These Streets

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Thousands of feet are pounding along the 26.2 miles of pavement between Hopkinton and Boston, and--to be honest--this year I was hoping that mine would be among them. For a while I have compared writing a book to running a marathon--and now that I have done one, I was hoping to do the other, just to see if the comparison holds. But more importantly, I wanted to do something as a tribute to my hometown--because at the beginning of the summer, I'll be leaving Boston.

I know these streets.

Among my earliest memories is the sound of stroller wheels churning against the brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill, and growing big enough to no longer sit in a carriage but walk on my own, holding Nai Nai's hand--noticing how some bricks were broken, or playing with the bootscrapers on the front stoops, or trying to walk on cobblestone (which looked so nice but was so frustrating to balance on). 

My childhood was spent at Nai Nai's apartment on Beacon Hill, or playing at the Myrtle Street Playground, or coloring in a corner at the kung fu school while my parents taught classes--but a fair amount of time was in the backseat of my parents van as they hustled to teach and train at gym's all around the city. I learned that quarters were precious, double parking was an acceptable form of rule breaking, and to always keep a look out for the grumpy Meter Maids dressed in navy who wrote the dreaded orange parking tickets left under windshield wipers.

I learned the routes and short cuts between downtown and our pink house in Dorchester to the gray house where Mum lived and my mom grew up in West Roxbury. I noticed how the streets changed between these neighborhoods, how there were more police cars flashing blue lights where we lived than where Mum lived, or how I was allowed to play until the street lamps came on when I slept over Mum's house, but wasn't allowed to play outside alone when we were home.

I recognized the overpass by Forest Hills as a sort of halfway point between these two worlds, and would look for the moon between street lamps as we crossed it at night.

When I was older, Saturday afternoons after kung fu were spent on Newbury Street. My dad, sweaty from teaching and catching his breath, would give me my allowance--which I would spend on nail polish and CDs from Newbury Comics, or candles and incense from the Fairy Shop. My friends and I eventually out grew out of this corner of the city--and in high school, reckless and bored, we wandered every crevice within walking distance of the T, looking for something to do. 

Maybe we didn't have as much money as working adults, or couldn't get into clubs and bars like college students--but the streets were ours, and we knew it. We went where we wanted, talked to who we wanted. If we wanted to yell, we yelled. If we wanted to dance, we danced. If we wanted to run down the street singing the Run Lola Run soundtrack, we pushed our way through pedestrians and tourists and ran through traffic screaming "I wish I was a hunter, in search of different food--I wish I was an animal, that fit into that mood."

I know these streets, I've seen them change.

During college, I came back home on the weekends, and watched the city evolve in stop-motion: small differences stood out and accumulated so by the time I graduated and came home for good the landscape was distinct from how it was when I was in high school.

The free newspaper boxes outside train stations disappeared, and my favorite restaurants have been replaced, and stores that I used to go to are now closed. The Casey Overpass by Forest Hills where I used to look at the moon is gone. Buildings have been torn down, replaced by high rises, so the very shape of the skyline is different now, too.

Each time the city adapted, it was sad, but I accepted it. That's what cities do. Especially a city like Boston--that crams so many thinkers and innovators into our narrow and winding streets--can't be expected to stay the same.

I was too busy building my life to be bothered by these changes.

I worked at a school for troubled girls, where any given day I would chase a client down the street as she tried to runaway. Or, later, I worked at a childcare program in Cambridge, where I'd lead students in single file lines on field trips in the neighborhood and at landmarks along the coast.

I was too busy falling out of love--breaking up and getting back together along the looping streets in Savin Hill and cafes in Rozzi Square and Center Street and the North End--then falling in love, taking long walks along Lamartine and Green Street after dark.

I didn't think these changes applied to me, until I turned around and noticed that the friends who I grew up with abandoned their attempt at keeping apartments in the city and have since built new lives in other cities across the country and around the world.

Then the changes arrived at the doorstep tiles that my great-grandfather laid himself at our family home in West Roxbury. My parents sold the house and left their business. Even though these streets look the same, the city without them has felt foreign to me. In the past six months since they left, I've been living with a loneliness that I never expected to feel at home.

But that's not why we are leaving.

I know how to adapt to a changing landscape, and I've learned how to live with loneliness.

For the past four years we have been managing, but there are only so many pennies that can be pinched on a massage therapist/writer-teacher's salary, and the rising cost of living in our neighborhood--where Kyle was born and raised and built his business--has finally exceeded what we can manage.

Instead of keeping up the hustle--moving further out of the city to keep our lives here patched together--we're taking this as an opportunity to go on an adventure. At the end of May, we will be packing up and moving to Kansas City, where Kyle is going to get more training as a massage therapist.

I will learn new streets, but I don't know if I will ever know a place with the same intimacy that I have for Boston. I know the city's nooks and nuances--as precise as knowing the exact places to merge into new lanes of traffic to get around faster. And I know that this knowledge will fade. The city will keep evolving so the places that are as familiar as my childhood backyard will become something new, something that I won't have the same connection to.

Maybe we will come back, start new in Boston as transplants returning to a different version of our own hometown, or maybe we will keep moving--settling in new streets in different cities. Maybe I'll come back and run the marathon some time in the future. I guess, for now, I'll have to pay tribute to this city the same way I do with all the other parts of my life: with the words I use and the stories I tell.