A Petite Woman Meets the East
I told myself that I was finally going to click it, yet my finger couldn’t do it. But, the more time passed, the worse it would be. The submit button on the screen stared at me and reminded me of the times I clicked similar ones, when it was all just a dream. Click it now and the dream becomes a reality.
Just like that, it happened, the girl who couldn’t afford her wild dream at 17 could now afford a tamed dream at 21. She had it now, a plane ticket to Boston Logan International Airport. Five days in Boston and Cambridge and a return ticket from JFK, after three days in New York City. All thanks to her gut, savings account and credit card.
The day arrived, sleep deprived and with luggage heavier than me. I left San Luis Obispo and headed to LAX on a ride share at 4 a.m.
The timing was perfect.
I was six months away from a bachelor’s degree, in my first real relationship, experiencing the recent passing of my grandmother. My parents and I were developing a more mature relationship and trying to grasp the hectic political climate that felt more personal than ever. My comfort zone had to go out the window. It made me anxious and hopeful at the same time. I wasn’t new to going out of my comfort zone, but this time it had to do with seeing figments of imagination and the unexpected come to life. I had control and no control of what was going on, I had some idea and no idea where things were going to go.
When I was younger, I wanted to be more than just a girl and now I was a woman. With it came uncertainty and enlightenment.
My ride share and I clicked. On route we sang along to tunes from our childhood and exchanged new ones. As we passed the Santa Barbara beaches, the sunrise made the ocean and sky in a synchronized bright orange, I took it as a sign that something beautiful was about to happen. A ‘see ya later’ from the Golden State.
Four hours later and I sped through airport security. Off to Houston, my only layover, or so I thought.
After an impromptu stop in San Antonio and great resulting stress thanks to thunder and rain, we were back in the air.
On route to Houston, we were at par with the black clouds that struck the ground with their golden spikes. Each spike made the area gold around it, and it looked like pieces of the gold I saw in Santa Barbara. They sky released its riches as we circled around it. I spoke to the older man next to me and it so happened that he was sixties, like my Dad, and a truck driver, like my dad. I took a deep breath and told myself that what was to come would go okay.
In Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, I looked at the screen that said “Boston.” It hit me, I was so closer than I’d ever been in my life. Thirty minutes later I boarded the plane. This time I sat at a window seat next to a child and her mother. The kid scribbled, in pink, 15 names on a blank paper and showed it to her mother.
“Who are they?” the mother asked.
“They’re my best friends, in order,” the child responded.
The mother pointed out the first name and asked, “So, she’s your first?”
The child looked at her and responded, “No, that’s you.”
This was my first time on a plane without my mom, my first time in the east coast and the first time I didn’t have space to wiggle my feet on the plane. They were bigger than the last time I flew. Suddenly I was a big grownup, with no leg space.
As I was thinking about and missing the more smaller, simpler times, I heard someone say, “New York City.”
I looked out my window and there it was, the golden lights of a city I had mostly seen on pieces of paper hung around my childhood room.
I smiled and whispered, “See ya soon.”
Not long after, we landed in Boston Logan International Airport.
I smiled at the realization of being on ground level with the buildings and thought about how long it had taken me to get there. But I did get there, that’s what mattered.
At the baggage claim I saw my cousin waiting for me. Such a familiar face in a new city was comforting and there was be plenty of alone time waiting for me. With my medium suitcase and my backpack that made me tilt over, I was ready.
I arrived after midnight so we called an Uber then almost got into the wrong one. Same model. “Is every Uber here a Prius?“
I couch surfed in Cambridge at my cousin’s friend’s places. The first one was at an MIT dorm only two blocks away from his.
The next morning, we strolled through Massachusetts Ave. and had breakfast at Mass Ave. Diner. The young waitress told me how beautiful she thought I was. I hadn’t been complimented like that in months. Not even 24 hours in and I thought the same about Cambridge.
My nerves let loose of my thoughts and after a huge glimpse of the avenue, home of young intellectuals, we walked on the Boston University Bridge, over the Charles River.
We used a Duck Boat Tour’s map as our guide for walking around Boston.
After going through residential New England streets, roaming the off-season streets of Fenway Park, the people-filled Newbury Street, the Boston Public Library, Public Garden and Park, we made it to the Freedom Trail. It was dotted with memorials to important figures in American history.
The trail took us to the Boston Common, Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church, and Granary Burying Ground, to name a few.
As we exited the Granary Burying Ground, I thought about how, though there are still important women figures revered on the trail, the majority are male. I don’t think this was done on purpose, that’s just how history happened. Women had fewer chances to make provoke and influence. But times have changed.
