Guo: Boston in the Rain

by Clara Guo | 10/12/16 1:02am

Journal #11. Oct. 9, 2016.

I’m sad to be leaving Boston this weekend; I’ve always been bad at goodbyes, even ones that truly mean “see you soon.”

I stumbled across Mrs. Bello’s emails on the coach back up to Dartmouth. I was searching for inspiration for my column, some spark of an idea that would settle in my mind and unfreeze my words. I fell asleep briefly (I always fall asleep during long car rides) and woke up to a startling explosion of color. Peak foliage season. This — this richness, this natural beauty — is exactly the picture-perfect moment Mrs. Bello would have appreciated.

I remember one of my last conversations with Mrs. Bello in high school. I asked her why she quit law after decades of practice, and she told me she was bored. It was time for something different, and so she pursued teaching.

Her English classroom provided a respite from the suffocating bubble of stress; her 20-minute timed writings helped me find my voice.

I’ve emailed her several times already, providing school and career updates in disjointed paragraphs. To her, I express my desires and fears:

“I want to take a creative writing course my sophomore year at Dartmouth with an (eventual) end goal of writing a book I would be proud to share.” (July 16, 2014)

“A part of me wishes that I had never chosen to Google ‘publishing internships’ this last summer after too much organic chemistry. But another part of me tells the first part of me that I’m being foolish. Of course I wanted to have this experience. Of course I want to learn more.” (Feb. 4, 2015)

Mrs. Bello has never taken more than a day to respond:

“I do hope you will continue to write, in any event, b/c the gift of strong writing was bestowed upon you and you have cultivated it well.” (July 16, 2014)

“Must you choose between science and writing, or could you do both? Atul Gawande is my measure of how to combine the two fields beautifully (and quite successfully). And of course, you could do some creative writing while pursuing a medical career, but medicine (like law) is a jealous creature, demanding so much of your time.” (Feb. 4, 2015)

I realized not so long ago that I want to be like her — a powerful woman passionate about living, a caring teacher accepting of flaws. I admire her intelligence, her work ethic, her energy, her willingness to believe unequivocally in a college student who did not always trust in herself.

Journal #26. Oct. 9, 2064.

My husband and I walked around Boston yesterday, celebrating my 70th a few weeks early. We ambled along the Charles, past a burning fireplace and a crowd of young professionals in suits until we arrived at steel steps leading to a dock. Our hands held onto each other and dragged along the railing. It terrifies me how much I leaned on him for support.

We sat next to the water, our feet dangling off the edge of the wooden dock. We sat in silence, watching the glimmer of city lights illuminate the distal half of ripples that danced in synchrony. The sky shone with yellow- and grey-tinted clouds, hidden in the navy-black of night that forbade me from pointing upward and asking, “Do you see the one-clawed scorpion too?”

Another couple soon joined us, decades younger. Their laugh echoed in the emptiness, their hips joined together in a stumble telling of alcohol.

I remembered a moment, 48 years earlier — a moment strikingly similar. I sat on a dock like this one, legs crossed under me, worried that my shoes would fall into the water below. Beside me sat a friend grown familiar with time. We talked about medicine. My future. I showed him a photo of my final AP Psychology project, and he laughed, like I did, when he read the events I believed would define me. “Two years of residency?” he asked, teasing my naivety.

I must have laughed with him. “If only. How many years is optho?”

“Including internship? Four.”

“Fellowship?”

“A few more, I think.”

If only I could remember more of that night. I had gone down for my friend’s 23rd birthday celebration in the middle of fall term. I think we ordered sushi at some point and even survived a Saturday morning spin class (60 minute spin if I remember correctly) — a tribute to the summer moments that bonded us as mutual confidantes.

I recounted to my husband the memory that randomly escaped the confines of storage decades later. We felt drops of rain land on the tops of our head and the curves of our nose. He helped me stand up. How quickly our bodies grow old.

We forgot to bring an umbrella last night. Classic us. I’ve always loved walking in the rain, especially on an autumn night, but, lately, my body has grown weary, and I’ve found myself eager to seek dry haven.

The first time I ran in a downpour with someone I loved, I was 19 years old. The last time must have been years ago.

We debated taxiing back to our hotel, but I asked to walk instead. I wanted to spend just a little more time in a drizzle.

We walked past a tribute to old New Yorker covers last night, and I was reminded of Mrs. Bello. My first timed writing for her was inspired by the 9/11 cover, and I distinctly recall Googling the definition of her comment, “poignant,” in the middle of class.

I woke up this morning with a sore back and stiff ankles; regardless, I am thankful that I spent the extra 20 minutes outside (and even more thankful for a husband willing to massage old joints).

I pull up the saved emails from Mrs. Bello, rereading her advice for the millionth time, still marveling at the unwavering confidence she had in my abilities.

“Go well and stay well. Upward and onward.”