“Why did you move here?” I am asked now from time to time, and I stumble over the answer. Why exactly did I, I ask myself. What if we hadn’t moved here? I sometimes wonder. How would this, all of this, be different? “Because my ex-husband is from here” makes for a drawn-out story and a less than compelling reason, as though I’m some kind of stranded shipwreckee. In this city of history, my own personal history feels fractured. “Are you going to stay in Boston?” a few people asked soon after the divorce — people who clearly know little about custody law. Now there is no choice about Boston; like it or not, this is where I will be living for many years to come.
But even if I could realistically entertain the idea of moving away from Boston, I’ve found, to my surprise, that I no longer want to leave. I have, however ironically and belatedly, started to feel at home. It’s not the at-home kind of feeling that my children have here, they who are emblazoned with Boston logos, who root for Bruins, Sox, and Celtics with the undivided passion of fans who know from where they come. Nor is my belated notion of home anything like that deep-seated sense that my grandmother expressed, that where you live is where you must live.
Instead, it’s the happenstance at-home feeling of a transplant — which is perhaps the most fitting way to feel in this college town and immigrant hub, a city of people who are from elsewhere, who live with a backward glance toward other homes no longer their own. How many of these people came for one reason — for school, a job, a fellowship — and have stayed long after that reason disappeared? How many of these people have found that Boston is a city in which you can always find another reason to be here, in which you can always start again?
To be from somewhere else is to know that things change, that connections are broken, that people move on and away. It is to shed the idea that what is now will always be, that life can only be lived one way in one place. We all leave home sooner or later, all leave the idea of home as well. Living here still has an accidental feel, yet life itself has an accidental feel. It feels less important to be from somewhere, more important just to be somewhere.
In the past year or two, I’ve lost my fear of Boston driving, finally quieted that voice in my head that seeks an easier, alternate route, that whispers I can’t go there. The city and its surroundings have opened up. There are endless places to go, and I feel newly determined to explore them, as though I were arriving wide-eyed in the city for the first time. I’ve come to accept the inevitability of getting lost. There is an odd pleasure in not knowing exactly where I am. Even after living here for 10 years, few places feel cast with immense familiarity. It is easy to continually see this city anew.
A wrong turn, trying to get to the Boston Common to take my daughter on the Swan Boats, and somehow we are across the Charles from where we intended to be, yet the consolation prize is to pass the domes of MIT and gaze at the white sails of boats against a bright blue sky, shimmering silver buildings in the distance. Keep driving, in varied direction, through the streets of downtown where history beats so loudly, past the Boston Public Library, in this city of writers and artists, past Trinity Church, which looks like it belongs more in some fabled fairy tale of castles and witch houses than in the middle of a modern, busy city. On an early summer day, drive past the Esplanade, where it seems the entire city is walking, because why would you be anywhere else — anywhere except for one of the kayaks or sailboats passing by, which remind you that you, too, could be spending your day doing this. Keep driving, and everywhere there is an abundance of students and colleges, fooling you into thinking that you are still this young, unencumbered age. Drive west on the Pike and the skyline gives way to the rise of mountains, a reminder that the abundance of tall buildings and the crowds of people are only one part of this larger place in which we live. Closer to home, Crystal Lake, where swimmers reportedly cross in the dark of night even though it’s prohibited, and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, around 6 o’clock on a summer evening, where everyone, it seems, is fleet-footed and you believe momentarily that you, too, can run swiftly, endlessly.
For me, Boston is a city in which there is no grid, in which it’s all too easy to get lost, in which there is no clear pathway but an abundance of windy streets that change names and become one-way and lanes disappear as you drive down them. It is a city that reminds me we don’t end up where we thought we would; we don’t live only where we belong. We don’t always follow the paths that are laid out for us; we don’t arrive where we once were intended to go.Continued...