Here I was, a 5-foot, college-educated Latina woman walking the same steps as all of these fathers. Not only was this trip becoming an extension of my individual freedom, but also of my female power.
Then, I saw her. The woman was lying down, covered with the white cloth.
The police blocked a whole street for her and the people stared, muttering among themselves.
“People should respect the dead,” said a woman, speaking to someone next to her.
“She jumped off that building,” said a man, pointing to the building in front of him.
“I wonder what made her do it,” I said to my cousin as we made it to the next open street.
I lost sight of her when we headed to Boston’s Old City Hall which was on a street perpendicular to where she was. Then, I saw her, the woman in the white dress.
Her friends, family and new husband surrounded her and the people stared.
The next day I was off to Harvard on my own. After spending the day walking through paths between old red brick buildings, I came across this art club. It was spoken word night.
I ordered a big bowl of rosemary fries plus a hard honey cider and waited for the show to start. The theme of the night was “wiggle room.” I signed up.
I told the story of my experience on the plane, when I didn’t have space to wiggle my feet. I related it to how different my wiggle room is now from when I was a kid. It might have been the nerves or the mention of my mother, my mouth trembling a bit that I had to clear it with a laugh. I tried to not look at the audience, to dismiss any overthinking of their personal opinions and focused on the bright stage light above me. I ended it by saying that I couldn’t wiggle much like before, but I knew I’d be okay.
Before I left, a young woman about my age approached me and complimented me on my story. She said that she could relate to it, that she is also graduating in the spring and that I wasn’t alone.
I walked out to the sub 40 degrees by myself, the streets were less crowded than when I entered and I made sure to looking around my surroundings as I walked the stairs down to the catch the train back to MIT.
I took refuge from the cold in MIT’s Humanities Library. I found a book titled, “A Tear is an Intellectual Thing: The Meanings of Emotion.” In it there was this quote by William Blake.
“For a tear is an intellectual thing,
And a sigh is the sword of an angel king,
And the bitter groan of the martyr’s woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow.”
I thought of the little moments of emotion I felt over the trip, and the ones that might come along in the future. The more we understand our emotions, the less bound we are by them.
The Library and the Cunt-Caller
The next morning, I decided to spend the day at the Boston Public Library, specifically the first floor by the NewsFeed Cafe and New & Novel section. There was so much information to take in, but what I walked out with was the transcription of a quote inscribed on the building’s interior:
“This was true, because the people around me had homes and others didn’t have homes. The diversity was impeccable and the knowledge was not limited to some, I thought of my own experience and thought of my peers. Right, we weren’t the same but that didn’t stop me from pursuing this freedom and it shouldn’t be for anyone, at any time. No matter where and what kind of center of knowledge, it should be ‘free for all’ and it should be taken care of like the place I was standing in, where I wasn’t able to eat food in a certain section because the carpet would get dirty.”
Walking out back towards the train station, I felt that I came out with more knowledge that I thought I would come out with.
As I walked to the station, moving my eyes to see the corners around me, I heard him.
“What are you look at, you cunt?!” an aged, white man ratting through the trash yelled at me.
It took me by surprise, but I was okay.
I prepared for my last day in Cambridge.
That morning, I met up with my cousin before he went to class and talked about our upcoming plans. We would meet again in a few hours to head to the terminal where we would take our bus.
We parted ways and I treated myself to the ice cream and coffee shop that I had eyed on previous days. I thought of it as a lowkey last minute bonding with a place that had unintentionally enlightened me.
As I walked down Massachusetts Ave. for the last time, I came across a mural of a woman who said, “You are here with me.”
My cousin and I reunited, took an Uber, surprisingly not a Prius, to the terminal. As we drove through the Massachusetts Ave. bridge I stared at the last golden sunset over the Charles River.
We arrived to the terminal and grubbed on huge piles of veggies, teriyaki chicken and Cajun rice from a square styrofoam container. My last treat yourself in the city that treated me to candy cane ice cream with peanut butter sauce, a pesto pasta served in a fry pan, with a glass of Sangria that was the size of my face on the side. Plus plenty of life stuff.
Our bus arrived and again I grabbed my medium suitcase and backpack. It tilted me over.
Melissa Nuñez is a KCPR staff member and Cal Poly journalism senior. She wrote these vignettes are part of a two-part series on her trip to the East Coast and the revelations it brought. After she graduates, she’ll be employed by Teach For America in Tennessee. Whitney Engelmann, KCPR’s art director and Cal Poly art & design junior, created the art.