I was 21 years old when my husband and I got married and we have spent our lives together in this small New Hampshire city. It’s a good city and a good life, you could even say both have improved over time. But inside me is a tiny longing and fascination for something I did not get to experience: to be a single girl in a big city.
Fortunately, I have been able to live vicariously through my daughter. And even better, I recently spent a couple of nights with her in her Cambridge apartment. It was a matter of convenience to spend the night there in order to make an early morning flight and to spend another after a late return flight. In between, we indulged in a Jamaican get-away – wonderful, indeed, but certainly not as exotic as my residency in Cambridge and my internship as a city girl.
My daughter might argue, and she’d be right, that most things are more difficult in the city. Laundry, in particular. Transportation, in general. Small errands can be a trial. On the other hand, her neighborhood is supremely walkable. Ten to twenty minutes of effort will bring you to all manner of delights: nightlife, public transportation, shops, arts, culture and restaurants. The restaurants. Every ethnic variety, some fused together and every trend. My daughter treated me to dinner at the new place of a popular chef. The simple signage on the plain granite exterior revealed a low-lit dining room with low-hanging lights and hightop tables filled with slender, well-dressed diners. The menu included seaweed and squid ink, the cocktails absinthe. Vegetables were pickled or fermented. I would return.Another short walk yielded a Whole Foods market. Perhaps carrying grocery bags several blocks and up three flights of stairs is not a convenience, but a city girl gets her exercise, as well as her kombucha, easily. A third stroll, amid the morning rush, brought us to Dunkin Donuts, where despite cities’ reputations for being impersonal, the cashier knew my daughter’s order and, to my delight and my daughter’s chagrin, commented on our mother-daughter resemblance. I do recognize that city living hardens you. And females must be particularly wary. For all the pleasantries of walking to exciting or ordinary destinations, one has to be on the constant lookout – for traffic, for dog poop, for runners, for bikers (especially in Cambridge), for crazies and for unwanted attention – all without making eye-contact or otherwise acknowledging other humans. It is a strain and feeds into the overall stress of city living. As does competing with crowds. Waiting for the bus.
Still, it was hard not to be proud of my daughter’s city girl skills. Her knowledge of Boston and Cambridge. Her hailing of a cab and ordering of an Uber (my first!) Her shortcuts and the speed in which she clips along the streets, all the while maintaining a conversation and checking her phone. Her balancing of working, commuting, a boyfriend, friends, exercise, and finding time to call her mother. Her life is interesting and full and, despite my 2-day residency, not one that I could easily lead.
And yet, cozy in her small apartment, gossiping with my daughter and her roommate, listening to the street sounds and the sounds of other apartment dwellers on the stairs, I was able to indulge my fantasy – an average day in the life of a middle-aged city girl.