On the train home to Boston on Friday I made a solemn little promise to myself, as I do every time I go home. It’s a vow that I’ll be good all weekend, and that all of that frugality — of wallet and lung and liver — will somehow magically transform me. The idea being that when I get back to the city on Sunday night, I’ll be changed and better, no longer the fuzzy New York cliche of anxieties and substance haze and spendthriftness that I’ve slowly watched myself become over the almost eight years that I’ve lived here. It’s a childish sort of wish, that mom and dad and a familiar bed will somehow make things all right, but I make it over and over again, each time the train or bus pulls out of the city and I can see it from the window, this undeniably big but disappearing thing, this suddenly escapable place.
A short, less-than-48-hour visit, I spent most of my time sitting around in my favorite pajama pants, watching TV and cooing at the dog (he’s “Little Bear” or “Little Bean” these days). I went for a long walk with my mom, up to the Boston College campus, peering in through the windows at the theater where I spent so much exciting time a decade ago, then out around the nearby reservoir, all cleaned up now and so pleasant to walk around. We talked about any old thing — trips we’d like to take, her job, the new details of friends of mine whom she’s known since they were awkward teenagers wobbling up to my house in cars borrowed from parents. It was perfectly sunny and crisp and autumnal, all those things you want Boston in October to be, trees riots of glorious sad color, all that.
When we got back to the house, or rather when we were a few streets away from the house, we were greeted by the groan and uncertain guitar screeches of a young, local band. The house behind my parents’, once lived in by a nice old lady with a nice garden, is now the home of a few twentysomething girls. They’re music people and they were hosting, that perfect day for hosting such a thing, a “Rocktoberfest,” a sort of all-day invitational jam for their friends and acquaintances to blare their latest someday hits in this cozy, quiet, near-suburb corner of the city. Two girls had rung the doorbell while I was eating breakfast and my dad was eating lunch, cheerily giving us a little letter explaining what was going to be happening that afternoon. My dad, ever kind and patient patron of the arts as he is, said great, thanks, maybe we’ll stop by and see some of the show.
None of us quite realized how loud it would be, or how bad some of the music could be. And it was bad, at least the earlier acts, the music coming in pulses through our walls, the only calm one, for once, being the dog, whose ears perked up for a second before he settled, with a typical weary doggy sigh, back into his little bed on the kitchen floor. The rest of us were unhappy, peering through slats in the blinds and remarking, in my family’s genially snide way, that there weren’t that many people there, were there. We sat with the thud and churn for a while, but eventually conversation turned to dinner, and me thinking that it’d be nice to get away from the noise, suggested we go out to eat.
My family being my family, this eventually turned into a fight between me and my mom. She wanted my father and I to go eat somewhere while she baked cookies for the neighbors, her strange but charming passive-aggressive way of saying “I hear you.” I wanted her to come with us, insulted that she wanted alone time when I was only home for so long. I stormed around like the little brat I turn into when I go home, sulking and saying, “I don’t care what we do, you decide.” Of course my father and I eventually got in the car and left my mom at home, as she’d wanted all along, and we sat at the bar at an Italian restaurant, talking about grad school (for me) and baseball (for him), and I had two glasses of wine, and, emboldened by my sudden thirtysomethingness, a bourbon, right there, in front of my dad. I felt like a man! A man out with his dad, watching the Sox.
So I broke a little of my clean-living-in-Boston covenant, but it was fine. When we got home — me cheered and oddly eager to watch the rest of the game, my mom grumbling about passing the cookies over the fence, accepted by some uninterested boy smoking a cigarette — the music had, as promised, switched to acoustic. And I daresay it was pretty nice. Gentle, forgiving, wistful in all its pained, youthful earnestness. There were maybe 15 people in the yard, huddling around a fire, craft beer bottles clutched in hand, the friendly chatter of doing a supposedly fun thing you’ll never do again.
We eventually turned in and eventually they did too, the house and the yard and the neighborhood going silent, save for leaves rattling in a new, cold wind. The next day we had breakfast, went for another walk. I took pictures of leaves, the dog smelled final smells before they froze in the ground with winter, and then it was time for my train, my mom and I racing down the Pike, a little nervous about time.
I made plans on the train, ended up meeting a friend in the West Village when I got back. We got drunk at a few gay bars, me spilling out the recap of the mostly uneventful weekend, he talking about his boyfriend and if they’d ever move in together. So there I was, already laden with a broken promise, smoking a cigarette and drinking bourbon — decidedly less grownup and interesting without the particular context of the night before — and then the night veered into sloppiness and it was time to go home, and I sat in the cab, people and buildings gliding by in the window, and started wishing again.
On the sleepy train ride home that afternoon, I’d found myself thinking about those kids waking up that morning, knowing they had cleaning to do. I wondered if they’d be a little achy with that sadness, the one of the big day being now over. The post-party melancholy, the bitter, rueful sense that all the fun things live such short lives. And I wondered if they wondered whose houses they’d filled with music, however unwanted, the night before. If they knew what they’d drowned out or provoked. If they had any sense that now, old enough as they are, they have some dim power over the bigger world. That they could bother someone, prod him, make him think of them as he watched Connecticut drone by (there were elephants in Bridgeport! In a parking lot! Real elephants!).
I’m sure they didn’t. Or, I hope, at least. Better they have a few more days or months or years of not knowing how much they really mean. How much energy they’ll someday spend running away from noise. Fleeing around corners, full of swallowed plans, only letting themselves regret and wish later on, whenever they have the time.