In the summer of 1972, I moved to Boston. I’d just gotten my degree in sociology, a subject I chose because I hoped to be a social worker and make the world a better place. Most of the courses baffled me (think statistics) but I loved the case studies, which were a little like short stories. My minor was, of course, English, but as it turned out, neither degree prepared me much for anything practical.
My college roommate had moved to Boston with her boyfriend and said I should come, too. We shared an apartment with two other couples, and I was definitely the odd one out. I didn’t even have a real bed. At night my roommate (that saint!) and her boyfriend would go to bed and I’d lie on the couch for a long time, pretending to be mesmerized by my novel but really just trying to keep my eyes open until a decent amount of time had passed and I could creep into their room and fall asleep on a mattress in the corner.
I worked at a restaurant where the cook was A Dirty Old Man. I was so lonesome. I had no idea what came next. It was the Fourth of July weekend and the city was empty as my heart. Another one of my roommates told me I should go to the art museum. At least it wasn’t hot there.
And so I met Paul, a fellow gallery wanderer. John Lennon glasses, a ponytail–he was so handsome! We talked about books and food, two topics destined to become recurring themes. He was a conscientious objector, which impressed me mightily, and had lived in Boston for a while. He knew the lay of the land, and we walked out of the museum together, so he could show me the sights. We wound up in Longwood Mall, an enchanted place.
Two hundred or so years ago, some visionary planted it with a variety of beeches–European, weeping, copper–and they are glorious. On a sunny day the light dapples their silvery trunks and pitter-patters among their leaves. These trees offer you a seat, they invite you to step inside and have yourself a day-long daydream. Some are dancers, some heavy-footed elephants. You long to be a sparrow, and call one home.
How, after just a few hours, could Paul understand me better than I did myself? Walking among those trees, I was the happiest I’d been since I got to Boston. Of course I fell in love with him. He gave me those trees.
A few weeks ago, celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary, we walked there again. I said, We should have gotten married here. He said, Who knew, that day? And it turned out he didn’t just mean who knew it was the beginning of us. He also meant he’d had no idea, that summer afternoon, that the beech grove even existed. He’d stumbled upon it. He’d never been there before that day, either.