For Those Who Stay, and Wherever You Go

During a conversation with Mac the other day, he helped me realize something that has been steadily, quietly growing inside my subconscious, but that I had yet to actually see within myself.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

“It went really well. I guess I’m glad it doesn’t have to be a ‘secret’ anymore.” I was biting my nails in between typing sentences. “But I don’t know. The statement ‘I resigned from the Press today’ makes me unexpectedly sad.”

“Think about how much you’ve accomplished in the last year, though. You went from practically hating Boston to where you are now.”

I stopped and thought about this. “Right. It’s kind of nuts, in retrospect. Every piece of it.”

“It really is. Think about the idea that you had to debate whether or not working in Ann Arbor was really what you wanted to do. Amanda from a year ago would be baffled by that.”

“Right?” Here’s where the wheels really started turning and I realized how right he was.

“I’m seriously so proud of how far you’ve come. It’s plainly evident.”

“Thank you. That means a lot to me.” I remember looking out the window for a second, stupid as that sounds. “Honestly I’m proud of me, too, especially considering everything I messed up and all the shit life has thrown in my face over the past year.”

“Exactly. Which has not been an insignificant amount.”

Mac is one of my oldest, closest friends. Him saying this to me - that he’s proud, that he recognizes my growth - was like taking a deep breath of clean, brand new air. And being able to recognize that it’s true, that I have learned so much about myself and grown - that I’ve come out alive - is like an even deeper breath. Something about 2015 has fueled change, in careers, in personal lives, and everything in between; I’ve noticed this not only about myself but also many of my friends. I’m finishing out the year with probably the biggest instance of change yet.

Last week, I resigned from the Press because I’ve accepted a job at the University of Michigan’s Publishing department. My new title is almost identical to the one I have now, and I’ll be taking everything I’ve learned from my time in Boston to the one location I've always aimed for, the one place I’ve always wanted to work and prove myself.

This isn’t an exaggeration. I have always wanted to be a Wolverine from day one, for as long as I can remember. The U’s hospital saved my life when I was born way too early. My father completed his bachelor’s and his master’s there, and I used to gaze at those degrees on the wall, fascinated by the intricate lettering and the university’s seal. My childhood memories are filled with maize and blue, football games on the old TV in the living room, and short glimpses into Ann Arbor, a tree-filled city that felt like it belonged somewhere else, somewhere larger. I don’t know why I’ve always held the U on such a high pedestal, why I aspired and longed to someday be a part of it. But the aspiration never stopped.

I didn’t do well enough in high school to be accepted as an undergraduate; I knew this, and I didn’t apply when the time came. Instead, I lived vicariously through my friends who did attend, lounging in their dorms and running across the Diag at night. I spent most summers between semesters at Hope tucked inside Ann Arbor, spending nearly all of my free time there and even temping at the U’s chemistry department for a few months. Even though I was an employee, had my own M-card and everything, I didn’t feel worthy or that I really belonged since it was wasn’t permanent. I wanted something more.

Over time I got to know Ann Arbor’s streets better than the streets in Plymouth, where I was raised, and I promised myself that one day I would stay there forever. Even if Michigan didn’t take me on as a student or an employee, it didn’t matter; someday I would be a part of the swell of the city, belonging, never needing to go home to somewhere else when the night was over. When I decided to apply to graduate school, I made pretty (naively) concrete plans to make this dream my reality. But when the U denied me, those plans disappeared.

This is where the trajectory of my life changed. Suddenly, Boston took me in with open arms, shining a light onto a new life I never could have imagined. I closed my eyes in late August of 2012, held my breath, and jumped in head-first. Between then and now, almost every little thing about my life has changed; it’s taken me until now to see these changes have been for the better.

Now, it’s come time to take that jump again.

***

Earlier this year, like Mac mentioned, I was having a hard time still living in Boston. I was questioning most of my decisions, wondering if I was in the right place or if I had somehow made a mistake - maybe more accurately, knowing I had made some mistakes and wondering about everything else. Over the course of the year, I said a lot of things I neither meant nor really understood, complained a lot, and acted selfishly as I was internally free-falling, trying to figure out what was going on inside my head. The summer wore on and slowly but surely, I got everything together. I’ve felt better about my life in the past five months than I have in a long time; I’ve felt comfortable in Boston (really, back to as happy as I was when I moved here), in my job, and I’ve made peace with those aforementioned mistakes. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown up in many ways. I’ve felt like I’m finally accustomed to and content within a slightly different life. But suddenly this new opportunity fell out of the sky, and I had to decide what to do - whether to stay with this newfound solid footing, or to leave and, essentially, start all over.

