In the Before

Walking through the lobby I quickly glance at my smart phone: three minutes.  "Shit!" I throw open the door and run across the uneven brick sidewalk, the heels of my shoes making a quick click-clack sound. I spring up the cement steps two at a time and emerge from the alley onto Brattle Street. But my feet have responded before my brain, it will take more than three minutes to get through Harvard Square to the bus. As the resignation seeps into my bones, the scene around me solidifies.

The accordion player on the corner nods at me while he plays some unknown tune, infusing the square with a French laissez-faire atmosphere. Two women speaking to each other point to their destination, an Indian restaurant, while walking slowly past me. Tourists stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures, oblivious to business people quickly re-adjusting their paths to avoid a collision. There is a remnant of daylight still left on this late February evening and in the air a promise of spring. Time pauses like a ball at the end of a string in the apex of it’s upward arc.

I Turn around and begin to walk down the stairs.

“You’re going the wrong way.” Two female co-workers cheerfully warn me as they walk into the square.

“No, no I’ve decided to take a different way home.” I respond smiling.

There is a sense of acceptance and relief as I begin my walk home. Passing by the restaurant next door, I notice a group of people on the other side of a window sitting at the bar. They are chatting animatedly while lifting bright colored drinks in martini glasses. I pause and stare for a moment too long. A couple inside the bar senses my gaze and glances at me. I look down at my feet and continue walking through the alley. I used to imagine being one of those people who stopped for a drink before heading home. When I move into the city I will do that, I thought. But even after moving into the city two years ago, I am still in a hurry to get home.

My path takes me across the JFK Bridge and the boat house. The sky over the Charles River is striped in bands of orange, gold and indigo as the light drains from the sky. Silently, a team of scullers in a racing shell slips through the dark water towards the horizon.

After I have left the buzz of Harvard Square I turn onto a residential street. Neat rows of houses with yards are illuminated by soft circles of light from the street lamps. As I pass, motion sensitive porch lights flicker on to greet me as if some electrical current is emanating from my body.

I used to live in a house with a yard and a driveway.

I used to own a car.

I used to be greeted by my daughters at the end of the day.

I follow the road and cross the pedestrian bridge over the Mass Pike and I am thrown into a cacophony of sound and smells and people that make up Harvard Avenue in the Allston neighborhood; life happening. Here a blend of Korean, Irish, Italian, Middle Eastern, soul food and Jewish cuisine exists in noisy harmony. The evening air is mixed with honking horns, Asian dialects and loud college students. Graffiti and murals dot the business fronts. This is urban life.

Six years ago, in the before, I would drive down this street. It was a necessary leg on the one hour journey from my home in the suburbs to a support group that met once a week in Coolidge Corner. When I would drive down this street, I marveled at the diversity of life. I marveled that there was some pivotal moment in my life that forced me to choose a different path.

I stop in front of a second hand store, filled with tables and lamps and odds and ends; pieces of another life. In the glass I catch a reflection of myself and in that same reflection a line of cars stopped at a traffic light. If time were to bend upon itself, the younger me would be in one of those cars nervously trying to figure out what he would be revealing at the support group tonight; worried about running late, worried about all of the changes. He would look through the car window and wonder if the older me was alone in this life.

I want to talk to the younger me and tell him not to worry; that the right thing to do in life is rarely the easiest. That even though the most trying times lay ahead of him he is travelling down the right road.

At the intersection of Harvard Ave and Comm Ave., I look down the road wondering if the T is near. But I can’t see beyond the bend so I continue to cross the intersection. Halfway across, the ding-ding of the bell rings in the distance and I hesitate. I turn around and run back in time to jump on the T, suddenly in a hurry, five stops and then home.

When I walk through the door, Paul hugs me and says “It took you a little longer to get home.”

Holding onto him, not wanting to let go I whisper.

“But I am home."


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