Goodbye, Cambridge!

Thu May 30, 2013

Tonight, if I’m lucky, I’ll sleep on this soft green velvet couch where I spent 80% of my junior year of undergrad proving the existence of dark matter, determining the electron charge, reading papers on adiabatic quantum computation, and overfitting most things that I encountered. If I’m unlucky, I’ll stay up the whole night and hack away at some Python scripts testing a hypothesis I have about bitsquatting, or maybe I’ll jailbreak my new Kindle, but probably I’ll find myself brewing a kettle of tea and nostalgically gazing at the rain falling on the porch where I used to sit and read books in summer.

I’ve spent almost a month in Cambridge, MA, the first city that ever felt like a home to me. I arrived in 2008 for the first time with a couple bags of clothes and no concrete idea of how to use an electric dishwasher. I was put in a dorm room at MIT (Random Hall, to be precise) with huge windows and a sponged-on periwinkle paint job. People outside deep-fried oreos and broccoli. And then began the college move-in rituals: running down the street to the pharmacy to buy soap, laundry for the first time, canned soup, roommate reading Sylvia Plath, trying hard not to brush against the walls of the shower stall, purchasing textbooks for the first and last time.

Four years went by. I climbed roofs, wore scarves in winter, carefully checked proofs, and listened to people when they talked about feelings. My time ran out; I flew to San Francisco and lived in places not intended for human habitation. Sometimes I felt alone because nobody was around. At other times, I felt alone because I couldn’t establish a sincere connection to the people around me. The plans that I had made for the West Coast started to dissolve, and I realized at the age of 21 that there did exist something akin to a soul, in the strict sense of an identity capable of empathy. I fell out-of-practice with the ability to feel empathy for others. The idea of having close friends was appealing enough that I tricked myself into thinking that it was frequently realized, but in actuality I felt isolated from humankind much of the time.

This proved to be non-problematic until I woke up one day feeling like the future wasn’t going to be better than the past. This was one of the most precisely terrifying thoughts that I can remember having, precise in the sense that it is extremely well-defined and has immediate consequences for how one approaches life on a day-to-day basis.

I left San Francisco and was vague about the reasons to almost everyone who asked.

Almost miraculously, things got better in Cambridge. I spent time with an old friend with whom I’ve had a twin-like understanding in the past; in a glowingly inevitable moment, our identities seemingly merged into one. I went for long runs in the middle of the night. I sat in a church parking lot as the sun was setting, gluing spray-painted floppy disks to a friend’s car. Someone that I hadn’t talked to in years explained her dreams to me and then explained the structure of the human ear, which led to the discovery of a mind-blowing balancing trick. A friend from San Francisco visited, and we unexpectedly lost a couple days with each other coding and walking around the city and watching short films. I went to an outdoor arts festival in Delaware and kept a fire for friends wandering past in the middle of the night.

In a few hours, I’ll be on a plane headed to Austin, TX, where the start of a road trip awaits. Austin -> Marfa, TX -> White Sands -> Grand Canyon -> Joshua Tree -> LA -> Big Sur -> SF -> Seattle. And then back to SF.



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