I began living in Baltimore City in 2009. With just a few months until I pack up and move north, I’m looking back fondly at a few of the places I’ve spilled tears in this funny city.
Darbar, 1911 Aliceanna Street, Fells Point.
I had just filled my plate to its breaking point with saag paneer and aloo gobi and other immensely dense foods. I sat at a two-person table and my boyfriend at the time sat across from me with an equally full plate. We began to eat and eat and eat and I realized we were eating in silence, just one curried chicken chunk after another, barely enough time or space for a ‘What’s up’ to leak out. Eventually, our stomachs reached the point between ‘happily fed’ and ‘painful discomfort’, and we engaged in a conversation that is typical for a couple to engage in a few weeks before a breakup. In a quick move of panic and stress, I ate the last bit of naan on my plate, bloating myself enough to tip over the scale and land softly in the middle of ‘painful discomfort’.
I can’t recall the details of what we talked about. I do vaguely remember the topic of This is a relationship and we both need to work at it and I specifically remember dramatically saying in a hushed, tearful voice, “I am not a given!” My stomach roared in agreement as my boyfriend guiltily pushed the dregs of chickpeas around on his plate and said, “I know.” We sat in a physically painful silence for a few more minutes, split the check and drove home. Overall, I would not recommend crying in the corner of a quiet Indian restaurant in the middle of Fells Point on a Wednesday afternoon.
Donna’s Coffee Shop, 800 N. Charles Street, Mount Vernon.
I was at my parents house on the night of December 6th when I started receiving text messages from co-workers at the cafe. The words FIRE and DONNA’S and NEWS kept repeating in flashing neon lights in my brain and I watched on the news as the BCFD hosed down the smokey historical building on the corner of West Madison and North Charles that housed my tiny cafe on its first floor.
A few days later, a couple friends that I worked with and I walked into the cafe, suited in the required hardhats, as we crept through the damp rooms. Because the fire started on the top floors, Donna’s suffered from mostly water and smoke damage, so everything was still intact: the pine wreaths and other winter decorations I had set up only a week before were still hanging, the silverware rollups were placed on the table for brunch, the espresso machine was tanked full of water. I kept mentally referring to those scenes in Titanic when the camera was hauntingly transitioning between underwater, moldy ruins and sparkling 1912 engineering, and I laugh-cried as my friends and I backpacked unopened bottles of Tobasco sauce and the coffee mugs that still smelled like Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
Bolt Bus Stop, Penn Station.
Because sometimes you look around at the city that houses you and you curl up into a ball as small as your body will allow and you hug your knees and rock back and forth into a chain-link fence, gritting your teeth and willing yourself not to cry — no, not one tear, don’t you dare — as you watch a line of people load onto the bus that you have just unloaded from. And you think to yourself, why do these people get to start their vacation today, why do they get to start when I’ve just reached the end, who knows what joy is waiting for them at the opposite side of their Bolt Bus route. You spend a few minutes silently crying on the sidewalk like a freak, mindlessly glaring at the bus passengers. You pat yourself roughly on the face a few times and aggressively whisper ‘human up!’ as you stand up and begin to walk home, brain swelling with memories of this morning and last night and the night before that and the night before that. Because sometimes, yeah, this happens. I recommend ‘moving on and getting on with your life’ after this good cry, as quickly as possible.
Wolfe Street, the stretch between Thames Street and Eastern Avenue.
After an especially exhausting work weekend at the bar, I started my car and began to drive home. I turned on the radio as I drove north on Wolfe Street, and “Daylight” by Maroon 5 was in its opening verse.
Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon /
Why am I, holding on? /
We knew this day would come, we knew it all along /
How did it, come so fast?
The end-of-shift shot of Fireball I had thrown back and the consecutive hours I had just put in dealing with hoards of friendly and drunk Young Urban Professionals all weekend mixed to create a pathetically perfect scene of ‘lonely girl sits in her car during a rainstorm and cries.’ On top of this, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was crying to a Maroon 5 song, and the embarrassment made me cry harder. In hindsight, this is a relatively enjoyable memory.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s House, 1307 Park Avenue, Bolton Hill.
In the summer of 2009, I had developed a close friendship and crush on a young art student from Wisconsin. I tortured myself by deleting and re-entering his cellphone number from my phone almost daily in an effort to not text him every hour asking to hang out and seem overbearing and needy. In my mind, I was handling it well. When he finally told me he was gay, I was surprised at how easily my crush died out. However, in the two months in-between that I didn’t know (or chose not to think about), I was caught in a constant cycle of this tragic artist-and-writer-puppy-love romance that had manifested in my mind.
We spent most days in the summer with our friends, drinking on rooftops, driving with too many people stuffed in a car, and kissing in the dark. I had accepted that this was my life for now. Busy and happy during the day, but once night would come, I would be drunk off of Arbor Mist and Natty Boh and wanting to be alone because I Couldn’t Tell If A Boy Liked Me Back. During that summer, I was fully embracing my tendency to over-romanticize nearly every detail in life, and this is why I would walk to 1307 Park Avenue, the former row home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
I would sit on the front steps in a gentle, drunken silence with my eyes closed and mentally role-play the 1930s. I didn’t think about Zelda’s schizophrenia or Scott’s alcoholism and declining popularity — I just pictured him writing Tender is the Night at a desk near the front window and being a father, living in Baltimore just as I was then. A sense of camaraderie and a calming effect would take hold and I was free to associate myself with one of my favorite writers as I tearfully trespassed on a stranger’s stoop.
Though this last pinpoint of a Place I’ve Cried In Baltimore City is terrifyingly cheesy and typical, it feels enormously refreshing to look back and remember what a rewarding and filling home this city has provided me with. After Fitzgerald moved out of his Park Ave rowhome in 1935, he still remained in Baltimore for a few more years. While staying at the Stafford Hotel one night in 1936, he wrote a letter to his secretary in North Carolina. I teared up reading this quote from the letter, so I will add one last Place to this list: My Last Apartment in Baltimore, For Now, 307 Dolphin Street, Bolton Hill.
I love Baltimore more than I thought— it is so rich with memories — it is nice to look up the street and see the statue of my great uncle & to know that Poe is buried here and that many ancestors have walked in the old town by the bay. I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite. And I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda & I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here. That is really a happy thought and not melancholy at all.