Monday, March 19, 2012

396 Days - How To Make Love to a City

The City of Brotherly Love.” 

Most people who grew up in Philadelphia snicker when they hear that term uttered as a way to describe the city. But unfortunately those *most* don’t realize that the above statement is not now nor was ever meant to be a description. If you’re Greek, you know, it’s a definition. It’s what the word “Philadelphia” means when broken down. “Phileo” – to love and “adelphos” – brother. I’ve heard the term used my entire life yet only agreed with the word’s meaning long after I had left. So many things changed when I left that city, but the love I have for it grows stronger with each passing day I stay away.

I pride myself on being a non-suburb gal. I’m tough. I’m loud. I’m sassy and I swear, a lot. Those characteristics aren’t typical of the cul-de-sac type who grew up with a lawn and a pool. My pool was an open fire hydrant blasting me across the street and often into the path of an oncoming car. My lawn, a concrete pavement that made the greatest cracking sound when the double-dutch ropes would hit it in the summertime. My back yard was an aluminum porch that overlooked Frank the Greaseball’s tomato plants, and my very own bedroom was the side of the bed I slept on next to my mother until I was ten. I didn’t know that people didn’t grow up like I did. I didn’t know that I was poor, or that families owned two cars. I didn’t even know that everyone wasn’t Catholic. This was all part of growing up in Philadelphia. It is all part of what makes me who I am today, love it or leave it, and as I grow older and, though some would argue, wiser, I am finding that my love for those things which I was once embarrassed by is strong and heavy and sturdy and grand. I proudly wear my city on my sleeve, next to my heart, which is where it will live forever if I have anything to do with it.

The decision to leave Philadelphia stands alone still as the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. Luckily, I had never gotten pregnant from a one night stand or had to watch my next-of-kin spend weeks on life support. I’m sure those decisions would blow mine away, but keeping it in perspective, it was still pretty effing hard to come to terms with. I knew one person in Atlanta. Technically, I was going to be moving in with someone that, while he and I had been dating for over a year, I still had only seen in person roughly ten or so times. Leaving my beloved city was going to rip me apart. I couldn’t walk out of my door to the Wawa for a coffee, or listen to Harry Callas call the Phillies game on the local radio station. I would no longer have real cheesesteaks, or get my next tattoo at Eddie’s, or watch the sun rise over the Delaware river. Who would call me “doll” when I needed to buy the Daily News? How would I live without another Mummer’s parade on New Year’s Day? And where would I find scrapple? This is SCRAPPLE we’re talking about, here! But while my heart was shattering into itty bitty pieces in my chest, my brain knew that Philly wasn’t mature enough for me any longer. It was my tenth grade boyfriend, and it was time… yes, about time… I dated a grad student.  

My last days in Philadelphia were the hardest. You’d think that I would have spent my final moments in my hometown visiting relatives and gossiping with my girlfriends, but I didn’t. I mostly spent them alone. Well, alone as you could be with a city of 1.5 million people. It was “our” time together, Philly’s and mine. We were a love affair for the ages, and it was time to say our goodbyes until our next brief rendezvous, whenever that would be. So I drove… and I didn’t stop until late in the evening. I hit every mural that meant something to me. I watched the lights come on at night at the foot of the Ben Franklin bridge. I stood outside of Silk City lounge, listening to the music through its walls and wanting pancakes from its diner. I photographed City Hall from every angle I could get, and I told William Penn how special he was to me, and that no matter where this life would take me, he would always be the first man I ever loved. I took Philly out to dinner, kissed it on the mouth, and in the last few hours, made mad, passionate love to it. Then, in the morning, I snuck out before it woke up so that it didn’t ever get the chance to see me cry.

These are some of the snapshots from those final moments. I present to you, my one and only Philadelphia...

The Apartment in West Philly where I lived until I was ten.

My wonderful Silk City.

Ben Franklin would have been proud to call this bridge his own.

Lottery tickets, hoagies and cigarettes by the singles. Nowhere else on earth can you get that kind of service.

Mural of Alfredo Arnold Cocozza, also known as Philly's favorite Italian son, Mario Lanza.

One final dinner on Broad street in the shadow of Center City

My heart belongs to you, Billy. It will forever. It's yours for the keeping.

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