My brain chatters. “On the train by 2:30.  On the road by 3.  Check traffic on your phone.  You don’t want to be late.  You have a class to teach at 4:30.”  But all I hear is the passing traffic, the beep of a reversing construction vehicle, the sounds of the city.

My shoes are horribly impractical.  I can already feel blisters starting to develop.  I can feel every edge and pressure point in my heels.  But, weirdly, I’m unaffected.

By 2:15 I realize I have no choice but to head back.  I start to climb up the bridge that connects the Esplanade to the red line.  I loop around on the ramp and face the water and stand stock still.  I find that I’m holding my breath. The view of the Charles and the Citgo sign and the Longfellow Bridge fills my heart past maximum capacity and I’m frozen in my spot, as if one wrong step and mi corazon will burst.

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This is my city.  Ciudadita mia.  I love it the way a parent loves a grown child — tenderly, if not a bit from a distance.  I love it like a practical paramour, implicitly understanding that it is not truly mine.  I love it without a need for ownership.  I love it expecting nothing in return.  I love it knowing it will continue to evolve without me.  I love it because I have no other choice but to love this city with every fiber of my being. I love it exactly how it is.

I’m on the road before 3, but the traffic is already horrendous.  I’ve noticed that I’m a noticeably more aggressive driver in Massachusetts, like crossing the border turns on something dormant in me.  I blast down highways and quickly change lanes and curse out inconsiderate drivers and I shock even myself with how easily I slip back into this roll.

I applied for a New Hampshire license back in 2011.  I had all the right paperwork, the proof that I lived and worked in this state now.  The lady at the DMV — a DMV that was once a Welcome Center for tourists and travelers back when I was a Bostonian — explained to me that I couldn’t keep my Massachusetts license.  Kids could use it as a fake ID.  As she confiscated it, I thought, “Damn, and I actually liked my picture on that license.”

Three exits past the New Hampshire border and I’m already treated with views you just cannot get in the Boston area.  As if someone had turned on something dormant, the highways become hilly and winding.  I drive around one bend and I’m greeted with a vista of hills and trees and green.  I know I’ll be making it to my afternoon class by the skin of my teeth, but I’m already switching lanes to be in the slow, rightmost one.  The one that provides the best view of the view.

It was this very view — this panorama in between exits three and four on route 3 — that once calmed my nerves when we first went apartment hunting, when my husband’s car had Massachusetts plates and I still didn’t even own a car.  We were driving to yet another apartment complex and it felt like the rest of southern New Hampshire had opened up before me and I thought to myself, “With views like this, I think I can get used to this town.”

I’d eventually move from a town by the Massachusetts border to a town further north, a town that effortlessly straddles the line between civilization and the boondocks.  I’d be greeted every morning and night with sunrises and sunsets over the hills and ponds, the highways and roads themselves as mountainous as the skyline.  It puts a smile on my face.  This is my home, and I know it the way a boat knows it’s secured to the dock.  But it’s never the same type of smile as the one I get in between two exits on 93, right before I get off for the orange line, when there’s a curve in the road and suddenly all of Boston comes into view.  And for a brief moment, I’m not the aggressive Masshole driver making jokes about her “New Hampster” status.  If I’m not careful, I’ll forget I’m even driving.  I’m just watching the Prudential Tower come back into my line of sight, my little lighthouse to let me know I’m close to where I want to be going.

Hey there, old friend.  I’m back again.  You were missed as always.