On Moving On
The Camino de Santiago is a Spanish pilgrimage route leading to a place where tradition says Saint James’s remains may be buried. It’s a long walk, taking thirty days or more, and is regarded as a spiritual retreat. (Historically, for penance, nowadays, more for spiritual growth or for the love of hiking.) As someone who often can’t see the forest for the trees, I’m captivated by the idea of walking, walking, walking, and eventually finding yourself amidst some larger purpose. I may have had an abridged version of this transcendent experience last night.
Drunkenly—after a potent mix of red wine, prosecco, and a little bit of Southern Comfort—I embarked on my own spiritual journey from Kelly Drive to City Hall. The last few months have been a whirlwind and after a wonderful, albeit somewhat bizarre, evening at Dîner en Blanc, I found myself ugly crying my way around Center City because I’m moving to New York next week.
Take a minute, I’m taking one as well because I don’t think I’ve seen it in writing before now and I’m just as dumbfounded as you.
Leaving my beloved Philly is bittersweet. On one hand, I adore this city. It’s gritty, it’s unpretentious, it’s full of history, stunning architecture, and some of the best food in the country. On the other, my life here hasn’t exactly been “good” these last few years. Though I still need to do some serious unpacking to figure out exactly why I feel such sorrow to be leaving this place, I suspect it has more to do with fully separating from one epoch in time and beginning an entirely new chapter somewhere vaguely familiar yet still incredibly foreign. (And HELLA EXPENSIVE, like what the actual fuck, New York?)
I’ve been feeling pangs of sadness all week because after the months-long rigamarole of interviewing, signing my offer letter, and finding somewhere to live was done and I was finally able to put in my two weeks and speak openly about it, reality hit me hard. I’ve been pretty hush hush about the entire ordeal because, even after the career-related factors were sussed out and I no longer had to keep my mysterious trips to Brooklyn and Jersey City to meet with a broker a secret from my employer, I still wasn’t too candid about my plans because I knew as soon as I was, I’d be inundated with perfunctory “we have to hang out before you leave!” messages from near strangers and who the hell wants to deal with that? Ah, yes. My precious last moments before making a significant life change and all I want to do is force some smalltalk over a $14 glass of wine in a restaurant that I don’t particularly enjoy. No thank you. These next seven days will be spent with my favorite people, in my favorite shitty bars, or my cozy home that I’ve come to love so much. (Binge-watching Sex and the City for the fifth consecutive time, no doubt.)
The problem, however, with not being forthcoming about starting a new life in a new city—and I don’t even think I’ll fully grasp the gravitas of it until I’m there and struggling to navigate multiple train lines and numbered streets intersecting numbered streets—is that I didn’t allow myself to come to terms with it until the most inopportune moment. Specifically, last night at around 9PM, somewhere along Kelly Drive.
I was lost in my own safe little world, as those who know me know I’m wont to do quite often in social situations. I was putting the finishing touches on an Instagram post that I promised to share and was pulled from my small corner of the internet by the unmistakable swell of a crowd blissfully engaging in a shared experience. Looking up, I caught the vignette of thousands of sparklers held in unison, tiny flames flickering and dancing before dissipating into the blue sky as the Rocky theme waxed and waned from speakers perhaps too small for the scope of the event. It faded into a Coldplay song I don’t even think I know the title of, just that it’s somewhat sentimental to me. I thought about the Made in America Festival that I attended almost exactly three years ago, in almost this exact location. I recalled the resplendence of collective joie de vivre as Coldplay closed out the event, sixty-four thousand people singing in unison. I couldn’t believe how much has changed since that moment, so of course I thought about it perhaps a bit too hard.
I was wearing more eye makeup than my usual “none” and knew that as soon as a single tear fell, it would all be over. Every sentimental notion that I’d fought to keep out of the conscious parts of my mind would come rushing to the forefront in a river of black mascara lines dotting my cheeks, wine serving as gasoline poured into the powder keg, peeks of the humble skyline through lush greenery the matches that I was intentionally tossing into it. Set on having a spiritual experience, I opted to take public transportation rather than sell out and order an Uber. I began to walk towards City Hall, pushing through crowds of other happily intoxicated people, raindrops falling and coalescing this moment into something more poetic than your average nostalgic Thursday evening when you’ve found yourself on the other side of tipsy. Once I escaped the raucous throngs of folks dressed in white, the quietness of a weeknight evening along the Schuylkill Banks offered me an opportunity to break down brilliantly. So I cried. I cried funeral tears, the kind your stereotypical widow conjures up before she throws herself onto the casket as it’s being lowered into the earth. Admittedly, it was not a good look. This is what I get for repressing months—nay, years—of cry-worthy sentiments. Lesson learned.
