In the middle of January 1999, a 21-year-old bride and her new husband made their way up the stairs at the Kenmore Square T stop on their first trip to Boston. It was the first time she had ever taken public transportation, and a man in a turban must have noticed how lost they looked after they landed at Logan, because without him, they never would have figured it out. He had showed them where to go, and even helped her husband lug the big green suitcase she had used throughout college down into the tunnel and pointed them toward the proper train. Feeling proud of themselves for successfully navigating the rest of the way, they stepped out onto the street and braced themselves against the unfamiliar cold.
They were hungry and had some time to kill, so they ducked into a burrito place before trying to find the bed and breakfast where they would be staying. They barely spoke while they ate, preferring instead to look out the windows and process the busy sidewalks and snow banks and try to picture themselves coming home from work or the grocery store; not as tourists but people who belonged there.
After they finished their burritos, they consulted the printed Mapquest directions he had folded into a pocket with their plane tickets. They found the place in a neighborhood that looked like what she recognized as Boston from watching Ally McBeal and went inside, and he checked them in for only the second time in their lives as “Mr. and Mrs.”
That night they ate dinner at Legal Seafoods using a gift certificate they got for Christmas from an especially thoughtful aunt. He ordered beer with his dinner, but she drank soda because she didn’t like beer or wine and wouldn’t have known what to order anyway. They looked for the Citgo sign as a landmark to help orient themselves on the way back, and they borrowed the B&B’s copy of Good Will Hunting to watch when they returned to their room.
Over the next four days, they accomplished the stated purpose of the trip and visited the law schools where she had applied earlier in the fall. One had already accepted her; the other never would, but she still thought there was hope at that point. They took turns taking photos of each other visiting important landmarks (selfies weren’t a thing back then) and learned to navigate the T with ease, though she found herself reluctant to speak to him while they were on the trains—her Texas twang sounded so loud and thick in her ears alongside the foreign languages and Boston accents that made up the other conversations nearby. It embarrassed her; she knew the connotations it carried. It meant so much to her to seem like she could fit in.
He didn’t like to wait for her to get ready in the mornings, so he would go on walks while she blow-dried her hair and come back with Dunkin Donuts (another first for her) and stories of the neighborhood. They seemed on the verge of something so adventurous and exciting and undeniably grown up to be thinking of moving more than a thousand miles away from everything they knew to start their new life together.
Sixteen years and a lifetime later, I walked past the same corner after watching the Red Sox smack the Houston Astros around during their Fourth of July game. The burrito place isn’t there anymore, but I recognized the corner. I will always recognize that corner of one of the complicated intersections that make driving in Boston such a pain. I smiled, remembering the first trip but also a Mother’s Day trip with my two oldest children, my mom, and one of my younger brothers. My mom and brother went to a game at Fenway, but I decided to take the kids for a walk instead and went past the B&B where their father and I had stayed. I made my daughter stop and take a picture next to the sign, and when I showed it to him, he said, “Oh, wow. That’s really cool,” and meant it.
I was tempted to walk by there again today. It was, after all, the scene of an important life event, and I was still a little buzzed from my Dos Equis at the baseball game and feeling nostalgic. That was a happy time, and I have fond memories of that trip. I also have fond memories of other trips we took to Boston—we spent two Fourths of July here with the kids—and it would only be a small detour down Memory Lane. Just cross the street, go to the end of the block, turn right, and I would be there. Instead I forced myself to stay on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
But when I came to the opposite end of the block, it took me a full ten minutes to cross the other direction and stay on course for the Public Garden. I stood there debating in my head what harm it would do to walk by one more time, for old times’ sake. I started to go that way several times, stopped, turned back around, reconsidered, moved that way again, and repeat. Now thinking back on it, I wonder what I must have looked like to the other people standing on the corner with me: like a toddler who needs to go to the bathroom? Or someone trying to remember some dance steps? Most likely I resembled someone who can’t decide whether she is coming or going, which isn’t far from the truth. Eventually I kept moving forward, but not without a sigh and more than one backward glance.
There are two things I consider my biggest failures in life. To be sure, they are not terminal failures. I have gone on from each of them to become more comfortable in my own skin, more aware and vocal about the life I want to make for myself. But they are failures nonetheless:
1) I quit law school after one semester, not even a year after that first trip to Boston. When push came to shove, my motivation to be a lawyer stemmed from a desire to make a lot of money and impress my father, two things I have since decided are not worth building a life around.
2) Earlier this year, I divorced the man who lugged around my green suitcase and brought me donuts and eventually gave me three children who are my reason for being on this planet. I loved being a wife; I was really good at it. But despite being an expert in making things work, the marriage was a Humpty Dumpty-style catastrophe that even I couldn’t put back together again.
But this is not going to be the story of those failures; this is the story of whatever is coming next.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.