This piece was originally written for a class assignment: "Please take some time and go on a walk, take the T, catch the shuttle, hail a cab, etc., and explore the city, a neighborhood, a street, a square, etc. Pay close attention to what you see, hear, smell, feel, and think as you move through the city. Write a short text about your experience."
The T always makes me nervous. Every time the train rolls to a stop in between stations, every time the lights flicker, every person who seems to be staring at me every time I look their way.
It was crowded, far more crowded than usual. When the doors opened at Park Street it wasn’t much better. Past the crowds of people – where do I go? Just follow the flow.
Up, up, up the stairs into –
So much light I can’t see anything else.
My eyes adjust, and I realize I’m standing on the edge of Boston Common.
I take a step out. I begin to walk. I follow the sidewalk. No one pays attention to me, no one seems to realize I am a stranger in this city. Where do I go? When the options are endless how do I choose?
I turn, I head in the opposite direction. The anxiety returns. I have to deviate from my route to avoid large groups of people. I realize I am lost and I try to rely on my street smarts. But my street smarts do not know these streets. I feel like a child whose parent is just out of view. I keep moving forward – why? I have no destination. I move forward because the people around me are moving forward. They are wearing pencil skirts and button downs and professional bags and hold professional phones. Where are they going at this time of day? They are dressed for work but are not in work. They look forward, their eyes are not as wide as mine, their neck not as hinged. No one is my age. I take secret thrill in not belonging.
I calm myself by looking in the open windows as I pass them, making eye contact with the lonely sandwich-eaters sitting on barstools. I take solace in every open square I walk through, thankful to escape the shadow of the looming skyrises.
It does not work.
I give up. I reach into my pocket and frantically send a message to a friend. They answer immediately, giving me a destination. I send them a photo of my whereabouts. They respond with a map. For the first time, a path.
I blur out the world, focusing on the phone in my palm, like a hand guiding me forward. I arrive. “Is this the place?”
For the first time, I feel safe enough to relax my wide eyes. For the first time, I smell. The first thing that hits my senses is fried dough. I walk through Quincy Market and the smells intensify. Everyone wants to eat. Everyone wants to sizzle, chop, crunch.
Everyone is a tourist, and for this I am grateful. I am not out of place for looking lost. I am met with pigeons, not traffic. Not the pattern of people knowing their destination.
I send another message. “Thank you.”
I end my day sitting by the harbor. I am completely alone – everyone is out walking on the busy streets of Boston. Nonetheless, I am overwhelmed by sound. The foghorns, the bicycle wheels, the even pace of a runner, the plastic shopping bags rolling like tumbleweeds in the wind. My favorite sound is the fallen leaves skittering across the cobblestones.
My walk back to the T is peaceful. The route is empty. I made it through the anxiety. I am at peace with the city, who tells me I only need time to understand her.
I can hear my own footsteps echoing across the streets. I can feel my place.
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