Just Inside Boston

by Jaymie Wei | 9/16/20 2:10am

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by Jaymie Wei / The Dartmouth

I don’t say I’m from “just outside Boston,” but since Dartmouth students come from around the world, I’m sure many people would classify me that way. I’m from a suburban town about 50 minutes outside Boston, but growing up, I only ever went to Boston for dim sum on special family occasions. I’ve never been to Mike’s Pastry or the Boston Burger Company. I’m not familiar with the T. I couldn’t tell you what the Freedom Trail is.

Boston wasn’t special to me. It was just that place where we would drive sometimes and I would have to sit in the middle seat and get headaches from all the starting and stopping. But when I got to Dartmouth, suddenly I saw the allure. People were scrambling to get on Boston-bound Dartmouth Coach rides, friends moved there after graduating, everyone wanted to go to the city whose outskirts I’m ostensibly from.

Sometime in July, I decided to move to Boston. It wasn’t a hasty decision, but it was a natural one. I felt stifled in my childhood home, but I didn’t want to return to campus because it didn’t sound like a worthwhile experience for me. I wanted to experience city life but remain close to my support network. Through a major stroke of luck and an attentive friend, I found a place in Back Bay.

I would be remiss not to say that I felt safe and secure and loved at home. In August, I was the most content I’d ever been. But in some ways, my experience felt inadequate for the current stage of my life. While I was still inching my way toward a degree, I felt socially stunted and trapped in old patterns of living. I’d outgrown worn family dynamics, and I couldn’t rewire them at that suburban address. There was overwhelming evidence on my bedroom walls of the person I used to be: the person who everyone around me still thought I was.

“Ultimately, I left home so I could learn to live on my own.”

Ultimately, I left home so I could learn to live on my own. Mostly, that meant cooking, cleaning and running errands. So far, my experience has lived up to the hype. The day I arrived, I dropped everything and set out deep cleaning the kitchen: I mopped the tile and scrubbed the refrigerator, which contained half-eaten sausages and spillage of a mysterious brown liquid (I’d rather not talk about it). My apartment-mate cleaned the stovetop and the microwave; both appliances were similarly dirtied. It was a bonding experience comparable to Trips.

I’m learning plenty. I now know the importance of having a trash bin in each room and a few strategically placed kitchen towels. I can cook pasta with almost any combination of meat and vegetables, due to poorly planned grocery runs. I’m comfortable showering at any time in the day, tailored to whenever my apartment-mate is not using the bathroom.

That’s not to say it’s all been smooth sailing. For a couple days, I was forced to wake up at 6:30 in the morning by my curtainless east-facing windows. On the bright side, this shocked my sleep schedule into normalcy. Now I go out exploring in the early morning before the crowds come. The other day I ambled down a hollowed-out Newbury Street, past sleepy coffee shops and parallel-parked cars.

My attempts to get to know Boston have been mundane, but nevertheless enjoyable. I’ve checked out the handful of green spaces near my apartment. I’ve been to the smallest Trader Joe’s in the universe. I strolled down Beacon Street and spotted a very regal-looking poodle. One weekend I got to meet a Zoom friend in person on Boston Common, which was a surreal experience to say the least.

But on most days, I while away the hours roving the apartment looking for dishes to wash or corners to sweep. I brought a suitcase half full of books to read, but they have largely remained unopened, nestled under my mask stash. Instead I’ve passed my time watching the U.S. Open, exercising my voting privileges on Librex and making jewelry with leftover supplies from the Hop’s summer jewelry series.

Now, I can’t believe the fall term is upon us. To me, the Dartmouth community seems so far away: It’s just a glint on my mail icon or a logo on an old T-shirt. Last Wednesday, my friend informed me that summer grades were out, but I didn’t check them for another 24 hours because I couldn’t bring myself to open Duo.

My aunt emailed me a couple weeks ago about an apt word for an emotion I’m having: “acedia,” which is similar to listlessness or apathy, but also includes feelings of constant yearning and undirected anxiety. I can’t be bothered to read important campus updates or fill out remote learning surveys. Meanwhile, I miss my friends immensely, and I can’t stop wishing we were all in the same physical place. Having to broach the digital divide again and again to talk to them feels like a daily chore with ever-diminishing returns. How do you keep up with friends who are increasingly atomized, whose lives more and more don’t correlate with your own?

“I’m slowly realizing that Boston is just another community to complement the one I have at Dartmouth. Even though I feel so far removed from campus, being here doesn’t obliterate my membership there.”

For now, I settle for sending a few texts a day and sometimes setting up video calls. I try not to think about how I might not be back to Hanover for another year. Instead I try to find solace in my new surroundings: Boston-accented voices complaining about overtime, construction workers shouting to each other, “Come On Eileen” playing in the next building over. I’m living so close to other people — strangers, but I’ll take what I can get — and I already feel an awkward sense of camaraderie with my neighbor whose window is directly across from ours, and who can see me shovel forkfuls of leftover pasta into my mouth in the evening when it’s dark outside but bright inside.

I’m slowly realizing that Boston is just another community to complement the one I have at Dartmouth. Even though I feel so far removed from campus, being here doesn’t obliterate my membership there. I hope I can learn to straddle the two communities, to distribute the social, emotional and intellectual components of my life across concrete and radio waves alike.

Our apartment has Christmas lights, and I’m planning on staying until they become seasonally relevant. In due time, I will get used to living here and maybe even bored of it, but for right now, I still get a thrill when I open Apple Maps and it shows my unassuming blue dot, pulsing happily in the middle of stores and parks and tram stations, representing my chosen location in the beginning of my penultimate academic year.