I’ve fallen into a pattern of walking the main streets of New Hampshire’s major cities whenever the weather is nice and I’m able to find a good-enough excuse.
A pattern of parking just far enough outside of the downtown area that I avoid the meters, walking until I’ve blistered the parts of my feet that meet the edges of my shoes, and eventually returning back to the real world, exhausted and filled and achy and whole.
On Thursday, the weather is predicted to jump as high as the 50s. Practically unheard of, especially for New Hampshire in February. This time two years ago, we were shoveling ourselves out of yet another blizzard. Two years later, we’re watching the snow melt into muddy puddles.
I have an appointment with my therapist early in the morning on Thursday. After 45 minutes of revealing insights and tearing up about things I didn’t think I’d tear up about and having my therapist interject when appropriate (one of the many reasons I have stuck with her for the last few years, even when I thought I was going in circles with her: she doesn’t coddle, she’s willing to interrupt, she’ll call me out when I need calling out), she asks how I’m enjoying the sudden turn in the weather.
“It’s amazing,” I say, in between figuring out the logistics of scheduling out our next session. “I’m actually going over to Elm Street after this, getting a walk in before I return to the real world.”
It’s exactly what I do after I leave. Her office is barely a 10-minute drive in city traffic to Elm Street in Manchester, and I park just enough into the residential area that I avoid the meters (One-Hour Limit, the sign warns, however).
I step out and immediately take off my jacket. The air is still cold but the sun is warm enough to hint at how quickly the temperatures will rise. I take off in the direction of the downtown area, headphones in my ears, my stride in sync with the music.
These walks echo back to my walks around Boston – something I cherished then and cherish now and perhaps will cherish until the day I am no longer able to and can no longer remember.
I cannot tell you anything about the neighborhoods of Manchester. It took two years living in New Hampshire before I even learned that Manchester’s main street was not called Main St but Elm. But I can tell you exactly what areas remind me of what neighborhoods in Boston. How the strip of redbrick apartments with rounded, jutted-out walls hearkens back to a strip of apartments in Mission Hill. How one road reminds me of JP, while another reminds me of Allston. How one collection of buildings is like Beacon Hill’s kid sister, or how a certain block is a replica of Roxbury. How the Merrimack River is like the Charles’ vivacious cousin. How the thriving parts of Manchester remind me of the thriving parts of Downtown Crossing – and how the decaying parts mirror back just a little too acutely.
I shiver slightly in the shade and bask when I’m back in the sunlight. I maneuver around the fellow pedestrians, the construction workers, the mounds of snow that never got plowed out.
I am content to walk the sidewalks with nowhere to go. Content to be surrounded by people coming out of stores and restaurants, walking by me on the streets. It fills my soul in a way that nothing else can – not even the best, most refreshing hike.
If an introvert is supposed to gain energy by being alone, then there’s something faulty in my wiring. I’ve joked before about being a walking contradiction – a social introvert. Constantly wanting to interact, but never knowing what to say. Seeking out social events while still carrying deep social anxiety. Adoring people but also becoming drained by them.
I can never explain it adequately enough, and the only people who really get what I’m saying are fellow social introverts. That I live for concerts and comedians and theatre because I’m quite literally surrounded by people – and people that I know, in some way, are here for the same reason I’m here. That I don’t go silent in social situations because I’m bored or unhappy; I go silent to observe. That I will dive into the deep waters of conversation with people I’ve only known for a little while, if only because I abhor the shallow pleasantries – that, really, the only part of socializing that exhausts me is the casual chatter, the adherence to the social script.
I loop around Elm Street and wander down the side streets and make my way to the Merrimack River. At this spot, the water churns wildly over rocks and edges. Not even a few miles south, it will calm down dramatically. By the time it hits Nashua, it will appear as serene as a lake. But, up here, it moves in violent ways, ways that threaten anything that dares to be in it.
There are countless symbolic avenues one can go down with such an observation. But sometimes it’s just nice to observe.
Another voice reminds me that the One-Hour Limit is not just about parking. I have things that need to get done. The real world awaits. That same voice is annoyed that I’m even doing this in the first place: how will I ever Learn to Adult if I keep blowing off work in favor of wandering around.
The sun has made good on its promise. The weather is now warm enough that I’m starting to sweat, even in the shade, even in just my long-sleeved shirt and yoga pants. I start bargaining with myself – okay, get these assignments done, get this bit of homework done, email these set of people, then you can drive down to Nashua early and walk Main Street before your evening class. In some ways, that bargaining is the only thing that forces me to drive home and not up north to Concord, to lather, rinse, repeat in that city, too.
I drive with the windows down, my music now playing through the Bluetooth in my car. I chuckle at myself, reminded of a passing conversation the day before about music and how I’ve been trying to become more okay with silence – that I don’t always have to be playing music. But apparently today is not that day. The songs on my phone are filling the spots that the walk might’ve missed. It’s too perfect of a complement to give up. Tomorrow can be a day I tackle silence again.
I get home and eschew everything to write. To my right is my anatomy textbook – a thick, dense monstrosity, in some ways the bane of my existence for the last 5+ months. A perennial sword of Damocles, hanging over my head, no matter where I am in the assigned reading. A book that makes me wish I could throw myself into the future – a future where I have read it, cover to cover, and miraculously absorbed all of the information.
How am I going to Learn to Adult if I keep blowing things off in favor of writing. Perhaps I’ll never learn to adult. Perhaps that struggle between what I know I should be doing and what feeds my soul will constantly rage on, as violent as the Merrimack as it passes through Manchester, or as deceptively quiet as the Charles as it passes through Boston.