Back From Boston

It began, to pick an arbitrary beginning, with a key that would not turn in a lock. I hauled my first load of bags and boxes into a Mass Ave complex, struggling through two heavy gates with my car against the curb. Up a slow, sweating elevator, and I gratefully dropped everything in the hallway, inserted the key, and turned – and nothing happened. A half-hour of phone calls later it came to light that the place for which I had signed a lease that morning would remain occupied by the current tenant for another month. Profuse apologies from the real estate agent, and for me a restless night in a hotel.

I got a new set of keys and a new one-bedroom, and when the second move was complete I struggled a twenty-five-dollar air conditioner into the window, threw on a fresh shirt and shorts from the sprawled-open suitcase, and sat uncomfortably on the air mattress, sinking to the floor. A chair and desk would have to come later. I knew no one in the city.

Afternoon light filled the window, and the question of the night awaited my response. I had no response and a to-do list that was empty. Louder than the birds and car-horns and air conditioner’s drone I heard the chaos that is in me, the thoughts that will not be centered.

The night approached: I could see it in the window. The world open before me and I open before a world that does not know me.

I made an acquaintance at the bar near Harvard Square. She was curious about what I was writing in my leatherbound journal between sips of a Boston ale.

Three days later she sent me a message and asked if I had plans for the weekend. And I had to give the sheepish response that everything had changed, that I was back in the safety and stasis of my hometown, writing from a familiar coffee house, compulsively checking my e-mail between job applications flung hopelessly out into the ether of inboxes. I no longer lived or worked in Boston; would not be back in the near future, so far as I knew.

How did it come to this? Well, it was a Thursday night, my second or third night in the city. And the real estate agent called to say that the lease for the new room was prepared, the old one was void, and I would need to come in the following morning to sign. Twelve months at eight hundred dollars a month. A good place, overlooking the edge of Harvard Yard. Walking distance to a first job at least as good as any other.

But I am not the sort to comfortably sign twelve-month leases, and I immediately saw my opening, a swiftly-closing emergency exit door. The chaos in my mind rose to a fever-pitch. Memories of other options believed in, pursued, and gone: paths opened and unwalked. Rosy dreams of teaching flashing past images of a businessman in a suit, walking off a plane into some foreign flag-lined airport with a full wallet and a copy of the Journal under his arm.

And the next day it was over. The sun rose over the Mass Pike, hovered forever over the upstate highways of New York, and died as I charged forward into Ontario. The caffeine kept falling off and I kept stopping to recharge, and I fought against the fatigue of a sixteen-hour drive. By the time Flint passed in the Michigan darkness all the hopes of being homeward had passed: I was exhausted and afraid, unemployed and in debt.

I had explained myself over and over to friends and family on the drive, which keeps one’s mind off the infinity of the road but just the same drains our word-exhausted reasons into dust. I had no money; I would have to empty two retirement accounts in a rock-bottom market and swallow the loss to cover the credit card I would soon fill again. God that I might find new work, closer to home.

I am back from Boston and have several homes and none. Other doors have opened and closed. Ladders I have climbed so proud to reach new heights of discontent. I stand and live in the unimagined neighborhoods of the world, I occupy the career-dreams of others, but my heart rages against all reason and I reliably run chasing after something else, no different really than the dogs that destroy the grass in a yard by chasing whatever opportunity happens by.

Ryan McCarl is a contributing editor of Fogged Clarity. He is a frequent contributor to, and his writing has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Crain’s Chicago Business, Sojourners online, The Colorado Daily News, The Muskegon Chronicle, and elsewhere. McCarl lives in Ann Arbor, where he is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Education.