Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everett and Roxbury

I love my neighbors. Some are easier to love. There's the older woman on my street with a heart as big as her two-family house. I really love her. I mean really. She's one of those people I'd want to have at my if-you-could-have-anyone-in-the-world-or-from-history-to-dinner-who-would-it-be? dinner party. She's pushing 80 and has suffered some serious health problems recently but she is absolutely gorgeous, with her mocha skin and amber eyes, both inside and out. She is really easy to love cause she just vibrates love so all you have to do is reflect it back to her.

Anyway, during one of our chats, she asked where I grew up and I told her Everett. So she laughed and said in her big love way, "Oh, Everett! When I think of Everett, I think of the country!" And I just laughed right along with her.

But it's funny in so many ways that aren't even remotely funny. Everett. Blue collar, working class, white - at least through the 70's. When I was growing up we ridiculed the Italian immigrant kid in school because he couldn't speak English. We also made any substitute teacher who entered our class for the day weep. Any substitute teacher. When I was growing up the Orange Line still ran into Everett and as little kids our moms would dress us up to take the train "into Town". And we never ventured into Roxbury. Ever. It was "other", dangerous, to be avoided.

And then my family moved out of Everett, to a bedroom (yuck) community. I was sent to a Catholic girl's school (yuck, again). One of my classmates was an extremely voluble, round girl with really bad acne who wound up going to Wellesley College. One day in science lab, I let voluble girl know that I'd grown up in Everett, not in the bedroom community (what the fuck does that mean, anyway) where we were living. She was horrified and let loose, volubly, a string of stereotypical insults disguised as good humor. I don't remember the specifics but I do vividly remember the import: Everett was "other", dangerous, to be avoided.

Until voluble girl edified me, Everett was just home, the place where I grew up and where all my extended family still lived. The only knives I had experienced were the ones used to cut food and I didn't know anyone who had been a victim of violence. Voluble girl had the same impression of Everett that many foreigners have of the US and that many metro Bostonians have of Roxbury: that there's a gunfight on every corner and someone waiting with a shiv just inside your front door.

College and travel around the world broadened my perspectives. After Wellesley, voluble girl got married and had kids. My money says her perspectives stayed the exact same. She had formed her opinion of Everett based on...I'm not sure what. The hatred and vitriol of family and friends who could best elevate themselves by disparaging others? Simple ignorance? Intellectual laziness? Social and political systems better served by dividing people rather than bringing them together? A combination of those and other factors?

Whatever misguided ideas voluble girl had about Everett, I carried with me about Roxbury. Until after college and travel when I worked here. I realized what a beautiful, historic place it is and how my impression of it had been distorted by a combination of many factors, the most powerful being my willingness to believe what is not really the whole truth. I chose to live here.

I'm not ready to share with my dear neighbor whom I love dearly that Everett is not the country. Maybe I'll just throw a dinner party there and invite her.


  1. Thanks! I have a friend who moved to New London (I <3 NL) so I'll be buying your book.