When I was nine, there were two things I liked to do. The first was to sneak this little portable b&w tv up to my bedroom and watch shows my mom wouldn't let me stay up to see. The second was to read. I'd sleep with books under my pillow, reading everything from a Get Along Gang storybook to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. So one night, I stayed up reading the New Testament given to me for my First Communion the year before.
I devoured it in one night, scaring the hell out of myself. Actually, three things scared me. First, this was still the Cold War, and I was convinced that the Russians were going to start a nuclear war. Second, try as I might, I couldn't wrap my mind around the concept of eternity (still can't), and it scared me. Third--Philadelphia was mentioned among the seven churches of Asia Minor.
Now, I had no idea what or where Asia Minor was. I saw Philadelphia and I freaked. I was sitting on ground zero for the Apocalpyse--at least as far as I was concerned.
Now, an apocalypse is a revealing--and that's what this is. I wasn't revealed anything that particular night, except my own predisposition towards paranoia and eschatonic belief. But Philadelphia as a city of revelation has stuck with me.
Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love. That's the saying, and Billy Penn had, at least, a pretty descent idea of creating a "greene country towne" free of disease, fires, and prejudice. I don't know if he was thinking of John's Revelation, Philadelphia being the one city which is described in pretty glowing terms. At any rate, the city's always been a mix of high ideals and low realities. We're a divided city, a city of poverty, racism, extreme political corruption. We're a city with a crappy public transit system which is the most expensive and least efficient. We're the city of Ben Franklin, Rocky, MOVE, Noam Chomsky and Walter Annenberg.
This is not an ideal city. This is not New York or San Francisco. Hell, this isn't even Chicago. This is a city that threw snowballs at a crappy-looking Santa and never lived it down. Our sports teams are a perennial disappointment.
But still I live here. Why?
When I was ten, we moved to a small town in rural Pennsylvania. I hated it, not surprisingly, and spent most of my time thinking of ways to move back into my old neighborhood. Eventually, I did. And now, after nearly two years of being back, I'm ready to move out again. Granted, I'm moving to only another part of the city, leaving Fairmount for Mount Airy, which is more ethnically diverse and certainly cheaper to rent in, but the point is that I'm moving.
Last July, I was attacked. Carjacked, forced to withdrawl money from my checking account, and threatened with rape. It only ended when my boyfriend, who was out looking for me, found us and broke it up. (It's a long story.) Since then, I've been very paranoid, afraid to leave the apartment by myself, afraid to walk around the neighborhood where I grew up.
I spent years trying to get back something I lost in my childhood--a sense of community, a place I loved. Now I realize there's nothing to reclaim. We stop flying eventually, you know; we stop waiting for Peter Pan to fly in.
I'm twenty-five years old. I live in Philadelphia with my boyfriend. I'm trying to break free of my childhood, because it's like arsenic--sip a little and the spots go away, but ultimately it's fatal. I'm trying to break free of this city, or at least my fascination with it. There's nothing to be fascinated by--just people I can't connect with.
But that's OK.