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.
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.
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.