In a few weeks, my parents will be moving from the Boston suburbs to Portland so that they can be close by in their old age. This event has been in the works for years and for years I’ve pushed the idea out of my thoughts, insisting that I’d think about it later.
Later is now.
I returned to Massachusetts last week, ostensibly to help them get ready to leave. In truth, I hadn’t been back in almost eight years and the chances of me going back after this are slim to nil. So this was it, my chance to say goodbye to some of the people and places that had been so integral to my teenage years. In all the moving I did as a kid, I’d never had the chance nor the inclination to so deliberately leave a place once and for all. I expected to feel nostalgic or at least a little contemplative as I drove by my old house, or walked through the old cemetery I used to use like a park, or saw the Boston skyline for the last time.
As we pulled away from Logan Airport and headed north on 93, I suddenly saw that my idea about this trip was all wrong. Every time I saw something I recognized — the Schrafft’s building where my father once worked, the package store on the corner where I used to buy soda, the tree-lined street I walked to school along every day — I felt nothing. No twinge of nostalgia and no swell of sadness or even empathy for the lonely girl I’d once been inside that landscape. All that surfaced was the thin, vague nausea I always felt there, the one I get when I’m in a place that doesn’t fit right.
In the eight years since my last visit, I’d apparently said goodbye and good riddance, closing up that chapter of my life without even knowing it. Okay then, so what to do with the next five days? I visited with my oldest friends, helped my folks get ready for an open house, and sifted through a few boxes of old toys, drawings and report cards.
I took a couple trips into Boston and found a surge of love for the clack of the commuter rail and the squeak and roll of the red and green lines, modes of transportation I’m denied in Portland. But dragging myself around to my favorite city places no longer seemed necessary. Instead, I went to places I’d never been before: the Institute of Contemporary Art to see an exhibit a friend had recommended and the Harvard Natural History Museum to see the rooms full of glass flowers, dead animals and rocks.
For the most part, I felt like a tourist on a tour I wasn’t all that interested in. Flying back west, I was seated near the same elderly tour group that had been on my flight out. The woman next to me told me about the Cape Cod attractions they’d seen as well as Plymouth Rock and the JFK library.
“All my years there, I never went to the JFK library,” I told her. “Oh well, guess I never will.”