Now that the decision is made, I’m focusing not on the fear of the unknown but on every detail of where I am.

When my brother moved to Massachusetts many moons ago, my family started visiting Boston once every year or so. It became the only major city I spent a lot of time in outside Detroit and Michigan. I’ve been to Chicago and NYC a few times, but Boston was always our go-to. The most prominent memory I have of my first trip here - maybe when I was around 13, I can’t really remember - was the first time I stood at the site of the Boston Massacre. It’s just this hand-carved star in the middle of centuries-old cobblestones, sitting in front of the Old State House and surrounded by lanes of flying traffic. I was transfixed by this star, the simplest piece of stone, silently denoting this huge historical event right in the middle of a loud city. It became my favorite place in the whole of Boston, and I remember standing there in my early teens and thinking to myself, “I could come back here. I think I could live here someday.”

I’ll miss the star. I’ll miss the constellations on the ceiling of Quincy Market. I’ll miss the Christmas lights on the trees at Faneuil in December. I’ll miss tripping on the cobblestones surrounding that whole area, especially if we were going out to Anthem, especially if I’m wearing heels. I’ll miss standing in the steam of the Holocaust Memorial, always rendered motionless. I’ll miss Keytar Bear standing outside Bell in Hand. I’ll miss the stairs at Government Center, the innumerable times I sat there with friends for Boston Calling, for the Jimmy Fund Scooperbowl, for summer days across from Haymarket. I’ll miss the greenway by the North End; I’ll miss walking through those almost-ancient streets in the summer, in the snow, smelling the fresh bread and hurrying to Bova’s for rainbow cookies. I’ll miss the rain that seemingly never comes.

I’ll miss the subway, even though I’d like to deny it. I’ll miss standing in Boylston after class, counting the E’s and damning the C’s. I’ll miss the rush at Park Street, and part of me will even miss the blistering heat in the summer while standing on the platform, cursing the fans and willing the tracks to squeal. I’ll miss how adept I’ve become at weaving crowds trying to get to my train, how I know the perfect spot to stand on nearly every platform to get the correct door. I’ll miss the hisses under my feet. I’ll miss complaining about it. I’ll miss the late night rides from Davis. I’ll miss the walk to Lechmere every day. I’ll miss the length of the C line, the most beautiful ride the T can offer you, counting the brownstones in the summer and recognizing the stops through my periphery. I’ll miss the wrought iron at Copley. I’ll miss the view of the skyline when you leave Kendall and move towards MGH, especially how it glows at night, beckoning me to come back over the river, to come home. I’ll miss the Zakim’s light, the Pru’s height, the Citgo burning in the distance.

I’ll miss the lights of Fenway and how you can see from the freeway. I’ll miss standing in line outside the House of Blues, counting the annoying Sox fans. I’ll miss all the cab rides. I’ll miss the drowsy walks from Fenway Regal to the D line back to Reservoir, my favorite stop, ducking through the parked but still lit trains in the yard. I’ll miss the old D trips to Wellesley, to Riverside, to my brother’s car. I’ll miss the commuter rail rides to Worcester in the spring and especially the winter, watching the snow rush by us while we move through the woods like ghosts. I’ll miss killing time in the Common after class, eating lunch in the Public Garden, and marveling at the trees.

I’ll miss Harvard Square, the tobacconist across the street, and losing hours in Black Ink. I’ll miss MIT, the feeling I get when I’m here, the view of the river from the opposite side of the Esplanade. I’ll miss the top of the old New England where we’d sit outside for lunch in the summer. I’ll miss movies at the Hatch Shell, Eli Paperboy Reed at the Lawn, dancing at that dingy club in Back Bay, and watching the marathon runners rush through every April. I’ll miss Coolidge Corner, the Booksmith, the Publick House, the meatballs. I’ll miss the smell of cloves surrounding Emerson, the corner Starbucks, and the Tremont-Boylston intersection that stops on time, every time.

