Today we are all heartbroken. As Americans our hearts are heavy for those who were injured and for the families of those injured and killed at the Boston Marathon. Those of us who love Boston grieve for the city too, no matter how or when we came to know her.
I met her in 1983. I must admit I am one of those former college students whose mailing address actually read "Boston,"--not Waltham or Chestnut Hill--and who secretly scoffs when those in the latter groups claim to have gone to college with those of us in the former group. We make the distinction between Boston and the Boston area or greater Boston because we didn't need to take the T to get there; we stepped outside our dorms and were there. We not only could see the Pru from campus, but could make out every letter on that iconic building. The CITGO sign actually led us home.
I am also an adult who makes the distinction between going to college in Boston and living there as a grown-up, working person. I know the difference because I did both. First I was a student at Simmons College, who could hear Red Sox games from outside my window on Brookline Avenue. I became a Bostonian when I filed taxes and voted there. I got on the green line every day and changed to the red line and got off in Fields Corner, where most college students fear to tread. I struggled to pay rent even though the pho I ate regularly from the Vietnamese restaurant across the street from the clinic in Dorchester cost next to nothing.
I spent a lot of free time--I had no exams to study for or lab reports to write anymore, after all-- walking around, finding ethnic restaurants, lingering over bowls of au lait with a good book at my favorite book store cafes. When I really lived there I discovered things I hadn't, I couldn't as a student.
Recently I had lunch with an old high school friend, Allison, who has made Boston her home since graduating from college. Not Malden or Waltham, Beverly or North Andover. Boston. She lives in the North End and works in the Back Bay. She is a Bostonian. She understands the difference. (I am happy to report, incidentally, that she is okay. Thank goodness.)
So that distinction, smug as it may seem, matters to me. I usually say nothing when a Boston area alum talks of going to school in Boston. It is more difficult to remain silent, however, when I hear a former college student say they lived in Boston. When I tell my story I usually make the distinction. "I went to college in Boston and then I lived there," I will say. Sometimes I even note that I was born and raised in Connecticut but grew up in Boston. Going to college in Boston introduced me to the city I called home through my twenties. Visiting on weekends during college made Allison fall in love with the city she still calls home.
There was a time I thought I'd never leave. And now, more and more, I realize I want to go back. Not just for weekends.
I love Boston. And I miss her dearly.