Here’s the wonderful thing though: when you’re desperately searching for meaning where you saw none before, meaning has a way of finding you and making you feel insignificant in a “reckoning” sort of way. I felt like everywhere I turned, there was some inconsequential memory that temporarily became the most important thing in the world. The corner by Park Towne Place where I’d always miss the turn to get on the highway after countless Trader Joe’s trips, the pub on Cherry Street that I’ve never been to but got into a shouting match outside of with “the man in my life,” when I realized it was all over. The longer I walked, the more salient the inkling that my sadness wasn’t necessarily related to just a geographical location became.
Do you remember the movie Cast Away? I haven’t seen it in years but who could ever forget the significance of Wilson? Aside from being a brilliant example of effective product placement, Wilson served as a personified companion for Tom Hanks while he tried to keep himself alive on that island. Wilson was always around, wordlessly providing support and tiny glimmers of hope in, truly, the shittiest of situations. Various street corners, public parks, specific lamp posts, and select fountains have been my Wilson. For me, like anyone who’s ever experienced life from 20ish to 26ish and possibly even beyond, things got a little rough at times. Near homelessness, attempted suicide, heartbreak, marital separation, job loss, friend fallouts, bad haircuts, a failed startup—it all compounds.
When you’re in the darkest of dark places, it’s natural to reach for something decidedly not dark. For me, that was the view of Liberty One from Rittenhouse Square, especially around Christmas when it’s decorated in glowing, sparkling, brilliant white lights. It was the short walk across the street to Cedar Point for escarole and white bean toast and a French 75 when I didn’t have the energy to make dinner. It was the walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge to see the sun set behind my city, putting so much into perspective. (Thousands of lit windows glowing in twilight’s dusk often beg me to think about all of the stories unfolding at any given time.) It was sitting in the front car on the El and taking it all the way to 69th Street to ride past Steve Powers’ Love Letters murals and dream of a person I’d want to show them to when I wasn’t quite sure if I believed in “love.” It was Sunday mornings at Quaker Meeting while I was deconstructing my faith and trying so hard to feel anything at all. It’s the view of the old church from my bedroom window when I wake up just in time to watch the sunrise. I love this place, but more than that, I love how its tiniest and seemingly insignificant details always kept me going when I didn’t have anything left. Even in the darkest of times, this city welcomed me and made me feel home when I didn’t even feel a connection to my own body. I love this city, and as much as I am a part of it, it’s become a part of me—a part of me that doesn’t quite exist anymore, and that’s perhaps the most gut-wrenching sentiment I’ve shared in seven-and-a-half years of this blog.
Letting go is so damn hard. But it must be done, which is why I’m pushing forward into this new era and new version of myself. I want to slow down though, and not be so dead-set on achieving success as however I define it in a moment. I want to embrace intentionality, live slowly and deliberately. I want to be happy being happy, and to learn that being content sometimes means staying in one place—personally, professionally, and yes, even location-wise. I may have hit my professional ceiling in Philly but it doesn’t mean I can’t come back eventually. Life is full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. I can’t deny this anymore, as my life has been full of them lately. (Yes, there’s even more than just moving, but we’re not ready to talk about that just yet.)
Come early September, Menagerie may not be a block away from my office anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away. I can come visit it any time and run into the same familiar faces on the street—the homeless guy I share an RXBar with occasionally, the homeless guy who scares me, the homeless guy who gasses me up daily and asks for nothing in return, my old boss who used to make me cry during my overnight shifts at the TV station, Danny Briere (I’ve seen him an alarming number of times and I’m not even sure if he lives in this city anymore), and any number of nameless specters I’ve been bumping shoulders with for the last few years, who may or may not actually exist. I’ll always be a Philly girl, kinda rough on the outside, willing to throw a battery-filled snowball at Santa in the good name of “sport,” and I believe that i will find my way back when the time is right.
It’s funny, the entire time I was chasing this idea of “stability” when I could have just been stable. I guess there was always a big part of me that never really wanted that to begin with?
When the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl again, you bet your ass that wherever I am in the world, I will find a way to make it to Philly so that I can properly celebrate that W by scaling a greased pole on Broad Street with the rest of my people. (Actually, can we please get a Flyers Stanley Cup win?) Just because I won’t be living here doesn’t mean it’s not “home.” It always will be.
I’m proud of where I’ve come from and excited to see exactly where I’m going. I can say that though it’s a little sad, I’m more happy, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m exactly where I need to be. Here’s to the latest chapter in my impending memoir and next leg of my journey. Thanks for following along.