There are, Andrew Cohen writes, "millions of men and women wandering around America today who spent some of the best years of their lives in and around Boston…Even if we can't say we are 'from' Boston we surely confirm when asked that we are 'of' Boston. It remains in our blood".
And now all these little love letters to the city are cropping up (and not just from men and women wandering around America; "I loved that city," writes one Australian) - blog posts, articles, tweets. I too have been thinking about Boston, all week, obviously, but especially today. I know it's basically meaningless to express affinity in a time of crisis or distress, but as someone certainly not from Boston and equally certainly of it, I'm glad nevertheless to see people expressing a kind of indiscriminate and generic affection for a place, for this place particularly. I like the shared ownership it implies, even when everything is still happening and confused. Even if, like me, you left, and the city's just a network of distant memories now (not all good, but all essential), they're our memories.
I have nothing new to add. I lived there between September 2004 and December 2007, my tenure framed by two big Red Sox wins. Sport was casually central to my life there; I spent countless hours in the gym or at my boyfriend's tennis matches or studying against the backdrop of televised baseball games. I used to hang around on marathon Monday, watching the post-race runners all wrapped up in silver blankets. I watched them eat, drink, laugh, cry, vomit, hug: messy, noisy, leaky enactments of humanness. I used to think they were pretty stupid, actually: who would want to do that to their body, to train it and test it like that? But I admired them, too, more than I care to admit.
I used to run in the city myself. One hot summer I lived alone in a cramped apartment near Fenway, across from the Fens and Clemente Field, where there always seemed to be people playing cricket (I'd never seen anyone play cricket before that summer). When it wasn't so oppressively humid that I couldn't stand to be outside I'd run around the track, or else through the shaded park - often at dusk, when everything was blushing pink. Once, running stupidly at midday, when the heat was at its worst, I was struck in the side of the head by a passing bird, which left a smattering of down feathers smeared across my cheek; I was revolted and cut the run short to return home and shower. Another time, I was wearing a grey Harvard t-shirt that someone had bought for me and a man shouted as I ran past, "you don't go to Harvard!", and he was right, I didn't, and I hated that he could tell, or that he'd made a lucky guess. When I played volleyball we used to have dawn workouts, running circuits around the Boston Common, falling to our backs on the damp grass and doing sit-ups, followed by squats, followed by this or that, admiring the serene old men doing Tai Chi while we sweated and struggled for breath. When I lived in Kenmore Square I used to run down Beacon Street or Comm Ave, up Beacon Hill, just seeing where things took me, finding convoluted ways to lengthen the route. I liked this run because I could do it in the dark, and it was heaven on a cold late-October night, with the smell of decaying leaves and smoke heavy in the air, and a warm glow coming from the kinds of Back Bay townhouses I dreamed of someday inhabiting but knew, deep down, I never would.
Mainly, though, I used to run along the river. I usually just did a nice easy three or four mile loop; I could do it in the mornings before class, or on the weekends, even if I was wickedly hungover and dehydrated, because I was still so young that my body hadn't yet learned to protect itself from its own abuse. There was something pleasurable about doing that run when I was hungover, actually: it made me feel unreasonably defiant and able.
It was only a few months ago that I first encountered this passage, from Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
As I'm leisurely jogging along the Charles River, girls who look to be new Harvard freshmen keep on passing me. Most of these girls are small, slim, have on maroon Harvard-logo outfits, blond hair in a ponytail, and brand-new iPods, and they run like the wind. You can definitely feel a sort of aggressive challenge emanating from them. They seem to be used to passing people, and probably not used to being passed. They all look so bright, so healthy, attractive, and serious, brimming with self-confidence. With their long strides and strong, sharp kicks, it's easy to see that they're typical mid-distance runners, unsuited for long-distance running. They're more mentally cut out for brief runs at at high speed.
He's describing a run he took in October 2005 - so I could have been one of those girls, maybe. Except that I'm not blond, I was not a Harvard freshman, I was not particularly used to passing people, and was fairly used to being passed. Still, I was there then, running then. I tried to run all through the year, but couldn't manage it in the depths of winter, when it was simply too cold to derive any pleasure at all from being outside, and anyhow I liked it best in early Autumn, when the leaves would start to fall and the wind came off the river and made you feel like this really was the prime of your life, anything was possible, anything might happen.
Boston always made me feel like that; it's why I moved there. I didn't care much about what university I attended, or what I studied, for that matter - I just wanted to be there, in that city.
I haven't been back since the winter I graduated. I left in a rush, in the frigid aftermath of a blizzard; my English boyfriend helped me pack up my studio apartment in the North End and ship all of my things to England over the course of a weekend, and I took an uneventful final exam, and handed in my senior thesis, and that was it, I was done. To celebrate our early graduation, some friends and I took a cheap bottle of bubbly down to the Boston Common and drank it waiting in line to go ice skating; a few days later we all left the city for good, or for now. But we are of it; it remains.