So, I’ve been thinking about this lately… how I tend to hang onto hope, no matter how much time has gone by… and no matter how many of my wishes/dreams haven’t come true. More specifically, there are people and places I’ve known in the past that I’ve “gone back for”…. Have you ever done that?
I’m guessing that part of my desire to return to the past at times may have something to do with growing up in so many different places over the years (Navy). I always loved moving, but… it was never very conducive to long-lasting friendships. I was always grateful for the one or two friends I would make, and maybe just considered everyone else an acquaintance… because we only lived in certain areas one to three years at a time.
Heading off to college for me, then, was a bit of a strange experience because, for the first time (in like, ever) I knew exactly where I was going to be for four whole years — and it was *my* choice. How odd! (And how sorta scary and exciting.)
I chose Pittsburgh. I had never been there before and knew absolutely nothing about it, yet something about that area drew me to it. I loved the idea of steel mills and the mountainous climbs and the moody weather and interesting architecture. (And Gene Kelly.) It all seemed very romantic to me. I had also always wanted to live in an actual city… and NYC was a bit too big for me; plus, I wanted to go somewhere that no one else I knew had ever been… so Pittsburgh made sense to me. As luck would have it, my school even had a dance program and the exact major I wanted. So… clearly, it was meant to be.
Moreover, since my family was moving from Virginia to Chicago and then back to Virginia from Chicago during that time, it made the idea of staying in one place seem pretty “normal” to me; it maintained that sense of change I was used to, knowing that when I went home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or the summer I wasn’t necessarily returning to the same “home” I had just left.
After the holidays in Chicago, I liked traveling back to school by air because of that particular moment on my return trip when my plane would begin its descent into Pittsburgh. I would usually return in the evening when I could distinctly make out the city below me, in all its twinkling-lights-shimmering-in-the-three-rivers glory. (I loved that!) And there was that one building (the Grant Building) with a light on the top of it that spelled out “P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H” in Morse code.
My plane would usually end up hovering long enough, waiting for its turn to land, that I would be able to watch the flashing lights spell the word at least three times. That’s how I learned what letter it was on. I already knew how many and the length of the blinks that stood for “S” because of the phrase “S.O.S.”, but watching the blinks for “T” is what clued me in. There were two of them, you see… in a row. 😉 And so all of the other letters clicked into place after that. Kinda magical for me, I think. I’m not sure why, but… again, the romance of a city, I suppose.
I’ve already mentioned “racer boy” to you, who I met and dated while I went to school there. He was from outside of Philadelphia, but stayed to work in Pittsburgh for a couple of years after he graduated, while I returned to Virginia. We parted ways the summer after I graduated, but I “went back for” him twice — in late October of both 1991 and 1992. October is, after all, my favorite month in Pittsburgh. Walk through Shadyside in the fall, with all the multi-hued leaves framing your path along the way, and you’ll understand why. So, I specifically chose that time of year to return.
The first time I went back, I stayed with a couple of different friends I knew from my former dance classes. During my stay, one of them drove through an intersection and crashed her car into someone else’s. I felt horrible about it, thinking I had somehow managed to cause it. Even though I wasn’t with her at the time, I assumed it happened (of course) because Fate was trying to tell me something — after all… my friend had been on her way to pick me up so I could go see him when the accident happened. :-\ But… I didn’t listen to Fate (because I really wanted to see him). Had I stayed away from him that day, perhaps my visit wouldn’t have gotten us off on the wrong footing with each other.
The second year I went back to see him, there were no car accidents involved, but things still didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. Sigh.
But, in 1993, I went back again and stayed at my best friend’s apartment… just to hang out there. I was at a crossroads in my life at the time. Earlier that year, I had quit my job (until then, I was an assistant retail store manager with a company I’d worked for during and after college) to take time off (which lasted about a year) to figure out what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. During that “down time” I spent a lot of time writing, which I hadn’t been able to focus on when I was working a retail schedule. I guess that fact alone kinda told me what I wanted/needed to do with the rest of my life…?
Recently, I found a letter that my best friend wrote to me on stationery I’d given to her for her birthday 😉 [yes, we used to mail each other letters!] in which she was telling me…. Well, here. See for yourself:
Anyway, that year, as luck would have it, it was in my best friend’s company that I went out dancing on my last night in town and met “MM”. What’s so important about him? Well… the following year, 1994, he is the one I went back for. [Perhaps he can remember and remind me whether or not he invited me there… or if I went on my own?]
Some time before 1994, racer boy had moved to New York and my best friend was out of town traveling with a dance group (or something). But, even without them, I missed being in the city and was drawn back to Pittsburgh — I had actually never intended to leave it behind so quickly anyway (hence my annual returns), but when I made my attempt to stay and live there, it didn’t last very long. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, I guess.
And so I had gone back one final time… maybe just to see what the chances were that there was any reason for me to keep going back. This time I stayed in a hotel that kind of overlooked Point Park, I think. I remember trying to feel very independent and mature and womanly on that visit, but instead staring out of my hotel room window feeling very lonely, disconnected, and wanting so much to belong there, but… not really knowing how to find my way back.
Here’s another thought that recently occurred to me: Whenever I have thought about Pittsburgh over the years, I have always equated it more to MM than to racer boy or my best friend (this is possibly because neither one of them was from there, but MM is) — kinda the same way you internalize a song and give it your own specific, personal meaning for the rest of your life, I guess. Hmm….
And, perhaps just as “strangely”, I’ve always had this protective feeling about Pittsburgh. I still think of it as *my* town… probably because an important part of me is still there… wandering the campus, riding the incline, dining at one of the restaurants at Station Square… or dancing at a club in the Strip District.
That, of course, would be the adventurous, romantic, dreamy part of me that chose to make the city part of my life for four years — out of thin air — because I believed in all of its possibilities and the hopes and wishes and dreams I could make come true there.
This is the song that has always reminded me of my last visit there: