We as humans are always moving forward, on a linear path toward the "bigger and better." We look to the past on occasion for nostalgia and comfort, but we also use the past as a reference for how much we've developed as individuals. We look back and thank the heavens that we no longer live that life, or with that person, or in that place.
Have you ever returned to a place that represents a darker time in your life?
I did just this past weekend.
When I was a sophomore attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, I moved from my inner-city dorm on Massachusetts Ave to the community of Allston, just West of downtown. I moved with my roommate from freshman year, along with a friend of hers, into the third-story apartment of a house on Harvard Terrace, just off of Harvard Avenue. I only lasted a semester there before I reached an all-time low, which resulted in my taking a semester off from school that Spring.
Even during my freshman year, I never felt that I was nurturing any permanent or long-lasting friendships, and that I was almost falling into groups of people by default, just happy to be hanging out instead of searching for people I truly connected with. Though my friends were fun, they didn't embody the kind of lifestyle that suited me (and they weren't always kind); I partied more than I created or exercised, and rarely found occasions to escape the "pit" of my apartment and Allston (being car-less and without much expendable income). I was busy with my cool city life, socializing, singing, and trying to ignore my increasing unhappiness.
A very urban district, Allston seemed, and still seems today, like a pothole of sorts. I am sure my impression of it has much to do with my associations and memories of my life back then: being so young, vulnerable, and naive. To its merit, Allston is a very ethnically diverse, young neighborhood, with a plethora of good eateries and interesting shops. It teems with activity, a throughway for the "T" light-rail line, and a major intersection between Boston and points West. Until this past weekend, I had not returned to this neighborhood, or Boston for that matter, since 2001.
A friend of mine recently moved to Allston. His first time living in Boston, he arrived in the neighborhood with no prior associations. I made a point not to talk too much about my negative ones with him before he moved. Ironically, he happens to live a few short blocks from my old apartment. Since I was in the Worchester area for a wedding this past weekend, I made the trip into Boston with my husband and sister.As we drove into my old neighborhood and found a place to park, I reflected on the adult version of myself that stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk that I had so often walked almost 10 years ago. I am almost 29 now; I was 19 then. Everything I have done since then was stamped onto my identity in that moment, and I viewed my old neighborhood, and house, with a strange sense of awe, coupled with insouciance. Living there seems to me now like it did then - some sort of "boot camp for life." Live unhappily in a trench for several months and you'll come out wiser for the wear. The bruises will fade, but the lessons never will. To this day, I'm not sure if it was worth it.
Ryan, Brechyn, and I walked the streets on our way to meet up with our friend, Fred, as I recounted various stories about businesses along the way that I frequented during my séjour there. "This is the building where I took Ninjutsu;" or, "This is the bar where I sang with the reggae band every week." It was amusing to see that it was all still there. When we entered Fred's apartment, I was struck by the similarities between his Allston abode and others in that area that I recalled frequenting, including my own. The worn, hardwood floors; trim painted twenty times over with white paint; old, tall windows wafting in the musty Allston air - the thick smell of city life almost knocked me over as I stared out the window into the alley below. My feet were glue for a moment as waves of heady nostalgia hit me. An old familiar knot formed in my stomach, and I carried it with me to lunch.
(Aside: We had a delightful time with Fred. I don't mean to imply that the day was all gloom and doom. We ate at a wonderful organic sushi restaurant in Coolidge Corner, just next to Allston. One of many great eateries in the district, these are the opportunities I miss out on by living in the country. I will admit that.)
The sooty memories from that era still haunt me. I have not completely made amends; perhaps I never will. Boot camp left scars, not bruises.
I wonder now if these "dark times" are naturally imbricated in the experience of transitioning from teen-hood to adulthood. Must we all go through the boot camp of life in order to be truly happy as adults? How can we squelch the residual negativity from those bygone eras that continues to ring in our ears?
What was your darkest time? Or, are you in it now? Do tell!