— Jenny Neill

Boston: For the Helpers

Boston. Once upon a time, this was my home. I landed there mere weeks after graduating from college. I was about as fresh-faced and wet-behind-the-ears as any kid embarking on her first professional adventure could be. For two weeks, I stayed with a family in Newton. The brother of one of my father’s clients agreed to let me stay until I found an apartment. His wife made me feel right at home, as did their tween son and the big golden lab who liked to lay his head in my lap at the dinner table. I’d come for a new job in a new city. It was a hectic time as I rushed to find an apartment before the first of the next month.

People sometimes ask me what brought me to Seattle and I’ll often quip, “Fleeing Boston.” There’s truth to that. I got a little wiser in Boston. A little older. I’d moved in with my boyfriend (I married him a few years later). We faced numerous challenges. The same that many young couples do in one way or another. The concern of parents and grandparents who worried we had made a huge mistake. The trials and tribulations of finding our way through making rent, finding friends where we knew no one our age, and the stress of dealing with workplace politics for the first time.

By the time we made the decision to leave, the shine had come off of my then-delayed, later-abandoned graduate school plans. The seeds of clarity about which way my life would go were just starting to germinate.

I’ve only been back once since traversing Interstate 90, trading Beantown for the Emerald City. I was on a business trip during which I spent days in a conference room with thirty minutes for lunch. No time to visit the old neighborhood, to see friends and reminisce.

Were some of my life’s present circumstances a little different, I would have been there this past weekend on assignment at the annual specialty coffee convention that ended Sunday. I would have stayed on to meet up with my sister-in-law who was in town as part of the race activities yesterday. I would have spent an extra day or two rediscovering my former home town.

Our first Patriot’s Day in Boston was nearly 20 years ago. Mike, now my husband who has since run two marathons, was not yet a runner. The race went right past our first apartment there, on Commonwealth Avenue. We lived about four miles from the finish line the first of our two years there close enough to Boston College that most of the apartment buildings housed college students or visiting professors.

I can imagine how quiet the city must have been last night. I’ve seen it nearly shut down before. For weather, not violence. Our first winter there the blizzards were relentless. Nine storms, with an accumulation of over 90 inches of snow in most parts of the city. For a couple of days, only law enforcement and emergency medical personnel were allowed to be on the roads. The streets and sidewalks were blanketed many inches deep in snow. Doctors commuted on cross country skies.

When I think of my time living in Boston, I think of hard lessons learned. Of debt. Of youthful ambition. Of professional and personal trials, the type which I still dream of using in a short story or novel someday.

I worked with a mix of professionals at MGH: nurses and doctors, psychologists and social workers, lab techs and phlebotomists. Together, we cared for “challenging” people: drug addicts and alcoholics, many also living with HIV or AIDS.

The Bostonians I knew then were tough, each in his or her own way. And caring too. Like that family that opened its home to me, a young woman from the Midwest, for a couple of weeks under far less dire circumstances.

I applaud the first responders and event volunteers who ran toward danger after the bombs went off. Just as I remember near silent streets, when I close my eyes, I see and hear the mettle of caregivers there. Today, tending to the wounded.

For them and for those who lost someone, I wish a speedy recovery in body and mind.