Dear Boston

You were the first city I remember visiting outside of the town in which I was born. I couldn’t have been more than five, but I remember the bus ride and the aquarium ~ the penguins and the seals. Your windy waterfront and the glorious smell of the ocean drifted over your cobblestone streets, and though the day was gray and overcast, I fell in love with you at first sight. The Chinese yo-yo you granted on parting – a gift procured from one of the bull-markets – saw me home, its soon-to-be-tattered purple paper reminding me of the place I would one day go.

You were the city where we watched ‘E.T.’ for the first time, and I forced myself not to cry even as Mom and Paul let loose their torrents. We stayed in a Holiday Inn then, right next door to the theater, and across the street was a flower shop. You showed me my first brush with beauty, with art, with the wondrous resources a city had on hand.

You were the backdrop to weekend visits with my Mom and brother, the first safe place we could roam as we were growing up. Now ten or eleven, we were allowed to venture forth from the Marriott into Copley Place, and my brother and I wandered into the doors where we were welcome, back when there were art supply and book stores, card and novelty shops. Your glass walkways cradled us from the weather, from the night, from the outside.

You were the first place I watched a professional baseball game with my whole family, as the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays the year they almost (almost!) took home the World Series. Sitting in Fenway Park, I cradled a small brown bag of Paperwhite Narcissus culled from a trip to Faneuil Hall – more precious to me than any baseball paraphernalia – but even if bulbs trumped balls in my life then, that year I was the only kid in the entire 6th grade class of McNulty Elementary School not rooting for the Mets, and eating all the Bill Buckner crow they dished afterward.

You were my home-away-from-home when I went away to college. Whenever I got lonely at Brandeis, I could find my way to the places and haunts where I had walked as a child, feeling comforted by my history there, by happy memories, by the city that had so warmly imbued my childhood with stability. When I was homesick, you made me feel at home, and in time it was impossible to feel homesick in Boston, because you had already become my home.

You were the first place I found a job of my own, at the Structure in Faneuil Hall, looking out over Quincy Market – the place I knew in my heart I would one day be working. You introduced me to your friends, the hard-living co-workers with the staunchest Boston accents – ones that almost required a translator when and if drinking was involved.

You put my first gay dance club right in plain but hidden sight, behind the darkened windows of Chaps on Huntington, and after a few White Russians you raised my hands in the air with a hundred other gay men and showed me the life-saving soul-affirming tradition of Sunday tea dance, and the glory of that moment has gotten me through every Monday morning since (even if the ride to work has at times been a little rocky).

You were the first place I ever lived on my own, without the security blanket of a roommate or the safety net of a dorm beneath me. I still remember that cold night at the very end of fall, when I trudged back to the condo alone, and could not bring myself to face the loneliness. Instead of weeping or giving in, I turned around, away from the safety of the empty rooms and into the arms of you – into the arms of the city – where all the strangers bustling about your streets were more dear to me than a solitude broken only by my mirrored reflection.

You shone your moonlight-capped crests of a million little waves as I looked out over the harbor on a frigid wind-whipped night in January, lamenting one of many guys who didn’t love me back. You were always there for those heartaches – from the first time I ever kissed a man in Beacon Hill, to the clandestine kiss with my last boyfriend (before Andy) in the Copley Fairmont Hotel. I think I may remember you most fondly, if a little sadly, for being there to pick up the pieces when it all fell apart.

You held my head on your cool pavement when I was throwing up lobster claws in the drunken aftermath of a breakup, and you kicked my ass when I started to feel sorry for myself. Your churches and cobblestone streets had seen so much more hurt and pain and suffering than I’d had the luxury of avoiding, and you always brought me back to a better place.

You showed me – far more than a fancy college education ever could – how to dig deep, to suss things out for myself, to look closer when in doubt – and you slowly opened up your secrets to me. The way the legendarily-cold New England attitude of people was mostly merely for show, how you would let down your guard if I just kept at you, if I made a friendly overture first, if I broke through that initial coldness – and it was a lesson I learned both ways, inside and out – how to protect and safeguard, but also how to let people in. And once you proved yourself, once you showed yourself and some mutual respect, some of those cold people would stand by you and defend you to the end.

Your springs and falls more than made up for the extremes of your summers and winters, but there was beauty always in something you provided – the dangling blooms of a weeping cherry tree, the scarlet shower of a shedding maple, the stilled muffling of a snowfall in the night, or the simple power of the midday sun over a bag lunch in Copley Square.

You married me to my husband in your Public Garden, as the swans set up their nest, and the squirrels rattled up the trees. You brought our families together on that beautiful day in May, and you never turned your nose up at my torn jeans or sunglasses. (I think you liked my Burberry.)

Your marathon was, I must admit, mostly a source of contention for us – trapping me one year, a block from the finish line, and on the wrong side of Boylston, when I was working on Newbury Street, thus preventing me from getting home after my shift. It also wound its 26 mile way exactly where we were trying to drive one time, forcing us to go – yes – 26 miles out of the way before we could double back. But each time I felt frustration, I’d look at the runners, and mostly the people waiting for them and cheering them on, and think what a wonderful thing that Boston was so supportive of everyone – people from every part of the world – and I got misty-eyed that they were handing out paper cups of water, towels, or simple high-fives to everyone who finished. On this one day, we were all Bostonians, and we were all in this human race together.

You’ve always been there for me, Boston. When I couldn’t count on friends or family or anyone at all, it was always you who remained steadfast and true. When I couldn’t even count on myself, you picked me up, brushed me off, and gave me a friendly nudge forward. In the darkest of nights, your Hancock Tower twinkled, guiding the way, and my eyes, to heaven. And though you are hurting now – and though we cry along with you – please know that you are never alone.

We love you, Boston.

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