I’m trying to sleep on a yoga mat on the hardwood floor of my empty apartment. The space is so bare, I can almost hear my breath echo. In the past two weeks, I’ve sold off all my furniture, donated and trashed several bags of belongings, and shipped the rest to California. There it is— I’m moving back to the Bay Area, after ten years away. For six of those, Boston has been my space. I am so used to leaving and coming back that my flight tomorrow doesn’t feel one-way.
I became myself in Boston. Living ages seventeen through almost twenty-four here has seen me get to know myself. For the first time, I focused only on the questions: What do I want? What am I looking for? Boston is the first epoch of my adult life. It’s the first place I saw myself – my life – as my own. There was no specific moment, instead glimmers here and there, peeks into who I was becoming, the life that I could lead— starting my first job, learning to cook, signing a lease, choosing to stay.
My family mocks me for my poor sense of direction, but the truth is that I just take some time getting to know a place. This is the first place that I’ve really felt like I’ve known. I don’t need a map to walk from Fenway to H-Mart. I don’t need directions to take the T to the airport— back when Government Center was under repair, I’d take the Green Line to Park St, haul my 50-pound suitcase up and down the stairs, take the Red Line, and get the Silver Line shuttle to my terminal. My favorite Indian place is in Kenmore Square, my favorite brunch in Coolidge Corner. When people visited, I knew exactly where they had to go.
In the last three years, I’ve lived in three different apartments. I chose them. I filled them with things that I liked, without having to ask anyone else. When the time came, I chose to leave. Although I am now a seasoned packer and mover, it was strangely hard for me to let go of the things I had here for good. I get it from my dad— a sentimental attachment to stuff. My belongings – a gold lamp, a grey saddle stitch rug – weren’t fancy, and most weren’t even new, but they were mine, physical manifestations of my newfound independence and autonomy.
The best part of being in Boston wasn’t the exploring, or learning, or even growing. It was the choosing. Making decisions that were wholly mine, good or bad, wise or reckless, gave me both incredible freedom and solemn responsibility. If I wanted to go to three different grocery stores for a single meal, I did— and suffered the blistered feet and tired wallet after. When I wanted to stay in bed all Saturday, I did. Growing into your own is about choosing for yourself, not in a selfish way, but in a confident way. It’s saying, I’ve thought about this, and I think it’s worth it, so I’m going to go for it.
The best thing I went for in Boston was falling in love. The love I’ve had here, for almost four years, has been tremendous, overarching, astonishing. It’s a defining experience of my time here. No matter what happens in the future, I will never be able to dissociate Boston with the way this love has made me feel— warm, and safe, and ready for more. I came here aloof, on guard, unwilling to feel close lest it make me feel weak. I leave knowing it makes me better, more caring, more challenged, more myself.
It’s hard to explain why I need to leave. After all, it’s wonderful to feel familiar and comfortable in a place, and I am a person of habit. But for a while now, even before the pandemic, I’ve known that I need to move on. It’s like my beloved houseplants when they desperately need repotting. I’ve grown all I can here. I’m not satisfied with myself yet, and I need a new, bigger space to keep growing. I think this stems most deeply from my belief that change and new environments, no matter how hard the transition, make me stronger. Throughout my childhood, I was regularly exposed to new schools, new circles, new people. It was uncomfortable sometimes. Often, I felt uneasy. But I also felt excited, and that feeling of being someplace new and getting to know new people gives me a rush like nothing else. I know who I am and how I feel in Boston. Now, I’m ready to see who I can be elsewhere.
Another reason I have to go is my latest realization that independence cannot replace community. Lockdown only further emphasized this. For a long time, I believed that my self-reliance was a strength, that it prevented other people from having to worry or care about me. What I overlooked was that perhaps people need other people to worry and care about them. Perhaps it’s not all bad to share parts of yourself and your life with a larger support network, to ask for help, to not always feel so alone. My move back to California – my repotting – is going from a single ceramic container where I feel cramped and even lonely to spreading my roots in a garden. The plants around me won’t always be in bloom. But they will be there, next to me, sharing space. We will soak in the same sun and feel the same rain. And there is enough air for everyone to breathe.
For a list of my favorite places (to eat, hang out in, or visit) in Boston, please check back here soon.