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Camille Carpenter

A Friend Amidst Strangers

December 5, 2013

To me, Boston is the most beautiful city in the world. I haven't seen too many others, just the basics - New York, Philadelphia, Paris, San Diego - but I can't imagine any other skyline shines as bright and blue as my city's does. For most of my childhood, Boston didn't mean much to me. It was that big city my family lived close to. When people asked where we were from, we didn't say "Milton", because no one knew my hometown. We just told them we were from Boston. It was also the place we took relatives when they came to visit. Sometimes, on really nice days, we would drive the fifteen minutes into the city to walk around the big park with the duck statues. As a five year old, I found this to be the most interesting part of Boston. I was fifteen when my views of this pretty mass of skyscrapers began to change. It was my sophomore of high school and I got into a youth Baroque chamber orchestra I had auditioned for at the New England Conservatory. I hated it. I had only auditioned because my sister had done so several years before, and because my viola teacher thought it would be nice for me to play in an orchestra outside of school. I'd thought what the heck, why not, and had even gotten a little excited in the week leading up to my first day. The excitement did not last. Rehearsals were two hours long, early Saturday mornings, and the other musicians there were the intimidating sort that had been playing concertos since before they could walk. I was the only violist in the group, and I knew no one because my sister had long since joined a different orchestra. Being a quiet sort of girl, I stood in my corner with my eyes on the floor and never spoke a word unless directly addressed. I hated this orchestra. I hated rehearsals. I hated the city. I spent four months with these thoughts floating around my head every Saturday from eight to ten, until a morning in early May. As I mentioned before, my sister had joined a different orchestra, one that also rehearsed at the NEC, but an hour after mine did. On that day in May, after enduring two hours of a confusing suite by Bach, I found a desk in the sad, desolate hallways of the conservatory to wait for my sister to come find me. To me, there was something unspeakably melancholy about this building. The hallways were all white and shabby. The music that floated out from beneath nearby doors sounded hollow and empty. Every few feet, the otherwise continuous hallway was cut off by a pair of mean steel doors. The whole place just gave me the creeps. I'd forgotten to bring a book that day, so I just kind of sat there feeling depressed until a pair of shoes entered my line of vision. I looked up, confused, until I recognized the face one of the cellists from my orchestra. I can't remember his name, just that it was short but utterly unpronounceable. That day I realized that the only reason I'd hated the city was that I'd been too absorbed in my own misery to pick up my eyes and look around. It hadn't just been the city I'd hated, but the people, and mostly because the only true Bostonians I'd known were those in my orchestra, and I had shut them out, dismissing them as "full of it" and "stuck up". That day, the boy from the cello section was heading out to Whole Foods for lunch before his next rehearsal for a different orchestra. He invited me to come with him and even payed for my pastry. Honestly, what we said wasn't particularly significant. I don't even remember most of our hour-long conversation. But it wasn't the spoken part of our time together that affected me. What mattered was that suddenly I had a friend here. Suddenly, the people of Boston weren't snobby and cliquey, like I'd assumed the people of my orchestra were, but friendly and welcoming, like Cello Boy was as he insisted on buying me a croissant. That day, the somber streets of the city lightened up. The crowded sidewalk took on a sort of charm that hadn't been there before. Even the endless beeping of car horns became a melody more full of life and excitement than anything I had ever heard in the conservatory. I did not rejoin the orchestra the following year. I still spent my rehearsals gazing out the window. But something changed that day. I realized that perhaps I had misjudged the city I so often claimed as my own. I guess it was then that I decided I actually like Boston. I'm not a big city girl. I like having the sidewalk to myself and recognizing every other person I run into in the grocery store. But what best represents home to me, what I picture when I'm far away somewhere new and scary, is the view I get of the city skyscrapers when I stand on the top of Hutchinson's Field, a mile from my house.

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