Boston

This is a huge departure from what I usually write but I hope you’ll bear with me because I needed to.

“Boston is a tough and resilient town; so are its people”

Now I haven’t had much time to process the recent marathon bombing. I went from straight being in shock last night, to being desperate for news and unable to contribute to a lecture I was supposed to be leading, to bawling over Sweet Caroline a few hours ago. So I’m going to see if I can put some of my thoughts down because this one drives home for me.

I grew up in a town fifteen minutes away from Boston. We were the last stop on the Orange Line, and I often took the last outbound train home to spend as much time as I could in the city.

I applied to earn my undergraduate degree in Boston, the only city I truly wanted to go to college in. I was accepted to Emerson College and Boston University. Due to financial difficulties, I was forced to relocate out of my city and out of what I truly called my home.

Although I hadn’t lived there since I was seventeen, I always pictured myself going back. Every winter break, every reading week, every summer. I would drive myself the eleven long, painstaking hours just to see the harbor again. I would take a sixteen-hour bus to sit on a bench in the Commons and people watch. I would take a taxi to a bus to a plane to the T to my friend’s car waiting for me outside the subway station. I would do anything to see my city, I would do anything for my city.

A month before my final exams in my last year of undergraduate in Canada, I was applying to graduate programs. For my application to Boston University, I was instructed to create a video documenting why I wanted to attend the particular institution, who influenced my life the most, and what I wanted to do with my degree. I remember being able to answer the first question instantaneously, perfectly without missing a beat. The other questions were harder but they all related to the first response – that my home was Boston and it was time to return. I can’t remember the exact words and the video is still floating around old youtube accounts. I just remember the feeling I had. After all this time – my new experiences and my three years away in a different country – I was surprised that I would still feel so passionately about a city and remember its details so vividly. I was never one to travel to Cuba on spring break; I opted to go back to tour the Museum of Science, to order Sam Adams as a domestic brew, and to shop at both the stores on Newbury Street and the underground stores in Cambridge. See, I could fill dozens of tourist guidebooks and memoirs with my fond (and not so fond) memories of the city, but I’ll try to piece together certain ones that stand out.

The free open-air concerts at the Hatchshell for EarthFest and July 4th, and the Phoenix-hosted Best Music Poll at City were quintessential to my high school years. The smells of Quincy market and the quacks of the Duck Tour (which in my middle school years I accidentally piloted into a rock) were always part of my childhood. There is not a second of my last two decades on this planet that I don’t thank the universe for allowing me to have lived in Massachusetts.

I was allowed to eat the blackberries my parents haggled for, fresh from the farmer’s market on the weekends. I surreptitiously chipped off a millimeter of paint from the Green Monster on a middle school field trip (which is still stored somewhere in the back of my closet in a box labelled “Beantown”). I tried my first clam chowdah in the city, sprinkled with the perfect ratio of clam to potato. I saw my first concert in the city (The White Stripes at the Orpheum). I bought a collection of novelty moustache-themed items from Newbury Comics that I never would touch again. I made the mistake of walking the entire length of Comm Ave instead of taking the T. I witnessed street (or should I say vehicle) performers break dance on the red line. I spent three years in high school trying to pinpoint a mysterious Au Bon Pain that existed a few times on State near an outdoor fountain that was never to be seen again. I taught my friends that the Wonderland stop on the T was not to be trusted. I could walk to any alternate T stop after a large Red Sox game to avoid bodies of tourists and out-of-towners in the subway. I learned how to drive in Boston and my Agganis driving instructor let me take the car into the city to grab Dunks, because I had mastered the art of the rotary. (I had also mastered the art of cutting people off if they were going too slowly, flipping them the bird, and never letting anyone merge.) See, I knew how to drive through the tunnel, in and out of the city, without dying – (my friends and parents always made me drive and that much hasn’t changed, five years later). I had a regular table at the Cheesecake Factory in the Pru because my friends and I frequented it so often when my parents worked long shifts. I remember taking the T to Harvard Square and seeing an (exceptionally high-tech for that time) advertisement come to life in the tunnel for Coraline and for a whole year, I craned my neck to make sure I hadn’t just dreamt it. I was in Harvard Square, interviewed by a local TV station, when the last Harry Potter book came out. I have always taken as many American Revolution classes as possible in college, knowing that I would appreciate them much more, having climbed all 294 steps of Bunker Hill. In 2011, I cheered and sung with the crowds as the Stanley Cup was held high by our beloved Bruins.

