Boston is so close to my old life, when I lived in Fitchburg and rode the commuter train to school in Waltham. After exploring Boston for a day, the next day Will and I spent the whole day traveling old routes, walking old paths, gaining new perspectives on old vistas.
First we took Route 2 out to Fitchburg. I pointed out the spot where I was pulled over for speeding, and Massachusetts forgot to ask me to pay the ticket for FIVE YEARS. I became disproportionately excited to see the Exit 32 sign to Leominster. When I lived out here I rode the train to school every school day for three years. I got on the same train at the same time every morning, and rode into the city with all the same people. We got to know each other. I even did my Masters Thesis on how fear and feelings of safety are managed on the commuter rail train when packed in there with strangers. My very best friend at that time was Elisia, who lived in Leominster. She has a lovely English accent and we were all delighted the day she told us the highway exit to her home was number 32. We made her say it a dozen times. We giggled with glee and found opportunities to ask about Exit 32 (prounced in Lissy’s English accent) whenever we could, from then on.
Our first stop was my old house. The old neighborhood looked almost exactly the same except that the trees along the street were larger. The landscaping around my old house looked ratty and unkempt, and there was a For Sale sign out front. I was sad that none of the trees or lilac bushes I had planted had survived. There was a new fence in the back yard and solar panels. I recalled shoveling snow from that driveway so many times.
We drove around the town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It has tiny pockets of commerce scattered around the outskirts leaving the center almost desolate. No people walking, and many empty buildings. When pawn shops and consignment shops for children’s clothes are on main street, it’s a sign that people are shopping somewhere else. My two favourite sightings from my past were the library, and of course the train station. It’s a sad town and I felt validated for never liking it while I lived there.
We returned to Route 2 toward Boston and stopped at Walden Pond, made famous in Henry David Thoreau’s book. While traveling to school I had looked out the train windows at the pond, twice a day, day in and day out for more than a year before I realized which pond it was. Then I read Walden again, despite not liking it the first time I read it, and realized that Thoreau even mentions the train.
The pond today is a park, visited by nearly 500,000 people a year. It is open to swimming, fishing, and boating, and is surrounded by trails. Though Thoreau kept fit by jogging around the lake every day, visitors who want to emulate his experience are asked not to run on the trail that follows the shore, but to keep their running activity to the trails farther away.
Will and I explored the brand new beautiful visitor’s center, and then made our way to the pond. The pond is always more serenely beautiful than I expect, for so famous a tourist destination. Today it is protected land, and I get the sense that it is more forested and more lush than when Thoreau lived there. There are many easy trails to follow and we followed them. On the far side of the pond, Thoreau’s cabin no longer exists, but there are granite stones set to show where it used to be. Nearby is a large mound of rocks left by people in remembrance. He wasn’t living there at his death, but close friends the Alcotts (including the famous author Louisa May) laid the first stones at the site after his death. It began a tradition.
As we prepared to leave, I gave the all-day parking pass that we had purchased to the next car that pulled in to the lot. It was a small car packed with kids that looked around the age of 20, and they were so grateful for the pass. I try to do this whenever I can, handing over a parking pass when there is still time left on it. I think having to pay to park a car is annoying, so I cheat the system. I’m such a law-breaker rebel!!
Next we went to the campus of Brandeis University, where I received my BA and MA in 2007. It was 6pm and nearly empty of people. I was surprised to find every door unlocked. We wandered across the entire campus and you can bet I marched us right inside every building I wanted to explore.
First of all we went into the art building. My first two years at school I knew the Art building because of my job. I modeled for the painting classes. It was good money ($10 an hour – the highest pay available to a student on campus) for very little work. I am not shy about my body and found it interesting and challenging to find new creative poses and then to hold perfectly still. The students were amazingly kind and grateful, and always let me watch them work during breaks. Finally I had completed enough required courses that I had room for an elective, and I took a beginning oil class. The classroom was just as I remembered it, except for a new ugly ducting tube on the ceiling.
We walked through the Student Union building where I had talked with Anita Hill the year before she became a professor there, and where I had heard Thomas Friedman tell us why the World Is Flat. (At the University I also heard lectures by Howard Zinn, Azra Nomani, and President Jimmy Carter – it was a good place to hear people.) Up the hill we passed the library with floors that sink down instead of rise above ground level. We climbed the stairs at the Brown Social Science Center, up to the Anthropology Department. It’s still an old, outdated building, but filled with many happy memories. The halls smelled the same. Many of the professors I knew are still there, I could see, from bios posted on a bulletin board. I wrote a note on a paper towel from the bathroom and left it for Laurel, the woman in the office who keeps everything running. I said “Hi, I miss you all.”
We walked up all the steps of the Rabb Graduate Center and on up the hill to the Mandel Quad, where I took an Introduction to Judaism class once I realized I was attending a Jewish-centric school. Ha! Can you believe I had no idea until I arrived on campus? I’m so silly. Finally we went over to my other favourite building on campus: the Mandel Center where I took most of my classes for conflict resolution, mediation and peace building. It’s my favourite because that is where I met two of my best friends in all the world, Mads and Romain, who were also in the conflict resolution program.
It began to rain as we walked back down the long hill. I told Will things like, “if you had a class at the Art building, then your next class was up here at Rabb, or the Mandel Center, you would just be late. That’s all there is to it.” I remembered having a law class at the top of the hill, then auditing a society & economy class with Robert Reich (well-known American economist and political commentator) down at the Slosberg Music Hall at the bottom of the hill. I was always late, and the packed theatre room never had seating available, so I sat on the floor with the other students who couldn’t arrive early.
Will and I were soaked through when we found our car at the bottom of the hill. I had spent a week with Will 24/7 and I am an introvert and used to living alone. Prior to the trip we had scheduled in two days away from each other. I drove him to the train station and he caught a train home to Providence. I drove to a random hotel that I had chosen because it was the cheapest in the whole Boston area, ha ha. I planned to visit with friends for two days and then go meet Will in Rhode Island for the final week.