unexpected intrusions of beauty
There is a moment after every winding train ride from Philadelphia, after every eight-hour, traffic-laden bus ride back to Boston, when I step out of South Station and watch the city opening up before me. And every single time this happens — every time I can see the skyline click into place, piece by piece, skyscraper by skyscraper; every time air hits skin and I feel the city settling back into my bones — every time, I cry. I’m not sure what drives it. Some part of it is obviously the sentimentality of returning somewhere that has been, is, always will be home; some part of it probably lingering emotionality from what is always an exhausting day of travel.
What makes me so irrationally weepy, I think, more than any of that, is the feeling that every time I go home, everything has changed. I go home so infrequently that every time I step off the train, I can’t help but feel as if I am an entirely different person from who I was the last time I breathed this air and touched this city and watched the sky light up before me, as if all the truths I was once sure of are rapidly slipping away and one day I will find myself standing in front of the train station knowing nothing at all. And in the moment when the city explodes into life in front of me, I become so impossibly aware of everything I once was every other time I have seen this exact same scene. The city is so startling consistent, always moving and immovable at once; so full of light and darkness; so full of concrete and so full of people. It has been this way every time I have come home from college, changed, and will be this way for as long as I can imagine; a mass of bodies and heat and coldness and energy that fluxes so mesmerizingly that you never seem to notice it changing.
Maybe it reminds me of myself. Maybe that’s why I cry every time. The Hancock Tower. I have passed classes and failed tests and broken skin and vomited for hours and kissed boys and tried to find some sliver of dignity among it all. The Prudential Center. I have sung along at concerts and memorized economic models and written about things I know nothing of and known things I will never be able to write about no matter how hard I try. The CITGO sign. I have learned the loneliness crawling through the blood vessels of clocks when their eyes are full of 3 AM and been naked in front of mirages and fallen in love with a vision of myself I am still trying to find in the corners of my body. Boston: I will always love you, but every time I return to you, I am reminded of all the mistakes I have made. I am reminded that the last time I felt your breath against my skin, I had a few less scars and a few more sacred truths. I am reminded that the next time I see you emerge in a haze of light and heartbeat and smoke, I may be totally unrecognizable.