portrait of providence

meditations on transition while walking to whole foods

The streets are different here. It isn’t surprising, really, that the creative capital of New England would contrast with a midwestern college town half its size, but it’s most apparent in the streets. They bulge, wind, climb, crack. I trip a lot here. Tree roots swell under cobblestones and make the sidewalks twist. I like to imagine what the city looked like when these trees were first planted, who else stumbled on these streets, as if with each failed step I’m falling over history?

I’m on my way to the Whole Foods, the one on North Main this time, which might even be bigger than the one back home. I need peanut butter, oats, whatever fruit is on sale. I make my breakfast here the way I do at home although I use an electric tea kettle instead of a stove and I eat less than three feet from my bed. I also drink instant coffee now. It’s the ritual I like, almost more than the food itself—if I can start my day with a bit of consistency, maybe I can convince myself I’ll find some kind of stability here. I can root myself to the new through breakfasts, bad coffee, and soon, a life full of people to share them.

I’m listening to a podcast interview with Dana Schwartz, a writer known for, among other things, running the Guy in Your MFA Twitter account, whose posts I often screenshot to send to my best friends across state lines. We’ve known a few Guy in Your MFA types—I’m sure I’ll meet more in the next four years. It’s strange to think that of all the relationships in my life, the ones with these friends will remain the most constant. It’s always been long-distance: Together we represent every time zone in the United States, having met for the first time at writing camp in Iowa City two summers ago. We text often and Skype less than we’d like to. We reunited this past August, days before all but one of us culled our belongings to what would fit in our familys’ duffel bags and headed for the future. Sometimes I listen to the songs that Claire, the only one still a high-schooler, wrote and recorded for us, named for the cities we’ve been in together.  I wonder what my song would sound like here, in Providence, alone.

As she mentions in the podcast, Dana Schwartz went to Brown. She majored in Public Policy, just like my roommate wants to—she became a writer, just like I want to.  I Google her as I’m walking and stumble again, this time under a tree that looks barely older than a sapling, the freshman of the block, unsure of how far to stretch its branches.  Dana Schwartz is from Highland Park, Illinois, a half hour from Evanston, where I lived until six weeks ago. She worked at the Adler Planetarium in high school, which I visited for the second time after graduation. I feel like I can trust this disembodied voice in my headphones—she knows my old home, she understands my new one, she made it through both relatively unscathed, probably even strengthened. I stop for a bit, partly because I think I see a car cresting the hill to my right, partly because I feel that, for a moment, maybe I can make things work here.  

I keep walking, enjoying the slight burn in my calves, still unused to walking uphill. I have passed RISD territory now.  I’m in a residential area, with colonial houses looming above me, somehow boundless and quaint at the same time.  They’re the kind I always admired on postcards, the kind we don’t have many of back home, the kind my dad joked George Washington would strut out of after an afternoon of top-secret business. I feel far away from Brown, unmoored somehow, though I’m eagerly taking in the newness of my surroundings. I think about the number of children I see on the Main Green every day, and the vast array of dogs. In many ways, I thought college would be full of adults, and big ideas, and responsibility. And it is, definitely. But I’m still in a city, where people live, people completely unaffiliated with the university where I spend my days, and that reassures me. If I look at the toddlers on the grass, or the slightly shabby poodle on the steps of Wilson Hall, I can picture Providence puncturing my college bubble, growing up around me and me with it.

I’ve spent this walk alone, like I’ve spent most of the day. It used to bother me—despite being arguably too comfortable on my own back home, I felt like every minute spent in solitude here was a waste of my college experience. It didn’t stop me from watching movies in bed on Friday nights, but I did so with lingering guilt. I haven’t found a solid group of friends yet. Sometimes it worries me—really, most of the time. But that’s the key word: yet. If “providence” means anything to me, it’s the promise of eventual protection, insurance—divine or not—that means everything will be okay. If Providence means anything to me, it’s somewhere I’m starting to feel comfortable, on my own now, but one day, with a group of people I can call friends, in a city I can call home.