How a tree decided where I live
The search for my off-campus home
It was a hot summer day in India, and I was holding my dad’s arms and standing in front of this old tree. My young mind was fascinated by the wrinkled bark and well spread branches tearing through the sky. He hoisted me into the air to pluck a lime from the tree, but suddenly an ice cold wind blew. The wind pulls me out of a decades-old memory and back into reality. I’m standing inside an apartment in Boston staring at a random tree through the window while my landlord is showing me around the house.
A few months back, while I was an incoming graduate student at MIT, I decided to opt for off campus housing and started my apartment search from India. I looked at various places on Zillow, apartments.com, etc. to find my perfect one-bedroom apartment. I was searching for a cozy apartment within my budget located close to campus, near the T, in a safe neighborhood, and with a few grocery store options nearby. My search went on for a few weeks, and I found a few nice options and contacted their respective landlords. Despite the virtual search, I wanted to see the places in person before I made my final decision, so I decided to stay at a friend’s place in Boston for a couple of weeks before I chose a final apartment.
When I reached Boston, I had about eight possible options which I was interested in. A few were near Central Square around Massachusetts Avenue, and one was in Boston. The apartment in Boston was definitely not on the top of my list, mostly owing to the fact that I’d have to walk across the Charles River in the winter. But I still went ahead and looked at that apartment, and that’s where I am right now. The landlord guided me through the living room and pointed toward the huge windows that overlooks Newbury street. Although he went on and on talking about the beautiful view of the street, my mind was caught in the branches of this tree. There was nothing particularly special about how it looked, it was just a normal tree with some snow covered branches. Worst of all, it was blocking half of the beautiful view. So I wondered what was so special about it. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t thinking about this tree in Boston, but about the lime tree back home in India. So here I was in an apartment in Boston, looking through the window at a temperate tree that weirdly reminds me of my tropical childhood memories.
My childhood days were filled with memories of the old thin lime tree in my backyard: Sitting with my grandma and making flower garlands using the white flowers that fell from the tree, or plucking limes with my father and distributing them to my neighbors. Staring at this snow covered tree through the window in an apartment in Boston, for some unknown reason, all of my childhood memories rushed into my head. Well long story short, this apartment suddenly hit the top of my list and I decided to put my name down on a yearlong lease.
Fast forward a few months, I’d moved into my new place (this apartment) in Boston and started my PhD program in the Mechanical Engineering department. I am quite glad that I walked through each of my apartment options in person before making my final decision. Little things that make a big difference, such as this tree, cannot be identified by looking at the space on the screen. After a busy or stressful day of work, I always find myself holding a cup of coffee, staring at the tree through the window, forgetting about all my deadlines and reliving the times I spent with my family. The tree erases my stressful thoughts about grad school or adapting to a new country, and in its place, paints a familiar happy picture in my mind, the warmth and comfort of my childhood memories brings a smile to my face. Being a researcher, I feel the need to make better sense of this connection, listing out the similarities, the differences and what not. But then again… I guess some things in life are better left unscrutinised.
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