Today, September 1, is the big moving day throughout Boston. Because of all of the universities in Boston, apartments typically are rented starting September 1. So you get this enormous migration of renters moving throughout the city, but primarily in the neighborhoods where younger people tend to live: Cambridge, Brighton, and Allston.
Kathryn moved out today, out of our apartment in Quincy and into her apartment in Brighton Center with two other friends. Of course she did. It's a rite of passage for so many young people in Boston. Some start in the student ghetto of Allston, and then move up in the pecking order to a nicer, airier, sunnier apartment in Brighton, Brighton Center, Oak Square, or even some combination thereof. Kathryn lived in the North End during her undergrad years, so she didn't experience Allston and its hordes of nocturnal cockroaches.
I actually lived for a few years a few streets over from her new apartment, so I know what I'm talking about. I moved there (from Allston) when Kiki's was just opening her store. I mean, she just opened, as in I was maybe one of her first ten customers. Her shelves were pretty bare, with just a jar of peanut butter here, a loaf or two of bread, maybe a jar of pickles. Now her store with its big, red, neon KIKI sign commands the big intersection back on Faneuil Street, occupying a building that used to sell oriental rugs, and also runs the laundromat, that was next door to her original store. The Y was a one-story cinder building next to the funeral parlor on Washington Street with a overly chlorinated pool and two sweaty rooms with a combination of free weights and some crappy machines. It was in that Y where I would train for triathlons. Now the Y is a big affair in Oak Square, where a gas station used to stand that had been owned by the same Middle Eastern guy who owned the gas station across the street. I remember when I learned he owned both stations, in my young, budding career in business, that I thought there was something wrong about that because he wasn't loyal to his brand. Later I figured out that he was loyal to his brand; the almighty dollar was his brand, and you never saw a person more loyal.
But it's all newer and bigger there. I stood on Kathryn's back porch and surveyed the neighborhood, and it's all pretty and neat, with comfortable porches that don't look like they might plummet three stories under the weight of partiers, houses that don't look like fire traps, and tiny fenced in back yards and patios outfitted with the nicer stuff from Home Depot and Lowes. All of the twenty-somethings unloading the wide-screens out of their economy cars looked like they had been business majors (finance, not management) or something in health care, but not doctors.
I did say to Sue as I maneuvered the big F-150 through the side streets clogged on both sides with U-Hauls and cars stuffed to the gunwales like the truck was a super tanker getting eased through the Panama Canal that I was glad that, if it were actually necessary for Kathryn to embark on this new independence, post undergrad, that I'm glad she chose Brighton and not Somerville with all of its hipsters. (I'm talking to you, Porter and Davis Squares.) There's something real about Brighton. The working-class veneer is still apparent, there's still the 57 bus (the A train used to run out there, and the tracks were still there when I lived there, but there gone now) , the big Irish bakery on Washington Street hasn't been replaced with a Chinese restaurant, and, while Elizabeth Warren does reside in Porter Square, I'm assuming Joe Kennedy still owns a house in Oak Square; is it still his district? I don't know, I'm so far away from all that now, though Boston politics were once a favorite pastime of mine. Once all that meant something to me, as other things of no import will take on great importance for Kathryn now. I was talking to her landlord, an Irishman named Mark, about the old neighborhood, and later when Kathryn teased me about my new friend, as she called Mark, I said, that will be you in thirty years. Even Beyonce will be on the oldies station someday.
Just an aside, I was working on a novel called Action Bob Markle where Bob Markle worked as a copywriter at an ad agency and he came up with the line, Brighton Your Day, for a PSA about the neighborhood businesses.
But now, supper is over and Sue is taking a nap on the couch, and I'm writing this and it's quiet. Even the guest room is quiet where Kathryn stayed, I can feel its emptiness a room away. Somehow her presence was felt in the apartment even when she was at her job waitressing in the North End. Of course it was: When a person is active in your life, when your child's toothbrush is in the jar in the bathroom you know they're going to come home. But the toothbrush has been packed and is now in a bathroom in Brighton Center.
When the kids' mom and I separated, I used to sometimes wish that maybe I shouldn't see the kids, because it hurt so much when we parted. Of course I didn't mean it that way. Kathryn used to have a little bedroom at my apartment; Allison never once stayed there and only visited a few times in maybe seven years. But Kathryn had a little room, and more than once after she went back to her mother's house, I'd sleep in her bed, just to keep her close to me for a little while longer. Hugging her pillow for her smell. Her presence. The holidays are still like that for me now. The departure still leaves an emptiness that I find almost intolerable.
It makes me think of what it would be like without Sue. A couple of times she's traveled for two weeks or so, or just gone away for the weekend. I joke with her and tell her that I have to go first, because I'm so pathetic I can't live without her. When she's gone for awhile, I manage. I can do the day to day--get up, make coffee, do things, whatever things need to be done. But that life lacks life. It's just not the same without her. I'm afraid I'd become a recluse, rarely leaving the apartment.