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A Boston Love Survey


Written and Photographed by Anna Albrecht


As I opened a document to begin this piece, a young woman, seemingly my age, asked to come stand in the sun at the picnic table I was seated at. She puts on a cream-colored sweater and pulls out a book but does not sit. She stands and reads in front of me. Two people have passed in the time I’ve written these sentences with film cameras, taking pictures of the eighteen-story high Computing and Data Science building – the favorite child of Boston University’s campaign team. Shortly after, another young woman with glasses and a flannel approaches me, asking if I would be willing to answer a few questions. I agree and take what she titles “The Love Survey.” She asks me what I define love as, and I tell her I believe love to be the commitment to making time and space for something or someone.


“There’s an element of sacrifice to love,” she adds.


She is right, and then she asks when the last time I felt that love was.

The time is now. This is a love story, and so it is a story about sacrifice.

Though I’d been committed to Boston University since April, the impending move-in day still felt like a fake story I was telling my friends and family to manifest my acceptance into the school. For the past year, I had been dying to be a part of this community, this world. Now, it was opening in front of my eyes like a bright summer blossom, and I was watching it on a silver screen instead of processing the velocity at which this reality was launching itself at me. Texas summer lingered slowly, burning its touch into my cheeks on my final days at home, much to my objection. I wanted nothing more than to be rid of San Antonio, to never feel its traces in my mannerisms or voice or the clothes I wore. My goal was to shock the people I met when I mentioned where I was from.


Walking into the airport with six suitcases filled to the weight limit with my belongings reminded me that I wasn’t truly leaving anything behind. In the check-in line, I ran into two people from my high school headed to Boston on the same flight as me, a coincidence that can only be credited to Boston’s inevitable ability to make a major metropolitan city feel like the tiniest hometown – I learned that about Boston the second I committed to BU. Somehow, a place filled with colleges newspapers, and major corporations felt like a special social club. In the months leading up to my move, it felt like I was being slowly welcomed into a community that disguised itself as a city. The world’s biggest college town. People talk about Boston as if it is a mutual old friend.


I promised myself I wouldn’t cry, but on the plane ride over, wheels parting from the ground like a final kiss goodbye, I couldn’t help but feel the sweetness and sadness that come with leaving home. Everything I knew was in Texas, I had been there for 18 years, and now I was being flown into a future I wasn’t sure of, a city that belonged to so many people and felt like a friend – what if there wasn’t a place for me? Whose instincts could I trust and how could I rely on my own when I was completely out of my league when I knew how to say “yes ma’am, no sir” but not how to ride the train? Who was I to decide that I could be a part of Boston? The wheels touched down. The air was already cooler than home, the sun a little softer.


Boston felt ready to accept my uncertainty like the whole city was looking on with gentle eyes into a world I didn’t know of.

By the time I moved in, Lily, my roommate, had already spent two nights in our sweet little dorm. We called it the itty bitty dreamhouse and that didn’t make it a dream come true but it made it a place where they could exist, swell, and sway in the air of our disco ball lights and flower bouquets. But the dorm started empty on my side, barren and a little scary. There was nothing there that reminded me of home on our first night, except for the sky. I wasn’t afraid like I thought I would be of being alone that first night because of the consistency in the sky. The same moon rose on the same pretty night, consistent also with the heat that drove everyone crazy. In my first 24 hours, it felt like I met a million people. The first night was spent discussing ice cream and smoke shops movies and frat houses. We dealt cards on the floor of our common room and took pictures on cameras, not sure if we would remember the faces that sat in our SD cards in a week, but we remembered them then, we knew each other that night.


As the weeks went on, classes started and my parents left, but it all made Boston feel more like home, or at least a place I was used to living in. There was very little choice but to live in it – Boston was a place that made me feel sometimes like the only girl in the world, and sometimes like I was on a movie set of a city that didn’t change by any of my action, glancing for a moment in my direction before continuing with the regular programming. Texas was easy to lose yourself in, and easy to fade into. Most people I know did. Boston felt like the lights were always shining on you, but simultaneously everyone around, everyone arriving and leaving alike. I suddenly became aware of how out of order I was. I didn’t know what neighborhoods were fun, what restaurants to eat at, what to say, or how to say it. I didn’t know how to dress in the mornings because I had never lived somewhere where the weather changed with the sun. How was this the same sun I had always known? I didn’t even know what I was supposed to know or not know. So the first opportunity I got, I decided that I would figure Boston out, just to know I could.


On my first outing alone, I went to the Thinking Cup coffee shop on Newbury Street, a thirty-minute walk from my campus that everyone refused to call a campus. I thought it would be sunny, but storm clouds started to roll in. Walking seemed the scenic option; I called my mom for company. When I got to the coffee shop – a coffee shop exactly the way a coffee shop should be, with little brown seats and booths, steps down to a lower level lit by soft warm chandeliers, vintage and smelling of sweet coffee steam – I ordered a chai latte and put way too much cinnamon on top. Damp from the rain and a little embarrassed, I set my cinnamon with a side of chai mug on a table for two. I hadn’t been in Boston long enough to fill even a table for two, but the vacancy immediately filled me with the hope that eventually it would be, that I may have to move to the other section of the Thinking Cup to accommodate chairs for more guests. Everything became more approachable. In this big college town of a city, I walked around the coffee shop and sat down like that was just something I did. I, from the city where the Alamo is, never experienced a September under 90 degrees until today, this was just something I did. It could be now.


I walked to the coffee shop just to know I could do it. I took the train home just so I knew I could. I couldn’t tell you if this feeling would stick forever but it was true in this moment - I was in Boston and I could walk to a coffee shop and take the train home. For the moment I hadn’t left behind the wildflowers that grew on the side of a Texas highway or the grassy stretch of field that sat behind my high school, for the moment I was a part of Boston’s production.


It rained a lot in the first few weeks I was here. But it was a good rain, a rain promising a warm and sunny next few days. This was something I knew, it was something familiar, and as I walked through Fenway with my roommate, lamenting over the extra fan we could not find, I felt the sun burn into my cheeks just as it had before I left. It felt like a blessing, like a promise held between pinkies. I had sacrificed the comfort of knowing and familiarity, of driving a car and wearing shorts all year round, of barbeque, humid nights, and a setting sun so clearly seen giving way to a starry sky, but I still had a sun that burned and kissed. I had books to read and movies to watch and love to be spent and gained and built. I loved Texas, in all years I had spent detesting it because I could sacrifice it. I could take what it had given me, even if I couldn’t identify it, and bring it to a city that loved me either way and would sacrifice for me in its way.

Perhaps the only real home we have is within ourselves. With that comes the responsibility to upkeep it, to tidy it when necessary, but to understand that it can change and grow and open like a bright summer flower in a way that allows nothing else to impede but what we allow. I still don’t know what a winter looks like, or a Red Sox game, or a lobster roll, but I know I am in love with Boston. Certainty is sacrificed in the name of possibility, and I can feel Boston love me back.


Written and Photographed by Anna Albrecht

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