Five years ago, I would have never dreamed that I would become a local here. When I first stumbled up the steps of the Harvard Square T station, I never would have believed you if you told me that this would be the city where I’d graduate from my Master’s degree, meet and marry my husband, settle down with our puppy, and give birth to our first child. I would have thought you were trying to delude me – or more accurately, I would have been afraid to admit the truth to myself.
As I stepped into the blustery snow-caked streets of Harvard Square, I undeniably felt chills. But I quickly wrote them off as a consequence of the below-freezing air that whipped at my uncovered skin. Having just stepped off the plane from my simple small-town existence, Cambridge was buzzing with energy. It was as if I could feel the intellectual density seeping through the locals’ Canada Goose parkas. Who was I to be here?
I walked along the icy brick sidewalks, trying not to slip. This was Harvard. This was where I’d be presenting my research in a few days. I felt a need to start censoring my thoughts immediately. What if I let something uncivilized slip from my lips?
And yet, I had to be here. I felt like a firefly, blazing with joy and magnetized to the Victorian-style buildings and the beaming city lights. There was so much potential in one place that I quickly forgot that I could not feel my face from the bitter cold. Inside, I was alight with inspiration.
Today, although it’s nearly mid-May, the morning started with 30° F snow showers. Now that I’m a “local,” I can say with confidence that Cambridge is cold. And yet, with a warm body, a furry body, and my own pregnant body to keep me cozy, I’m not as bothered by the biting temperatures as I once was. What I notice more often is the chill I feel from strangers here.
I will forever identify as a small-town girl, and so it will never be normal for me to avoid greeting passersby with eye contact, a smile, and a quick “good morning” at the very least. Even in this strange era of social distancing when traffic has been light, cars don’t slow down for pedestrians or cyclists. Rather, tunnel vision seems to guide us blindly in each of our separate paths.
In many ways, what I dislike about this place of prestige mirrors my own character flaws: the privilege, the seriousness, the anxiety, the hyper-focus on oneself, the introversion, the inability to connect with others outside of one’s bubble. The list goes one. Maybe I just need to make peace with these demons within to truly appreciate this place.
Or maybe I just haven’t found my people now that I’m in the real world. As a student at Harvard, even when I was single, I never felt this chronically alone.
Many days, all I want is to run away with my growing family to somewhere warmer. But the reality is that I – no, we – are tied down now. Adulthood has hit us hard.
And yet, I also know that the warmth of home isn’t a place – it’s something we create in our minds.
I don’t know if I can ever feel the same thrill about Cambridge that I experienced as a traveler – when I was young, naïve, full of hope, and free. But I do feel some of those flutters of excitement that I’ll soon be turning a new chapter of life in this city.
Once this city reopens, I’ll no longer be on my own. I’ll have a little companion with whom I can share all the beauty I’ve missed over the years while I was focusing on myself. A walk down the street will no longer be a linear trajectory down a lonely path; it will be a meandering journey for two through the snow-capped rosebuds, full of potential and fully alive.