When I was seventeen, I left Philadelphia and moved to Pittsburgh. When I was twenty-two, I left Pittsburgh and moved to Korea. At twenty-three, I moved to Boston.
That’s a lie.
At twenty-three, I moved to Somerville.
When I moved to Pittsburgh, I did it on my own. I didn’t actually do all of the moving myself, it was a process that took years. My parents helped me cart things from one end of the state to the other. We took the artifacts from my life and brought them across the soft hills and grey forests that make Pennsylvania Pennsylvania. This was done without senses of finality or even intention–things were being moved. Back and forth. From this, I ended up living in Pittsburgh. I went there without anyone else–when I first moved there I picked the city out of a list, in the end based on nothing but the name. Pittsburgh. I didn’t have anyone there who was mine, who would be my connection to the city.
When I went to Korea, I had already decided I was going before Matt and I decided we were going. I hadn’t decided on Korea–that came in the middle of indecision and winter. Fear had marked the choosing of Korea. By the time it became a clear decision, I had already set myself to leaving America. I was young: I was uncertain. It was the time to do it.
Matt and I went together, even though we went at separate times. I liked to think I was going alone, that I was a graduate setting out to my future, but that wasn’t really true. Shortly after my arrival, I confessed that it would not have been Korea without him. I had been offered a job in Ulaanbaatar, where I wanted to go, but by that point the decision had been made for us to go together. Matt hadn’t been offered a job there. We were both offered positions in a satellite city of Seoul.
When I came back to America, I moved to Somerville. I was running into the arms of a community I didn’t have to find for myself. I slid into it and found a space as people fluidly moved around me to make that space. I came here, literally, with O., but I came without a plan. I came without being set as to what I was doing or who I was going to be when I got there.
I feel as though these moves, each of them indivudally, were something. They were acts of rebellion–rebelling against the person I had been or the place I had been from. In visiting Pittsburgh, after returning from Korea, I thought about staying. I thought about living there. When I got lost in the summer, I had wanted to stay.
While being a housewife in Trafford, I had a moment of alienation. I was taking the bus into town, to see G, when I realized the city was not mine. It was a stranger. There was so much of it I would never know, that I could never know outside of the context of my five years as a student. I couldn’t take that step to become a Pittsburgh transplant.
So I ran.
When I was a sophomore, I was talking with EO, who had been responsible, in part, for keeping us sane. We were these packages of young, brilliant, scared kids left on his porch, waiting to be unwrapped so the people inside could be let out. EO would sit with us while we talked, at him mostly, about what was going on. While talking, with little context, I told him I was going to move to Boston.
It was something I had never thought about before. I’d been there once as a child, when my dad was taking a class in Boston. We went overnight during the weekend to meet the people he was in class with. I didn’t remember the city. The summer before sophomore year, I visited with some friends for an afternoon. We rode the T and walked the Freedom Trail, things that were entirely meaningless to me at the time. These two trips gave me no context to make the decision to move there, and it wasn’t even something I had really considered at the time. The words sprang from me, in that conversation.
“I’m going to move to Boston some day.”
When I told my parents about Korea, they accepted it with muted resignation. My mother cried, she later told me. My father found a silent happiness in the idea I was -doing- something. When I told them I was moving to Somerville, my father told me he always knew I was going to do that.
Moving for me was an oddly personal decision each time. It wasn’t really motivated by employment or love, friendship or really any of those things that people say motivate them when they move.
I was motivated by fear.
I was afraid of becoming like people I had known in high school, in middle school, so I left Philadelphia. I was afraid of becoming another statistic, another fatality to academia, so I went to Korea. I was afraid of being stuck in who I had been between the ages of seventeen and twenty.
Now that I’m here, I look over my shoulder when I feel that motivating fear creeping up on me. It’s a fear of stagnation, that things will get stuck in how they are. That they won’t change. That from this lack of change I will end up becoming that person I was scared of being when I was sixteen and told my mother than I was going to leave Philadelphia.