I catch an overnight bus into Boston and then lie down on a bench in the station to sleep for a few more hours. I awake surrounded by a group of people from a country I can’t pinpoint, speaking an unfamiliar language. I listen for a while, entranced, and then abruptly they leave before I can ask what the language is.
Jake takes me up to Newburyport. Cold mist billows in off the water as we wander around, and we step into a café as it begins to rain. Later we meet up at a bar with some of his buddies, and we hang out drinking beers and looking at girls and watching baseball, and I feel normal.
I take the train back down to Boston and then hop the T towards Harvard. The train emerges from the tunnel into a falling sun, a million sunsets glinting in the windows of the Boston skyline, boats on the river catching golden light in their sails.
Once something I totally embraced, then something I incessantly longed for, now home is something I catch glimpses of in certain moments; not as somewhere I am but as something I feel. Waiting to meet up with Dana and Michaela, I wander through Boston with only my backpack. What else do I need? Just somewhere warm to write. So I sit inside the doors to the downtown T station, perched on a low wall, pack beside me: here I am. I can step back out onto the streets or I can submerge again to catch a train to anywhere; from this spot I am connected by rail to everywhere on this continent. People come up the escalator, and by ignoring me they give me tacit permission to use this space as my studio. The skies are watercolor and everything is surreal. I used to have a t-shirt with a picture of a guy smoking a pipe with flowers coming out of the end that said “keep it surreal.”
For most of my time in Boston I stay with Michaela, and Dana sleeps over too. We eat, hang out, drink coffee, and have inspiring conversations that I only wish I could reproduce here. It feels good to be in the presence of two people who have known me through the years as I transform.
During the days, when they go off to work, I wake up on Michaela’s couch and walk to Harvard Square. I never feel restless; the travel is pure. Each day I set a single goal for myself (check out the library, visit the Youth on Fire homeless resource center) and spend the day trying to achieve it, always without success. Too many other unplanned things capture my attention. I choose a direction and then allow the flow to take me wherever it will. I chat with a woman in a Tibetan shop about my travels through her country. I browse through a bookstore totally devoted to travel literature. I talk to the nurse on a Free Medical Services van. I meet Steve, who tells me how he lost his job, and then the IRS claimed his car, his home, everything. It’s impossible for him to get off the streets and get back on his feet, because as soon as he makes any money, the government takes it. Blue asks me to buy her a coffee, and she tells me about her life as a homeless traveler. For a school project, Daisy and Sarah are asking passersby for a proudest moment and a greatest regret. They want single moments, but they listen kindly as I practically tell them my life story. I meet a guy who has volunteered with refugees in Uganda, Burma, and Thailand. At the end of a moving dialogue with a woman in a gas station, I thank her. “This isn’t really the kind of conversation you’d expect to have in a gas station,” I say. “But I guess I’m not surprised.” “Yes,” she smiles. “Maybe this is normal, and everything else is not.”
The sounds of classical guitar lure me through the streets. When I find the source of the music, I sit down and watch him play for an hour. Tupahn’s CDs are covered in photographs of him playing in front of huge crowds in dozens of cities around the world. When he’s finished playing, I tell him how much I appreciated his music. “Yeah, I noticed the way you were listening. Are you a musician too?” He invites me to get lunch with him. I follow him to a restaurant, and we sit down and talk about music, life, travel, self expression. He’s been traveling the world playing guitar for years. We discuss the importance of music to inspire and uplift. “Once, when I was first starting to play on the streets,” he says, “I was playing in a subway, and I noticed this girl listening. When I was done, she came over and handed me a card, and then walked away. Later I read the card—it said, ‘Tupahn—I just ran away from home. I came out here, I was on my way to kill myself. But your music reminded me that life can be beautiful.’”
Later, I meet up with Dana and Michaela. Then I somehow run into an old friend who I didn’t even know lived in Boston, and we make plans to get breakfast in the morning. Dana goes to class, Michaela takes me back to her place and cooks me a veggie burger, and we pick up Dana in the chilly evening and get frozen yogurt.
On my last day in Boston, I hide in a café. The place is packed, stuffed with people who are getting coffee to take a break from their busy lives. I sit in a corner behind my mug, watching waves of them come and go. This IS my life. Here I am, writing, contemplating, watching them, and in a week they will still be here but I will be a thousand miles away.