“Where are you from?” she asked me, and I didn’t know what to say, so I paused. I mean, I’m originally from Philadelphia, but I haven’t lived here since the ’90s. I live in upstate New York now, but I don’t know if I’ve ever considered it a pad from which to launch my life. My life as I know it did begin there, but can I possibly be “from” there?
She asked me this question on a bus in the Irish countryside, when we met for the first time. I asked her the same, and without hesitation she said, “Canada. I’m from Canada.” I found out later that she had chosen to interpret that question the first way, because it was where she had been born but she lived in eastern Pennsylvania. Now she lives in Texas, but if I asked her the question today she would still say “Canada” in a heartbeat.
I wonder how long it will take her to finally say somewhere else? Perhaps it’s a length of time thing. Wherever you’ve lived the longest is where you’re from. Maybe when I’ve lived in upstate for over 21 years I will finally be able to say without pausing that it’s where I’m from. Or it may not matter at all. I might always feel stuck between two worlds, just like in life.We either love where we came from or we hate it. I don’t remember who said that, but I completely agree with it. There’s usually no middle ground, from my experience. And I think people assume that I hate it because I don’t live here anymore, which is a falsehood. I love this place. I love the atmosphere, the people, and just the “feel” of Philly. It has a hold on me, and it always has, so every time I come back I just breathe it in and try to hold it forever so I don’t forget.
Maybe that’s what I worry about more than most things, that I will somehow forget all the things that make this place so special. I think that’s the reason I just walked the streets of downtown the last time I was here, to soak it in, to revisit my old haunts and see that they’re still here. I didn’t get a chance to do that this time, well, not really, but I did get to walk a few of my old paths.
We can’t get back the past, though. Time always moves on, and it takes us with it, like it or not. I can’t go home again, and yet it remains my home. It’s still where I’m from, and I am so proud to tell anyone who asks, just like I told that girl on a bus in the Irish countryside 7 years ago, even though I paused. I think that was the 7 years pause (the length of time I had lived in upstate New York to that point), but I still gave the correct answer.
And when my friend asked me where I was going this weekend, I didn’t even pause before I told her, “I’m going home.”