In 2012, I moved back to New England. For the last thirteen years, I have rang in each and every new year in Boston. In my older years, I hobbled along the cobblestones of the Haymarket stop in stilettos, hoping that I wouldn’t fall headlong into a tourist or worse, a Boston resident. I rang in this new year in the city, chanting down to 1 as the clock struck midnight and 2013 came upon me and my city. Happy. Hopeful.

I’ve never felt in danger in Boston. After 9/11. After Columbine. After Newton. After each and every tragedy that has shaken the American nation. It has always been a piece of my past tucked away in sepia-toned lenses of safety. I have never felt unsafe even when crowds got rowdy after big game losses (or wins) or when my friend lived in her basement apartment near Suffolk with strangers she had just met. I had been able to navigate the streets better than my family and most of my friends by the time I was fourteen. I always knew where danger lurked and how to deal accordingly. Danger lurked in the darkness of Roxbury, danger lurked in the 3AM walks around the city, danger lurked in the catcalls on my way to the last outbound line. I knew how to avoid these dangers – by avoiding certain areas (as is the case with any city), by returning home before last call, and which homeless or drunk men of the streets I could placate with a Marlboro and which ones I had to jog by. But danger did not, does not, and should not lurk in our celebrations. Danger should not be in the form of my friends in the area running from bombs, fearing for their lives; in the form of panicked loved ones Facebooking and texting in lieu of calling because phone lines are down; in the form of not hearing someone’s voice until a full thirty hours later. Danger does not lurk in our sunny days and internationally/nationally broadcast events. And the thing is: it still doesn’t. Hope shines in our marathons and our parades, hope shines on Patriot’s Day, and hope shines in the beauty and courage of those that did everything they could to help on Marathon Monday.

The stories that have emerged have been so crucial in revealing the nature of humanity. The nature of resilience, courage, and the human spirit. Hope shines through in these stories – of runners continuing to run so that they could donate blood to victims; of Boston’s finest fearlessly rushing in literal heartbeats after; of the people running towards the explosion and not away, all in the hopes that they could help; of the citizens of America and of the citizens around the world that have helped donate blood, airmiles, money while sending well-wishes, prayers, and pizzas. Hope in the unity of the American nation as sports rivalries are put aside and as each MLB game tonight sang along to Sweet Caroline in the eighth inning to honor Boston and its traditions. We do not shrink away nor do we let fear consume us. We carry on and carry those with us who cannot go forth by themselves. We are never going to stop running towards something better.

If you know me you will realize that I have always avoided any consistent concrete identity. I have never called myself Canadian. I have never called myself Chinese. I have never called myself American. Instead, I have always chosen to call myself Bostonian each and every time. Given the question “where are you from”, I would never falter to answer, “Boston”.

My city is soft and bold; we are compassionate but we are strong. Humanity is at its best when we face challenges and tragedies together. This is my city and this is my home and nothing in this world will ever change that. Every single person who spends any amount of their life living here will understand – that this city is not static. It is a dynamic, evolving, ever-breathing living organism. Its lifeblood, its love, and its strength are in every person who has been lucky enough to call it home. This tragedy does not just affect me, nor does it affect the current residents of this little revolutionary city. I am intrinsically tied to Boston – its past, present, and future. It hurts my heart to see my city in distress. But, it gives me infinite hope to see it lift its head seconds after.

Boston is my home and it will stay strong.

A

3 thoughts on “Boston

  1. This gave me feelings I wasn’t expecting to feel today. Your writing has always been so eloquent and lovely; especially so when you are talking about places that matter to you. That fact that I can remember a good many of these instances makes this whole post even more meaningful and emotional. Well said, bby. Good for you, Ani Xu. Four for you. <3

  2. You were always one of us and I knew when you left that you would come back to us. You are part of Boston. I’m ever so proud of you.

  3. “when my friend lived in her basement apartment near Suffolk with strangers she had just met.”

    ^this

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