It’s Connecticut for an eternity, or if you are coming from Canada, it is Vermont. But when it is Connecticut it is Connecticut for ages, it seems, and just as you are getting used to the billboards and the walls of rock with dynamite lines etched in them and waterfalls of ice over them, just then you see Fenway Park. And before you know it the city is there, in rapid succession. It is Fenway and it is your old high school and it is your friend’s alma mater and it is dark, dark, a tunnel. And you emerge where you need to, and you barely notice the way home from there, because you’ve gone this way your whole life, you can do it in your sleep, and you do, because invariably it’s nearly midnight.
You feel the subtle descent before you can see a break in the ocean below. And then the boats become a little bigger. You start to see the trails of white behind them, and then you see the color of the water begin to change. You can see the dark sapphire give way to lighter blues, almost green as the sand beneath rises closer to the surface, as you are coming closer to the surface. You look ahead and you see Boston, all glass and stone and clear blues and reflections of the sun and clouds.
It’s a wonderful trick of civil engineering that you think you might land on the sea, because that is where the runway ends. But you always catch the land. Just not before you can see the ripples in the water under your window.
We were maybe 9, and I was new at sailing. We three were the only Bostonians at our summer camp in Cambridge, and that felt monumental. We conversed with other campers about normal things like stickers and embroidery floss and face paint, but we had the farthest to go home and the earliest to wake up in the morning.
We set out in our little sailboat, our most confident with her hand on the rutter, the other girl minding the boom, and me in the bottom, head between my knees so that I wouldn’t be knocked out of the boat when the wind changed, armed with a milk jug with the top cut off, to bail. It was a cloudless day on the Charles, and we were halfway across the river, the brick castle of MIT behind us, and the Esplanade ahead. There was a gust of wind, the boom swung over my head, and through my fingers, pressed as they were over my eyes, I saw the rutter escape my friend’s hand.
I thought of the dreaded word mentioned in our short sailing class: capsize. I thought of how I used the elementary backstroke for my swimming test, so that I could take this class. It was so easy it felt like cheating. How could I ever do the elementary backstroke halfway across a river? A river that even then I knew divided the two largest cities in eastern Massachusetts? How could I swim to a city?
While I whimpered, bailing out the two inches of water that had accumulated around my pink Chucks, my friends righted the boat. We sat, holding all our respective tools tightly. I don’t remember who said, “Let’s sail to Boston.”
Along the Esplanade, I only know of one small public dock. It’s kind of hidden, and it is about twenty feet of wood that is weathered and grey. It was directly ahead of us, and at the time I assumed there were plenty just like it all along the river. We cheered, more with relief of touching land again than with pride in the act of sailing from one city to another. I wanted to get out of the boat, to make a small mark in the dirt to commemorate our crossing, but instead we pushed off the dock once more. This time I kept my head above the rim, watching as the dock, the trees, and the townhouses receded in the distance.
I will probably always be new at sailing.