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body gold, oh wonder
by Amelia Clare Wright

      During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I lived 0.7 miles away from the Charles River Esplanade. I ambled through the Boston Common, through the Public Garden, across the winding bridge over the highway, to the dock overlooking the river, Cambridge’s soul bared before my eyes. I did this religiously, like my prayer; I made this trip before sunset, after midnight, and in the morning—I didn’t have to think about it; my body just took me.

 

      I saw my first constellations with my spine pressing into the wooden dock. When temperatures dipped below freezing, I was still there in my signature fuzzy, pale pink blanket, wrapped up from shoulders to toes, letting the cold take my head away. That was the whole point. I was all body on the esplanade. All frigid limbs and numb lips and back of my head against wet wood.

 

      Isabel and I met in middle school when our English teacher couldn’t tell us apart—thin frame and blonde hair and light eyes. We were stitched together throughout high school, making blood pacts and spirit bonds. I got drunk for the first time on her living room floor. I finished my first journal under her comforter. Isabel met me where I was. She has never asked me for anything except to give all of myself and to take her in return, which I do unquestioningly every day. Still.

 

      During those first two years, I lived 1.9 miles away from Isabel’s Boston University dorm room. The trip between mine and hers, too, moved into my bones, built home in my muscles, dragged my feet across pavement without thought; only once did I take the train. Sometimes she came to my side of the esplanade, and we sat in the dark together and shared thoughts that felt like they wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. She said I didn’t value myself unless I was on the verge of losing myself. I said she couldn’t find a healthy relationship because she was looking for validation, not love. We said we were only surviving college because we held each other.

 

      When I committed to Emerson College, my mom, who understands me, who is me, told me I was going to love Boston. Teachers told me, too. Friends, neighbors. I was going to absolutely love Boston.

 

      I hated it.

 

      I still hate it.

 

      I could say it’s because everything closes too early for a proper city or because it’s windier than my own personal hell or because all of their sports fans are downright mean. And while those are all good (and true) reasons, the hatred at its core stems from the public transportation. The trains in Boston are like a crack in the ceiling, lines festering out of the center of the city, making it next to impossible to get from edge to edge without going back in, retracing places you’ve already been. They’re old and they leak. I regularly wait twenty minutes for a bus that was scheduled to leave in five. I am always late. I can’t get anywhere.

      One night in my sophomore year, I was overwhelmed by a frenzy of anxious self-destruction and a fit of the walls closing in. My chest was tight, my heart rapid, and the thoughts in my head were dangerous. When you live with mental illness, these nights stop taking you by surprise, and you uncover little ways to make yourself feel less crazy. You get to know yourself and the things that you need to feel better.

 

      I knew I needed movement, and I needed Isabel to hold me somewhere along the way, even if only for seconds. She told me she had homework; I told her I was on my way. She was the direction my body pulled me, a gravitation my toes never forgot.

 

      I pulled on my heaviest sweater, stashed my notebook in the pocket of my jacket, body of camera pressed against body of mine, and roamed into a 10pm lit by streetlamps and headlights. Mist and fog blinding September, a world damp with the memory of a melted sky. My body knew the route, so my mind was free to ramble, thoughts tumbling over one another in a frenzy, disappearing or resolving as quickly as they came.

 

      The bridge overlooking the highway: I created chaos with my camera, the lights of vehicles coming and going turning into some abstraction of my mind.

 

      The playground just over the bridge: I climbed to the top of the rope jungle gym to see a world calmer from far away, spun on my back on the roundabout and watched the crescent moon join me in the fury of movement.

 

      The path in between the river and the stream: I touched the trees that still looked fake, two dimensional, leftovers from the time Isabel and I did shrooms and found faces in the bark.

 

      Along the path of the esplanade, a tree grows tall and thick and bends itself to the pleasure of those who pass. The trunk is split—half rises tall and breaks up into branches, half curves its way up and around and down, back towards the ground, making an arch to crawl up. Sitting on one trunk and leaning against the other, the wood is snug.

 

      This tree was exactly halfway between Isabel’s dorm and my dorm. It was our tree. We met each other there, 2pm, 10pm, 3am. Wind throwing us around or ice canvasing the trunk, we were there. I would say that the trees didn’t look so friendly when the sun went down. She would say that we make things too complicated, that not everything has to happen in one specific way. We would say that so much had happened but nothing had changed. That night, I curled my body into the wood of it and watched as my limbs turned barky and damp to match. I could have slept there, nestled between nicks in the oak. Frozen fingers finally drove me away.

 

      I knew I was getting close to Isabel’s dorm when I ducked under the bridge marked by green fluorescents stinging eyes, and spider webs lining the rail, the wall, my feet; I felt them crawling up my spine, inside my shoes, down my throat. It is the only place in the two-mile stretch that I regularly moved out of instead of into. It held me that night, though, and I breathed in disquiet.

