Did you ever visit somewhere and know, deep in your soul, that you’d live there one day? That when the time was right, a place would open up its arms to you? Sure, maybe that welcoming embrace would be scratchy and too tight in the wrong ways and its breath would smell like beer and last night’s nachos, but it would still be home.
My introduction to Boston was a short trip to investigate a few prospective colleges. I stayed in Cambridge with my brother and his partner, who would eventually become his wife and then his ex-wife. It was a bumpy phase for the two of them, so I spent a lot of that visit getting scarce. Not so good for them, but an opportunity for me to investigate the city. I didn’t have tons of money for subways, but the streets were fine. Not frenetic and slightly scary like Manhattan (or at least that’s way I felt about it at sixteen, in the days before Times Square went Disney), but approachable. All slouchy and comfortable, like my faded jeans and satin baseball cap. (Hey, they were in style back then, don’t judge me.)
Life sped forward, and with my shiny diploma and gigantic portfolio, I was looking for a job on Madison Avenue. New York was still frenetic, still slightly scary…and I was miserable. So when my magician friend floated the possibility of finding work in Boston, the dirty water of the Charles called my name.
Visiting the city at sixteen had been fun…like hanging out with that cute, guilty-pleasure guy you’d never take home to Mom. Marrying the place was a whole ’nother bowl of chowder, and I’d apparently romanticized all the bad points from my little high school fling. Among other challenges, I had to navigate a subway system, the job market, the neighborhoods, and the lack of decent bagels. Then there was the language difference. I grew up speaking what I thought was English, an assumption that only lasted until I tried to order a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Eyeroll from the cashier as the line behind me grumbled. And small, slow words, like I was five. “Ya. Want. Caw. Fee. Reg. Lah?”
I thought I understood. Regular coffee. In my culture, that meant black. Regular, plain old coffee, right? Wrong. Cream and sugar. Next.
So of course my first job involved working the counter at a copy shop and answering the phone. Apparently the Universe had decided I needed full-on language immersion. The owners were two Southie guys who’d been best friends since Scollay Square had strippers. (Google it, kids.) My first week, one of them reduced me to tears—of laughter and pain—when he tried to explain where I was supposed to deliver a box of flyers.
“Havastree,” he said. I shook my head. He repeated it again and again as if that were the secret to understanding, because apparently, the syllable-by-syllable breakdown hadn’t worked for me. Finally he said it slowly enough for me to realize that it was two words: “Havad Street.”
But I’d never heard of the place. I’d even checked the map. Frustration pinched the corners of his eyes. “You know, Havad Street. Havad Street. Like the college.” And then he wrote it down: H-A-V-A-D. No, I’m not making this up.
I did assimilate, eventually. The magician moved on, but I stayed a few more years. I even developed a bit of an accent and a fondness for the Red Sox, much to my Yankee-loving father’s dismay. In my heart, though, I miss the place wicked bad, and I know that those big arms would have me back again, someday. Especially now that I don’t need Rosetta Stone to order a cup of coffee.
Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases, including her next novel, A Sudden Gust of Gravity, which is set in lovely, lovely Boston? You can do that here.