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A Love Letter to Jamaica Plain, Boston

Boston Student Work Narrative
by Isabelle Martin Jun 30, 2015

I didn’t love you at first. You seemed so boring and quaint; grungy in an unexciting way. Full of co-ops and new parents. Forty-five minutes from where I grew up. An “up-and-coming neighborhood.” No thanks.

I had just graduated college and all my friends were moving to exciting new places — San Francisco, New York City. I was moving into a tiny, wood-walled room that looked more like a sauna than a place to live, on the first floor of an old Victorian house on a quiet, tree-lined street. My apartment had a backyard. This was not the city living I had hoped waited for me after college.

Instead of sipping martinis after work, I was sulkily drinking beers in a dingy cave called Brendan Behan’s. Sifting through leaking packages of questionable meats at Hi-Lo Foods. Spending the dreary winter draining coffee after coffee in the June Bug Café, hunched over my laptop as I furiously applied for jobs — any reason to get as far away as possible. When I finally escaped your clutches in the spring of 2008, I ran as fast as I could into the magnificent arms of New York, happy to be rid of you.

Coming back years later, I see you with new eyes.

I see the brightly painted Hi-Lo storefront, now covered with a “Whole Foods” sign. I remember the plantains piled high, the multicolored bags of beans, and the smell of freshly baked Cuban bread. I wonder why, with all these exotic, delicious, super-cheap ingredients, I never tried making empanadas or tamales.

I peek into the exposed-brick-walled dining area of the relocated Milky Way Lounge and watch couples quietly chatting over dinner. In a few hours, the music will crank up and everyone will start dancing. I lived a ten-minute walk away from the original yet somehow only came here once, preferring to take the 66 all the way up to Wonder Bar or some other fog-machine-cranking, cranberry-vodka-in-a-plastic-cup-sloshing nightmare in Allston.

I see the yellow “Porchfest” signs posted on fences and doorways and wonder why I threw every block party invitation in the trash.

I bike past the still ponds and gently waving flowers of the Arboretum. Somehow, I never thought to spend an afternoon here when I lived in the neighborhood.

Part of it was my age and inexperience. Part of it was that I never really had any claim to you; Boston is my mom’s city, not mine. I didn’t know what I wanted — just something new, to give me some contrast. I needed to discover the shape of my identity by throwing myself into something starkly different, to see which preferences fell away and which remained.

I think specific expectations can really throw a wrench in your happiness. Wanting “big city,” “adult” living made me blind to the awesome, unique place around me. It’s also pretty easy to make just about any place suck, especially when you’re grappling with your own problems.

You’ve changed with age, too. You’ve gotten fancier. The Harvest Co-Op is gone — replaced by City Feed, with its country store feel and $12 prosciutto sandwiches. Jackson Square is filling up with nice restaurants and shiny new condos now; the giant “Meatland” sign is starting to look out of place. But this new veneer is patchy, and signs of the old JP are still everywhere.

Over the past eight years, we’ve both changed. We may never truly be together again, but I’m glad that now we’re friends.

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