 

      At Isabel’s, I sat on her floor and watched her transcribe notes in the painstakingly aesthetic way she does. The lights were dim and the walls were cinder and her eyes were soft and knowing, cradling me warm and syrupy—but immobility is not my strong suit. After a breath and a squeeze, a quick defrosting of my toes, I set out into midnight this time.

 

      I tried trudging back to my dorm, but two miles wasn’t enough time or enough different. I came across the Mass Ave bridge (apparently actually called the Harvard Bridge), which crosses the Charles and deposits you in Cambridge. I thought maybe this place I couldn’t stand would look better from the other side.

 

      The bridge was windy and frigid, but I pressed on, cars whizzing by on my left, the whole bridge shaking with their movement. But the journey across was quicker than I thought it would be, and sooner than expected I was on the other side of the river.

 

      The path in Cambridge was not paved like on our side of the esplanade. It was hardened dirt and orange cones warning me not to go to the places I did. I wandered still. There was nowhere to sit, so I stood and stared into the blinking lights of the city I was supposed to be calling home. Nothing. I tried taking a picture, knowing that I had turned much uglier things into beauty before. Still nothing. Nothing but silent, seething hatred and desperate apathy.

 

      The Cambridge side of the esplanade terminates in a labyrinth of roads and the sight of Longfellow Bridge, which, as it turns out, is really fucking hard to find the entrance to. Phone corpse in my pocket, I wandered the same streets over and over, thinking I was getting somewhere new. Tried not to find metaphor in that.

 

      Eventually I found the entrance to the bridge. Halfway across, I stopped—Boston equally as far as Cambridge, both of them the wrong direction, both just as unfamiliar and undesirable and not home. And down below me the murky, frigid water of the Charles River. It would be frozen over in a little more than a month.

 

      I imagined:

 

      I remove my camera from around my neck and place it on the sidewalk for someone lucky. My body is stiff with cold as I clamber onto the wall of the bridge. The air whips my hair into knots; I close my eyes. The fall towards the water is longer than it looks, every inch of my body and mind braced for the smack of water. It hits me hard. No. I barely feel it. I am instantly and quietly submerged, my body heavy with the weight of my winter coat, clementine peels and balled up receipts floating up out of the pockets, current rolling me over, imaginary creatures drifting past me like the horror of fantasy, and I try not to gasp for air, try to let my body sink below the bubbles of chaos I conjure with my entry and exhale, until the lights from the city become wavy and distorted and my sightline goes finally black.

 

      I played that scene out in my head for a few minutes, wondered if it was the cold or the current that would kill me, but figured I’d probably just end up alive and wet. Instead, I turned the volume on my headphones all the way up and kept moving. I went home. I put on soft underwear and knee high socks and wrapped my skin in the gentle embrace of my signature fuzzy, pale pink blanket. Drifted to sleep in daydream and open windowed mist.

      Isabel said once, towards the end of a particularly cold acid trip (right at the point where the walls had stopped being liquid but our thoughts remained profound) that I spend my entire life running away from the feeling of being trapped.

 

      My teeth fell down my throat.

 

      She revealed me, unearthed a truth I hadn’t recognized. A deep-seated, don’t- acknowledge-it, perception-changing kind of truth.

 

      For years, I walked because I was afraid of getting stuck where I was, here, somewhere I hated. I walked because as long as I was moving, I wasn’t really here, in this city that didn’t know me, that was crooked and wrong, that held me hostage.

 

      But this is the magical thing about walking with your struggle: it works. That night, I spent three hours traveling 6.4 miles because I could feel myself slowly suffocating. I saw the river move, and I moved, was moved with it. I cried at the saddest song I’d ever heard and nobody knew, the dark and the mist and the emptiness carrying my drama for me, shielding me. I got excited about things— slow shutter speeds, and the way my writing changes depending on what I’m reading – (how amazing it is that things change so easily) – and corporeality, and mercury and the moon. I found solace in a soul mate, in being truly seen by the only other person I’ve met who understands roaming under frigid skies to be a cure for bitter misery. I sang to myself, for myself, stepped through leaves and ducked under branches and touched spider webs and earth. I held myself tall, feet planted on the ground, and found that as long as there was another step forward, there was no need to jump off of bridges or hold knives to my wrists. Moving is not a running from; it is a sifting through, a meditation on being with.

Amelia Clare Wright is a recent graduate of Columbia's MFA program in nonfiction creative writing. She has work appearing in Oyster River Pages, Variant, and The Hunger Journal among others. She grew up in Baltimore City and now lives in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a memoir about pain and trying to decide if she wants to be a coral reef or a tree when she dies.

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