Friday, April 26, 2013

Love Letter to My Adopted City

Dear Boston,

As you begin to heal following the horrific marathon bombings followed by the gunfights and lockdown later last week, let me take this opportunity to tell you how much you mean to me. It pained me greatly to see you suffering from the killing of innocent adults, a child, and a young police officer as well as the injuring of more than 270 others. Evil held you and your surrounding communities in its tight grip for an entire workweek, disrupting your routine and the general peace you and your residents enjoy and expect. Thankfully, the malicious parties have been subdued -- either by being slain or captured.

The time to dress your wounds and comfort you has begun. Your finest and strongest citizens are working diligently to protect you, maintain you, and improve you. They along with federal authorities are turning over every stone to uncover just how the perpetrators were able to pull off the vicious attacks on you in the hopes that both the lone surviving terrorist may be brought to justice and such heinous acts may never be repeated within your borders.

The unthinkable occurred at your proudest of moments on a very special day. Marathon Monday and Patriots' Day. A sacred doubleheader of a day testing and celebrating the world's top long-distance runners as well as a state holiday commemorating the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolutionary War that led to America's independence.

For ambitious spectators, it was a full day. First up: the 5:30 a.m. reenactment in Lexington (Concord's was too late if you were trying to make the 11:05 a.m. Red Sox game). This year the game was played against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was Jackie Robinson Day. And, finally, the marathon -- the world's oldest and most prestigious. (The finish line is walkable from Fenway Park.) Hopefully, these fans already filed their 1040s because it was also Tax Day, April 15.

As it was the beginning of spring vacation, my boys and I were lazing around the house. We had no plans. It was a gorgeous day and just the right temperature for the elite competitors one hour south. Turning on the TV, I saw a Portuguese woman with a long, swinging ponytail running well ahead of the pack. It was inspiring to watch her, though I have no marathon aspirations myself as I have a bad knee containing only twenty percent of its protective cartilage. The camera then cut to Tatyana McFadden, a Russian-born Paralympian, as she accepted her trophy for winning the women's wheelchair division. She looked so happy.

Around midday I made plans for my boys to play with a friend's boys on a field behind the elementary school. Though they had gotten up at an ungodly hour to make the roughly fifty-minute drive to the Lexington reenactments, her boys were not the least bit tired. They were raring to practice for the Little League season beginning this weekend. By mid-afternoon, we were back home. I called up Facebook. The first post I read on my newsfeed indicated rather cryptically that there'd been some kind of disturbance at your marathon. I didn't stay on my iPad any longer to learn more. I rushed to the TV. Like everyone watching that day, I could not believe my eyes. The news about you was shocking, surreal, and heartbreaking. Little did anyone know it was just the beginning of your terror-filled workweek.

I love you, Boston, and I always have. You are my adopted city.

I met you over Columbus Day Weekend 1980 when visiting friends at colleges in your area. I arrived at the bus station a day late because I had changed my plans and decided to hitchike alone and for the first time from my college in central, western Vermont. After thumbing a couple of rides, I wound up in the back of a pickup then its cab after it started to rain. The male driver took me to a bus station in Brattleboro. Alas, too late. Missed the last bus of the day by five minutes. Next he drove me to a couple of motels. No vacancy. It was leaf-peeping season! Running out of options, he invited me to his home in nearby South Newfane. A risky proposition, indeed. Yet I felt I could trust him when he discussed his wife and kids. I had spent enough time talking to him and observing him in the cab to come to this conclusion. At their house, I borrowed the family's phone to call the childhood friend I was supposed to stay with at your namesake college. She called me "crazy" when I told her about my trip. I couldn't disagree. That night I had a wonderful time with the warm, caring family. Dinner featured fresh greens and tomatoes from their garden and applesauce made of apples from their trees. A giant pancake breakfast was served up in the morning before the father drove me back to the bus station. He stayed long enough to watch me board, just in case I had a hankering to try hitchhiking again. (Hint: I did.)

Looking back, I realize how naive and lucky I was. Still, meeting you after twenty-four hours of adventure ensured that I would like you. A LOT. It was a very good first impression, and you have not disappointed me since. My Boston College friend took me to Faneuil Hall where I sampled my first fried dough. (More than thirty years later I still love the messy treat.) We browsed the shops, and Claire encouraged me to buy a teddy bear I liked. I named it Claire Bear. I still have it. That weekend I stopped by Harvard to visit two friends from my all-girls Connecticut boarding school -- Sheilah from Hong Kong who just last year singlehandedly took my son's Flat Stanley around the world and Connie, a senior-year roommate who died of a rare cancer at the age of forty-four. I wanted to also get together with Eleanor at Wellesley, but I ran out of time. My stay in your area was rushed due to my late arrival. But I had no regrets regarding my transportation method of choice.

Post-graduation you were the first major city I lived in. I had landed a job at the "Christian Science Monitor" and had taken a one-bedroom apartment above the kitchen of a cool Asian restaurant on Columbus Avenue. (Appropriate given my Columbus Day Weekend introduction to the city.) Two years later my bichon frise Sparkplug and I moved from the South End to Beacon Hill to be closer to a friend from boarding school who I had reconnected with over an Appalachian Mountain Club trip to New Hampshire the weekend O.J. led police on that slow-speed chase. Rentals in the ritzy neighborhood were steeper, so I downgraded to a studio not far from Louisburg Square where Secretary of State John Kerry has long resided. My space had formerly been servants' quarters for the neighborhood's blue blood population and featured a bathroom (truly a water closet) off the building's stairs. Yes, outside the apartment. But I didn't mind.

During this time, I left work on the Family and Medical Leave Act to manage my ailing mother's Christian Science care. It was an intense, exhausting, and painful period and continued to be so for many months to come. One of the few bright lights in my life at that time was an AMC rock climbing course I was taking in your city. A couple of cousins encouraged me to continue with the class despite my heavy responsibilities before and after my mother's death and the cracked rib I sustained carrying her when she fell into my arms. In fact, I was top-roping your awesome Quincy Quarries and afterward having a beer at a nearby Irish pub while she was drawing her last breaths.

After my leave ended, I left the newspaper to handle her estate and the sale of her house, relocating to Seattle by late fall for Chapter II of my life: Post-Parents. My West Coast adventure didn't last long. Some four years later I came back to you to attend an MFA program in creative writing. This time I took an apartment across the Charles River in Cambridge. My first son came along a few years later, thanks to your world-renowned medical care. My second was born during our brief stint in Marblehead on the North Shore. And today our family resides on Cape Ann, a little further up the coast. I can't express my gratitude enough to your excellent reproductive endocrinologists who made it possible for a single woman to become a mother two times over in her forties.

All told, I have lived in your area for roughly seventeen years before and after my Seattle experiment. Almost as long as my childhood hometown. I have celebrated or suffered through countless milestones in Beantown and its environs. The Impressionist paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts have lifted my spirits when I felt blue. Riding the T has been a salve for loneliness. Nothing compares to taking your firstborn to see the Green Monster up close, watching your dog romp on the historic Boston Common, or laughing hysterically with a visiting boyfriend at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. I have had many, many good times in and around your fair city.

I am so proud of you and in so much awe of you. Keep strong, mighty Boston. You will always prevail.



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