I’ll miss Cleveland Circle the most. My home, Sutherland, the old clock in the middle of traffic. I’ll miss the slope of my hill, and for every time I had a friend visit I’ll miss the memory of when I walked them up that hill. I’ll miss the creak of my hardwood floors, the hiss of the radiators when they actually work. I’ll miss the balcony to the back alley where Josh and I would sit for hours in our first summer, up way later than necessary, counting stars and flicking ash. I’ll miss the walks to the B line to see Stephany on one end, Renee on the other. I’ll miss stealing signs on the way back with Josh, his pocket knife squeaking while I laughed and stood watch.

I’ll miss how huge and small Boston feels all at once. How it sleeps at night unless you know where to go, how it wakes up so early. I’ll miss the ocean in the air, the smoke, the constant color. I’ll miss the city appearing all at once, grand and old, when your plane cuts through the cloud cover and brings you out over the water. I’ll miss every sound, every blade of grass, every memory. I’ll miss my Massachusetts license, my listed city of “Boston” giving me a strange pride from inside my wallet. This list will never stop growing, and I know that when I leave in February, I’m going to cry all the way past the city line.

Boston, my new and now my old home. I’ll miss you, I’ll miss you, I’ll miss you. I had no idea how you would change me. Thank you.

***

I get tired of thinking about it, but 2015 has been hard. I’ve got this mental list of various things that’ve happened - both under my control and not, both my own fault and not - that clouds my memory of the past 350-some days. There’s a slowly progressing entry in the hardcover Shinola journal, gifted to me by a colleague, that I now keep in my bag that reads “What to remember, what to remind yourself, where you’ve failed, where you’ve succeeded, what to learn, where to grow, what to change”.

Without my acceptance to Emerson - without my decision to move to Boston and embark on the three most invigorating, terrifying, and incredible years of my life, I, most likely, would have never made it into the U’s digital publishing group. I never could have predicted this in the beginning. Without my year of interning and year of employment at MIT, I would have never gotten the experience needed to bring to this new position. I’d probably still be home in Metro Detroit, trying to figure out my next move and wondering if I’d ever find a way into publishing.

Without Boston, I would be different. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career, and I wouldn’t be in a place to give talks to publishing grad students in their classes, to be interviewed by English undergrads, or to be this dumbfounded and amazed by my own life.

Without Boston, I wouldn’t be who I am today; I don’t think I would be the person I’m meant to be. This is why choosing this job was the hardest decision I’ve ever made and why it almost didn’t happen. I almost said no. I spent nearly two weeks making massive pros and cons lists, all of which ended up balancing out and only making the decision more difficult. I sat in bed for hours, trying to look for a sign, trying to quell the fear inside my gut. I had no idea I would be this afraid of leaving Boston. And Mac is right - if this opportunity had fallen into my lap a year ago, I would’ve taken it without question. But everything has changed.

Without Boston, I would be lost. But after this year, after everything that’s brought me to this place and this decision, I see now that I’m right on track.

I’ve never felt this changed, improved, or lucky. I’ve never valued the (countless) extraordinary people in my life more than I do now, and I’ve never worked so hard to make sure I treat them as well as they deserve - to really pay attention to what they say and to make sure I listen. It's working. Every single relationship in my life has improved, even if it didn't need to: with my family, my friends, and everyone else. They’ve grown stronger and fuller, and when I step back and realize that virtually no one is absent, my gratitude is overwhelming. I feel so lucky, so grateful to have this many amazing people consistently in my life.

I’ve never felt more confident in my career - not to mention so fortunate - despite my fear of everything possibly not working out. I’ve gained measurably more than I’ve lost this year, and not everyone can say that. Maybe the timing of this change isn’t perfect, but when is it ever?

It’s taken me until now to see that 2015 wasn’t the worst year of my life. It was the hardest, but not the worst. It may have actually been the best. It may have actually given me everything I needed - I just couldn’t see it until it was almost over.

I’m not ready to leave Boston, but the time has come. I’m finally a Wolverine. I’m finally going to take on Ann Arbor. I’m finally taking the next big step.

Here’s to 2015, and here's to Boston. Let’s see what the next three years brings for all of us. Wishing everyone a new year full of promise, kindness, and growth. May we all take our challenging years and learn from them as much as we can, coming out the other side better than ever.