Nostalgia, trauma, and gentrification.
If your childhood was spent somewhere safe and quiet, with a cul-d-sac or winding country roads and square footage for each member of the family, including the dog – this may not apply to you. If you come from a place with a name not even recognized the next county over, or so generic it is fifty times over across the country – this may not apply to you. But if you were formed within the mold of American cities, with names embroidered on sports jersey’s, glazed onto mugs, and referenced in the national newspapers, then let me know what you think.
I am an outsider for the first time since my college years in New York City. I moved back to Boston for family, for community and for loyalty. I am from Boston and that is only now beginning to hold real weight. I am also in conversation with people who are part of the fabric of their city and ask me to explain mine. I don’t know where to begin without a map, a history book, a soundtrack, and a sportscaster so I awkwardly start in the middle, or at the end, or somewhere from near ancient times, because Boston actually can go that far back.
Living in an American city means not having space. You are confronted with other people’s lives each day and there is no escape. You are also confronted with the visual landscape of your own life. Every subway stop holds an argument, a break-up, a new friendship, a lecherous old man, a fist fight, a late night and an early morning. My family has three generational layers of history in the city of Boston. I see Jewish stars carved into Baptist churches from the era of my grandmother and college students coming out of the apartment all three of my dad’s siblings shared. New people move in and see a cute little coffee shop, a new bar to check-out, or their first apartment before they had kids.
Now in a city that is not my own I also enjoy tearing off the cellophane wrap to a new place with no scars, no enemies, no legacy lurking around the corner. Diametrically I feel the act of displacement on the faces of old ladies waiting for the trolly, the young kids trying to run their block as a developer squeezes in some new condos. I feel the grit of the city getting smoothed over as new cement is poured over the cracks. I know I looked like I don’t belong here, and in many ways I don’t – no one can vouch for me.
I attempt to express empathy or at least recognition of the phenomena forcing change onto the city. And then I hear about their trauma, the locals who do belong but also feel suffocated by the avalanche of legacy. That is where I ran from the cops, that is where my dad got pulled over, that is where my grandmother used to get her hair done, that is where I had my first job, that is where my friend got shot. Nah I don’t really want to go back there, who knows someone might still be looking for me. Many of the lives from American cities are scarred deeper and reminded of far worse. It is a survival instinct to remember the pain and not the joy.
So the outsiders swoop in, buff up the place, switch out the long lasting orange tinged streetlights for bright white, put the cops on speed dial, and set-up shop. The legacy gets painted over, the neighborhoods renamed, but they can’t steal my memories, even the ones I wish I didn’t have.