Like everyone else I was horrified and freaked out and saddened by the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I'm also a bit mystified by the city that responded to that horror, a city, apparently, where people are helpful and kind and behave admirably in a crisis.
I moved to Boston in 1990 as an eighteen year old. My city was the city of hate. In 1990, 152 people were murdered in Boston, almost three times the number murdered in 2012. My Boston was violent, grubby, insular, and angry. It's strange to think back, because I don't really remember those years as bad times, but when I enumerate the "incidents," they were many. I was punched in the back of the head for no apparent reason, choked at a show, cursed out so many times-the most memorable time was being called numerous versions of "ugly white bitch" on a long, long trip on the Green Line. So many men exposed themselves to me-for me Red Sox will always mean gross men in dirty sweatpants. I was offered money for sex many more times than a mousey, bookish girl would really expect. In Boston, there were places I didn't go because my friends who had grown up there warned me that those were places where they would jump you for being an outsider and a freak.
The day we moved in to our first apartment, a guy came stumbling out of the nearby park bleeding from his stomach. Before cell phones, we ran to the frat house next door to try and find a phone. In my Boston, I looked out my window one night and saw white frat guys and Vietnamese kids fighting in the streets with baseball bat and pipes.
In my Boston, someone always seemed to bust out with a racial epithet. During the Clarence Thomas hearings, I rode the Green Line with a crowded car of BU students. One Black girl doggedly focused on her textbook in car filled with white boys making jokes about Black bitches.
My Boston taught me. It taught me to be safe in the city by becoming invisible. It showed me what never having enough does to people and spaces. Boston made me want to know the world in all its violent, horrible glory. In Boston, I learned that any stranger who speaks to you is probably a sociopath, and I've spent decades trying to unlearn that lesson.
Time, the economy has softened Boston, but it still has hard edges, and in hard times people put those edges to good use, love in the city of hate.