Not Just Any PA City Will Do

PUBLISHED October 19, 2012

I’ve tried unsuccessfully for the past four years to make Philadelphia feel at least somewhat like my second home. I regretfully say I have little to no affection for this city.

My first experience here was pure love-at-first-visit. I came to see my oldest sister who lives on the outskirts of the county by the airport in an area called Morton, Pa. That visit is a bit of a blur; it collides with two similar memories of early visits to Philly. I came once to spend my seventeenth birthday here and once with my older brother to do college tours. It was during that trip that I toured Temple and was in awe of the racial mix of the campus.

Coming from a city like Pittsburgh, South Street in Philly is a teenage girl’s shopping dream. I tried frozen yogurt for the first time and danced on park benches in Rittenhouse Square.

Now, however, Philadelphia just seems like a rough, ugly, industrial landscape with no heart or soul. I haven’t found a place in this city that seems to align with my ideas of comfort. Once I’m here long enough, I feel like the creative pathways in my brain get clogged. Even before my brother graduated from Temple last year, nothing here gave me any sense of home.

I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m observing. I was in a cab last night with Malcolm. We were traveling, high as f*ck, from my house to his hotel in Center City. The day had been chilly but it was late at night and the air was warming up for the next day. It was in between raining and not raining and the window in the cab was cracked just enough to let in a perfect amount of air flow.

Instantly, I was taken back to riding in the backseat of my dad’s car on Friday nights when he would take my sister, brother and I out around Pittsburgh. We would go to different art galleries, gallery crawls, and free events like a mixed group of vagabonds. What a sight we must have been. My tall, lanky father; a light skinned black man, always on the move, cloudy eyes that barely allowed you to see they’re green. My dark brown brother and my bi-racial sister and I; both with mops of curly hair, her’s brown mine blonde. What did people make of us? It never would occur to me at the time. Traveling around the city with them made me feel like any place we landed was our home. Together, we made four walls and existed within them. I have so many memories around Pittsburgh, just as anyone who was born and raised in mostly one place. That’s when I realized why I didn’t connect with Philadelphia. There is no part of this city that I own.

In Pittsburgh I can drive down a particular street, cruise through a neighborhood, and have instant memories from ages 5, 8, 12, 16. The fountain across the street from the Carnegie library that my siblings and I swam in, against the rules, in our underwear. My brother appeared on the front cover of the City Paper in that fountain. He must have been only four or five. The shot is black and white, his face alive with childhood happiness, facing up as the water from the fountain cascades over his face. Later, I had my first kiss with my high school boyfriend in that fountain. Winter was on the edge, so the fountain was off. A group of us walked there from Schenley High School, which was only a few blocks away after, after their all school musical. We bumped teeth.

Pittsburgh is stuffed with memories for me. When you live in Pittsburgh, you live in ALL of Pittsburgh. Or maybe I feel that way because I’ve lived in nine different houses in that damn place, like six different neighborhoods. Every corner of the city has given something to me.

Here, in Philly, I own nothing.

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