I occupy one bedroom of Apt. 3 at 39 Rutland Square in the South End, overlooking the courtyard in between buildings. I own nothing but a 13” TV and a coffeemaker. All of my possessions – mostly books – are in garbage bags on the floor at the foot of the bed. From my bed I can only see the building on the other side, but from the little table in the kitchen the Hancock Tower and the Berkeley Building with her weather beacon are right there.
Rutland Square is the street of my dreams: low, three-story brownstones with high stoops, landscaping and wrought iron in the middle. My roommate is a Swede studying abroad for the summer, so the place is mine. It’s perfect.
Except that I’m paralyzed with undiagnosed depression and can barely get out of bed, let alone handle a four-hour shift schlepping credit cards. Most of my days are spent napping, reading in a cloud of nicotine or walking around town aimlessly.
But I always come back to my roof. To get there I have to enter the open apartment upstairs. In their bathroom, next to their tub, is a wooden step-ladder. I climb up, push open a corrugated glass window and shimmy through a suspect, splinter-ridden wood frame.
And then all of Boston is there for me, and the empty shell of my day-to-day existence erodes…
I’m subletting a basement room from a nutcase in Brookline and working at a call center in Quincy. It’s ten miles from Quincy to Brookline, and six miles from Quincy to South Station. Every night, no matter the weather, I get off the Red Line at either South Station or Park Street, grab a bite and walk the final four miles back to my room. This is how desperate I am to not be “home.”
I usually make it just before curfew. Yes, I’m 25 and my roommate has imposed a curfew. Her paranoia is such that I have to make my sofa bed, hide all my possessions and pull the transom shades every morning before leaving, lest the superintendent see me and snitch her out to management. Never mind that she placed her rental ad in the not-exactly-covert Boston Phoenix, and never mind that the super knows I’m there and that we’ve swapped shots of Old Grand Dad and stories about what a nutcase she is.
This is my life. This is why I prefer walking four miles in a downpour or a blizzard or an arctic gale to being home in my room.
My walks are solitary and free of terms and conditions. From South Station I walk up Summer St. to Park St. and the Boston Common, so named because the sheep paths that became the streets of Boston originated from this common grazing ground. I walk through the Common and across Charles St. to the Public Garden, where spring flowers will soon bloom. I walk Commonwealth Ave through Parisian Back Bay, enraptured by the brownstones, the park in the middle of the Ave, the old gas lamps.
In Kenmore Square I arrive under the flashing Citgo sign. I head upstairs to the fantastic Planet Records and buy a grab bag of CDs. I buy some Tremont Ale at the basement Kenmore Liquors and wrap the bottles in my backpack. I examine the menu at the Chinese Pizza place and think better of it.
I continue on Comm, past the stately Buckminster Hotel and on to Boston University territory, where the Green Line trolley emerges from the underground of Kenmore Square Station in the middle of the avenue. Past school buildings and dorms and the Paradise Rock Club, where I dream of someday playing. Past the site of what was once Braves Field, where the Boston Braves hosted Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial and more of my idols. I dream of crowds in pearls and fedoras and streets clogged with Packards and De Sotos.
I continue past the reverent Temple Israel and to Coolidge Corner. Almost there. I buy some pistachios at Trader Joe’s on Harvard Ave, then slink downstairs to retire for the evening. I flick on my desk lamp, crack open a Tremont and read and write and drink in dark solitude, like a WWII blackout.
364.4 Smoots Plus 1 Ear. This is the length of the Mass Ave Bridge. The bridge is also known as the Harvard Bridge, and it leads directly to MIT. The story goes that one night a group of MIT yuksters decided to measure the bridge with the handiest tool possible: a classmate named Smoot. They laid Mr. Smoot down on the sidewalk and started measuring. The Smoot markers are still there, freshly painted every year.
In the middle of the bridge, possibly where Houdini performed his act once, the sidewalk reads HALFWAY TO HELL. This is where I stop and stand, arms on the railing, taking in the sweep of Boston before me and wondering what would it be like? I would never do it, but the thought crosses my mind every time. Just a lean too far…maybe a slight pitching…my stomach flying into my throat as gravity takes over…Would it be as peaceful as I had read? Would I struggle or accept? Would it silence the demons and the pain? Would anyone but my family notice?
I can never do it, because of my family, and ultimately because I know that all of this is transitory and I’m meant for better things. I pick up my pace and continue my walk over the Charles to Cambridge, looking ahead, always looking ahead…
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