Exploring new surroundings has always been a favorite pastime of mine and whenever I move or visit a location I prefer to dive into the area on foot. The same applied to Boston, and when my boyfriend and I moved to the city we spent our free time wandering different neighborhoods. Aside from the the obvious, that I was able to spend my favorite activity with someone I love, I noticed that there was a dramatic change in the way my exploring was conducted. No longer was I walking wherever I wanted, now there were two of us determining which direction to go. There was really no wrong answer to whether “left or right” was the best way to go given we were both ignorant of the area, but it meant communication was necessary, something which has never been one of my strong suites. The other difference was both refreshing and alarming: I wasn’t required to have any awareness of my surroundings. I was happy to let my boyfriend lead the way most of the time and confident that even if we ended up in a bad area, we’d be fine. He’s a large guy with a beard and by default that makes him lower on the pecking order for muggers. This left me, a small blonde girl, to skip along beside him and enjoy the scenery in ignorance.
One evening when we were still unpacking our new apartment we put our task on pause to head across the river and grab dinner with a few friends. We took off on foot to the T, where we would need to make multiple transfers before reaching our destination in Cambridge. Along the way, noticing my distress of juggling my jacket, phone and lipgloss, my boyfriend filled his pockets with my things, casually draped my jacket over his shoulder and took my hand, letting me once again follow him blindly.
Our trip continued without incident until we made it to our second transfer. At the base of the entryway stairs was a map meant to indicate whether you wanted to head into the city or out, left or right. “Or is it right and left?” I asked. We both stared at it for a moment before my boyfriend said, “I think we want the left one.” As the last word was still leaving his mouth I took two large steps to the left and stepped into the cab. I turned to face his direction just as the still unfamiliar “ping” sound of the doors closing echoed through the area. The doors closed. Boyfriend, less than two feet away from me was cut off and alone on the platform. We stared at each other briefly, his mouth hanging open and my expression confused before the train began to pull away. I gave the glass and his angry face a halfhearted wave. “Oh this’ll be fiiine,” I thought to myself, both entertained by the mishap and agitated that he looked so angry. “What’s the big deal? Instinctively I reached for my phone to call him.
“This train ends at Braintree,” the intercom overhead announced. Our destination, and the fact that I was reaching for the phone I didn’t have, in pockets that didn’t exist in my dress meant two things: 1- I was going in the wrong direction and 2- I was missing my lipgloss. At least, that was the second thing I realized after I figured out I didn’t have my phone.
This still was not a big deal. Boyfriend would be coming after me anyway, so I would wait for him to arrive on the next train and we’d head to our overpriced dinner. At the next stop I hopped off the train, found the least-stained and littered area, and tried to look casual as I waited it out.
The first train arrived and I scanned the crowd for tall angry faces. Nothing. This immediately concerned me. Surely he had realized that he had all my things and I was waiting patiently for him to come save me. If he assumed I was coming back, which was the definition of why you don’t assume, he was facing the same situation I was. I could picture him down to the pacing and unnecessary checking of his phone. “Is she coming back on the next train? Should I wait again? Is she expecting me to come get her? Can she call me without her phone? Does she even know my phone number?” The answer to his latter question was no. As I watched the first train pull away I wondered if this was the universe testing our relationship. How well did we really know each other, anyway? I had figured I knew him pretty well by now, we shared a phone plan after all, and I resented this sudden microscopic look into our lives. I decided to wait for the second train. He’d come looking for me.
Nope. He didn’t. “Damn it boyfriend,” I muttered under my breath. He was doing the same thing I was, figuring that surely when I didn’t see him on the first train I would come back because, after all, he was in the right direction. My brain began to hurt. “Mom always said if we get lost, stay put and wait for help to come,” I thought. “Well I’m doing it Mooooom.” Surely he’d know after two trains that I was waiting for him here.
Third train. No boyfriend. As the doors creaked shut and the beast moved slowly away I started to realize the consequences of not paying attention to my surroundings. This was all my fault. If I didn’t have a boyfriend I would know what I should do. Why did I get a boyfriend? Why did I have to move in with him? Why did I even grow up? How old was I? Old? Why the hell was I so old? The evening plans were absolutely off the table, I had no idea what the name of the restaurant was or what stop it was on. Getting home was the bigger issue. I didn’t know how far away I was or what stop. I also didn’t have any money for a cab. Could you ask people for directions? If so, what part of the city did we live in again? Was I currently in a bad part of town? Even if I was able to borrow someone’s phone the only phone number I knew was my sister’s and she lived in Arkansas.
I made a very meaningful and audible “Uh Oh,” for the second time in my life. The first occured while sitting down in my airplane seat when I moved to New York City years before. No money, no job and no connections. For some reason this hadn’t concerned me and I headed to the East Coast anyway. The only moment I questioned my decision was in that seat, once, and then it went away. As this memory hit me, I wondered if my current situation was worse.
“Hoooo girly lookin good!” A few men from the other side of the platform whistled in my direction.
Yep, this was worse.
It wasn’t until train number seven passed that I decided to make a move. He had planted, I had planted. As long as boyfriend was consistent in his actions, he would remain in his place. If I got there and he was gone, all bets were off. I was going to have to hit the streets and see if anyone in the modern world carried a map. Surely not everyone relied on their digital devices to get around. “I’ll have to find an elderly couple,” I decided. “An elderly couple that’s out at nine pm on a Saturday night and carries a map they can lend me.” But a map to where? I struggled for a moment to remember my new address. “805? “855?” I shook my head, there were far too many ways for this to end poorly.
Train number eight finally groaned its way to the platform and just as I stepped into the car a familiar, angry voice echoed off the walls. “Jessica! NO!”
Sweating, panicked and out of breath, my other half came into view. “Hey there!” I said, stepping off the train toward him. “Whew that was close!” The doors closed behind us. Too close really, and we both knew it. We made it to dinner, only marginally late and everyone thought our train mishap was funny yet dismissable. “Our address though…” I nudged my boyfriend. “It’s 857, right?”