Stepping onto the platform at South Station and following the herd into the main terminal felt refreshingly familiar. It felt good to wheel my small suitcase through the cold Boston air, which stung just enough to keep me walking for warmth. Later, on the T, it felt good to hear a true Bostonian, with that broad Beantown “a,” say “Park Street” over the intercom.
Though I’m from New York, I had interned at Harmonix Music Systems, the startup that developed Guitar Hero and Rock Band, in Cambridge’s Central Square during the summer after 10th grade. It felt good to be back, to reintroduce myself to a city that had last seen me as a kid.
It also felt good to retread that railed path, the Red Line, that my 16-year-old self had taken every morning that summer, and then to pass Central, mount those escalators, and emerge on that hallowed red-brick Square that meant a weekend of Ivy League self-indulgence and a headache from midday Bud Light Lime.
During the weekend of The Game, I saw my Harvard friends and surprised a friend majoring in sound design at Emerson College at his dorm. I also took the T out to Alewife to have dinner with my eccentric, loving godparents.
Why did catching up with Boston feel so good? On the T, struggling to catch a glimpse of the twinkling Charles River without falling over my suitcase (the breaks are really awful on those trains), I saw the person I was two-and-a-half years ago. I couldn’t help but laugh—a benevolent, perhaps condescending laugh—and feel like I was updating that past. I was showing Boston what I had been up to since I was 16, and reintroducing myself as an adult. And though I had parted from my friends at Harvard and Emerson more recently—just this past summer, as we headed off to freshman year—I was also, in a strange, adult way, meeting them for the first time. Past and present clashed in a way that made them feel piercingly distinct. The change and growth that my first semester at college had produced in me were introducing themselves in the only possible way—by juxtaposing my new life with my old one.
In two weeks, my scattered, swollen high school life—friends splattered across the country like wet paint—will contract back into its New York home. After my experience in Boston, I realize that until that reunion, I won’t fully know what the semester has given me and how it has changed me. The role of a semester—or, of the end of a semester—is for change to assert itself, to make itself known. The complex, eye-opening, life-changing experiences we have in college make us new people, but only when we measure our new selves against our old ones do we realize the impact.
Winter break will be a barrage of catch-ups, an attempt to rekindle lots of relationships that college has, at least physically, torn apart. What will that be like? I’ve imagined the worst. Lame attempts to recreate high school parties. Nostalgic reminiscing with fading friends over brunch salads. Most frighteningly, I’ve imagined that the ways in which college has changed us might manifest themselves too visibly, too insistently, too proudly. I’ve imagined losing these people to time and to the reality of our divergent paths.
But I’m optimistic. It will be exciting to have stories to tell each other, new lives to catch each other up on; change will make us reexamine and reaffirm why we were close in the first place. A semester away from home—especially a first semester—means running free and letting your friends run free, establishing yourself in a new place and letting them do the same, and then reeling them in tighter than before. It means changing independently from each other, but keeping in touch as we do.