Flash from the past
My Mac has been acting up ever since I spilled tea on it at a Thai restaurant in Cambodia last summer. Life has been too crazy to do anything about it but today I finally called the insurance company and took it to the only Apple store in the District, in Georgetown. So, I grabbed a book and headed on the bus/train/bus/walk quest that would finally lead me to Genius Bar. Everything was going normally until I got on the escalator at Rosslyn. Then, it was weird. Things got all deja vu and Matrix-y. I felt like I was 15 again.
I remember Rosslyn well. I was in and out of it twice a day one summer in college. But the memories the escalator ride struck loose started long before that. And I finally figured something out about me and DC.
I think one of the reasons that I have so fervently adored the city is because, as a teenager, Washington offered me freedom for the first time in my life. My father moved here when I was 15 and, though this was before we were estranged, all evidence pointed to this inevitability. But, every summer my brother and I reluctantly made our court-ordered visits to a house that welcomed us less and less with every passing year. He had two step-brothers to play with but I had no one. I was trapped, lonely, scared and unloved and there was nothing I could do about it.
Public transportation was a revelation for a suburban kid from the other Washington. In my world, if someone’s parents couldn’t drive you, you weren’t going. Suburban teens are trapped in so many ways, most of which would be relieved with a simple bus system. All of a sudden, here in DC, I could break free. All I needed was a couple of dollars, a bus and a train and I was downtown, Upper Marlboro left far behind.
Every day I spent hours exploring the museums, libraries, monuments and even the Supreme Court. I poured my heart out to Lincoln and wandered through Roosevelt’s legacy. I imagined myself sitting in the highest court (one year of law school made it clear that this was not my destiny) and every day I dreamt outside of the White House. DC has a lot of options for a broke teenager to do and every day I could escape the humidity inside of Julia Child’s kitchen or re-live the search for Amelia Earhart’s plane. It was amazing to me that I was actually in the city that the entire world revolved around, that in front of me was the Capitol building, and inside nation was being governed (albeit badly, this was in the early 2000′s).
Growing up on Army bases, I’ve always been an overly-patriotic girl and spending all of those days and hours inside of Jefferson’s pantheon didn’t help things. I reflected on the past that brought us to where we are as a people, and on my future, when the nightmare of the home I was escaping would finally be in my past. I knew that if they had survived all that they had to build this great city on a hill then there was no reason that I couldn’t live through August. I don’t know if I would have survived in any other city, Washington had exactly the amount of history, pageantry and sentimentality for a geeky high schooler like me. Those days fortified me and by the time I had to take the train back to the bus back to the house, I had wasted a day and knew that I would make it through the night.
Now, whenever I get on a bus or a train in this city I feel a palpable sense of relief, combined with a twinge of fear that the ride will be over soon and I’ll have to face the loveless gloom inside. Worse still, I feel anxiety because I know that the summer will be over soon and I’ll have to leave this city, perhaps forever this time. But I’m not 15 anymore, and I have to remind myself that I’m a big girl now, I live alone, and everything is okay. I survived.
Eventually, the novelty of the city will wear off and I’ll feel nothing but annoyance at the Metro and a slight indignation for the bus system. For now though, at least I’ve finally identified the terror at the pit of my stomach every time I flash my SmarTrip card, and the reason why I feel so passionately about the city I can finally call “home”.