Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Allston Revisited

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!

Me, in front of my old apartment building, trying to make amends as a young adult in Allston


hallie said...

Along a similar line, my darkest time yet was fresh out of high school. I was a corn fed Ohio gal with all the cheerleading and prom queen dreams a farm girl could whip up.

Before I knew it, I lived on the edge of the ghetto and attended what was, at the time, the largest university in the nation.

Your lines struck a heavy low chord for me as I looked back. I could see the shallow friends, beer bongs, frat parties, and high heels (it's true). I could see myself lacking integrity, wasting money.... and worst of all lying to everyone involved.

An old roommate from "The Ohio State University" recently contacted me, but upon speaking I realized that just 8 years later, 3,000 miles farther, and 6,000 feet of elevation higher, we no longer knew each other. Then again maybe we never did. Maybe it was our thin little shells (much like a ladybug's growing and thickening and becoming shiny and decorative, but hiding those precious insides) simply recognizing each other as a young souls in transformation.

Larissa said...


It seems that "fresh out of high school" is a very vulnerable time for many. My best friend's sister is about to leave for college (she lives across the road from us). I feel I can empathize with her in some way, and remember all the nerves and anxiety surrounding that transition. It's one of life's big rites of passage. We grow a lot in high school, but I think that college makes us grow so much faster because we are no longer under the care of our parents and have to fend for ourselves, so to speak.

It's nice to know that there are others out there who have had similar experiences to mine. Thanks for the comment!

Love, Larissa