When I was young, my father lived in University City, in Philadelphia. My fondest memories with him included walking around at dusk, observing college students playing Frisbee and people walking dogs. I fell asleep to the sounds of cars and sirens blowing in with the cool breeze– the buzz of city life. I learned to crave it at an early age.
I knew I would go to school in a city, which is one of the reasons I picked the University of Pittsburgh. And living there was great! There are pieces of it mixed into so many of my memories and expressions I still use because I lived there. It is always still so wonderful to go back. My time in college, I think, taught me how to love a city. But, if I learned how to love in Pittsburgh, I didn’t love Pittsburgh… not like I love Baltimore.
Because, the truth is, while I have spent time living and learning and dreaming in many cities– Philly as a little girl, Pittsburgh in college, Galway during study abroad– I was always packing up at the end of the term. And everything I liked and thought I loved in those places was like a crush I thought was the real thing. Because I never put down the real roots and I never saw the real flaws.
I didn’t love Baltimore because I was oblivious to its dark side, its rough patches, its corruption. I loved it in those things. I knew the different sides of it. I let it break my heart. I could be disappointed with the things I saw but I was still loyal. I squelched much of my wanderlust because I saw value in staying put somewhere, in being committed somewhere. I learned about myself.
When we were preparing to leave I wrote these few lines of poetry:
Thinking of leaving you hurts like hell
Because I am afraid that pieces of my soul
Have so intertwined with your landscape
That when I leave I won’t be able to pack them up and take them with me.
I thought that when we moved to Philly something would happen to me. I thought I would immediately snap back into the little girl feelings I had had about this city, my first city. I thought I would feel right at home.
I was wrong. It is so wonderful to live here and we are really enjoying ourselves. But how can this little crush, this 7 months of trying to find our favorite restaurants to eat at, compare to what I had before? To 7 years of digging in, taking roots, of knowing and learning that place? Of mixing myself into it?
Don’t misunderstand me. I am so happy. But I wonder if there is room in my heart for another city to be to me what Baltimore has been.