Hello, gentle reader! We here at 5 Cities 6 Women have decided to try something new and run the occasional guest post. So every now and then, you’re going to find an extra voice among the usual six, introduced by one of us with a brief bio. We hope you enjoy reading some different perspectives on our cities, and whatever other topics our guests choose to write about.
Inaugural guest blogger Britni is a feminist, activist, former pessimist, spiritual gangster, social media enthusiast, and super rad chick. She writes a blog called Fiending for Hope and is a co-founder and site leader at Hollaback! Boston. She lives with her partner and their fur children in Boston, and you can follow her inane thoughts about inane things on her Twitter.
I always knew I would move to Boston someday. From the time I was a little girl in Southern Florida, I imagined Boston as this faraway utopia of freedom and status. I knew I wanted to move to the city and experience life, because I figured there had to be something more to existence than living in a small suburb characterized by cookie cutter people and cement and strip malls that sprawled in every direction you looked. One day, I told myself, I will move away from all of this and live in Boston. I just knew that I would be happy in Boston. I romanticized Boston in the same way that many people romanticize New York City.
And sure enough, I arrived in Boston at 18 and set out to conquer the city. I reinvented myself as a party girl, ditching my mainstream clothing for tutus and sequins and purple hair. I sought out musicians and artists and queer folk and quickly found a home. And I started drinking, using alcohol as my tour guide. Every place I ended up was because alcohol had brought me there– a great party, a cool new bar, awesome new friends. I sought out the best places to drink and I thought that I had arrived.
But the reality was much different than the life I told myself I was living. I would arrive at a great party in a new part of the city only to walk into some dingy apartment building with a warm keg inside. I never saw the neighborhoods or paid enough attention to figure out where, exactly, I was or thought far enough ahead to figure out how I was going to get home. Cut to a few hours later and I am now black out drunk, lost in an unknown part of the city and hanging out with “new friends” that I have never met before and will never see again. Cut to the next morning and I am waking up in an apartment with people that I don’t remember meeting the night before, hurrying out in a flurry of shame to catch a cab back to wherever I came from.
Wash, rinse, repeat. The big city that I was so excited to explore became really, really small. I stopped going to cool new bars and only drank at the hole-in-the-wall down the street where the bartender knew my name, drinks were mostly free, and I never got cut off. The only faces I saw were those on the bar stools around me. Great parties were few and far between, as I didn’t like having to share my alcohol with people I didn’t know (plus house parties were full of amateur drinkers and I was a professional). All of those cool new friends I had made had fallen away, as they pursued actual lives and activities. I wandered the same few blocks of the city day after day. Alcohol was still guiding me through the city, only now it was steering me away from anything new and exciting and towards things that were familiar and comfortable. And so it went.
I wondered why I was so unhappy here, as I had been in Florida. I lived in the city that I loved and yet I felt empty and alone. I was surrounded by people and yet I felt lonelier than I ever had. So I would walk back down the street to the bar I knew so well, where the familiar faces would be sitting. I would still be alone but I convinced myself I wasn’t, pointing to my “friends” at the bar as evidence of the connections I had forged in this city. In my head, I had succeeded. I had conquered the big city and I told myself every day how awesome my life was. Deep down, I knew there had to be more to life than this.
Nine years after I moved here, I finally found what I had always been looking for. I had been considering the possibility that my drinking was problematic for quite some time, and I finally made the decision to spend some time away from the city and get sober. I came back to the city that I loved so much and found that it was not the same place that I had remembered. Looking at the city through sober eyes, my entire world opened up. Suddenly I was going to neighborhoods that I had heard about but never visited. I had spotty recollections of being in various locations but no idea as to where in the city those places were. As I walked, rode buses, and drove in cars around Boston, I slowly connected all of those memories and started to form a cohesive map of the city in my head.
I began to know the personalities of each neighborhood. I moved to Dorchester and found out that it’s not this scary place that no one should dare venture, but a neighborhood that is on the upswing and is full of history and beautiful homes. I spent time in Southie and fell in love with the accents and the neighborhood pride that are both so thick there. I got a job on Newbury Street and began to appreciate the wonder in the eyes of all of the tourists instead of being annoyed by their slow walking and constant photo-taking. When someone looked lost, I asked if they needed directions and happily provided them instead of maliciously providing an out-of-towner with the wrong ones. I said hi to strangers on the street and told the baristas in the coffee shop to have a nice day. I rode the train and I looked at the other people in the cars with me, wondering what their stories were and feeling truly connected to other human beings.
I fell in love with my city all over again, but this time I fell in love with the city for what it actually was and not the idea of it that had existed only in my head. The big city that had once felt so small to me still felt small, but now it felt small because I knew it so well and not because I never left the same 5 block radius.
I thought that when I gave up drinking my life would get boring. I thought that when I wasn’t able to order fancy cocktails in new restaurants that I’d have no reason to go out. But the truth is, I’d stopped ordering fancy cocktails and going to new restaurants long ago. And when I stopped focusing so much on where I was going to drink, I was able to focus on everything else. My life today is anything but boring.
Today I have forged real connections with people that live in my city. Before, I only associated with people who were willing to meet me at the bar. Today, I have people that I can call because I’m having a bad day or because I need help moving or because I just want to say hi. Today I walk through my neighborhood in Jamaica Plain and I notice the little things about my ‘hood that make it special. I notice the brightly painted houses and the mix of bodegas and organic markets that co-exist so beautifully. I see the evidence of what the neighborhood once was alongside the evidence of what the neighborhood is becoming. The trolley runs along the street outside my house, carrying tourists who are singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of their lungs. And today, I am not annoyed with those people. I am happy that other people can find a little bit of joy in the city that has brought me so much of it. I cannot wait to find out what else my city has to offer, because I know that I’ve only scratched the surface.
I love that dirty water, oh Boston you’re my home.