700 words about Saying Goodbye

By Iris Williamson

At the end of last month, I moved out of the city of Philadelphia for the first time in my life.

Born, raised and college-educated in the city, I recently moved to Watertown, Connecticut, to start my post-grad job teaching at a boarding school. But it wasn’t until a week before I was leaving Philadelphia that I started to realize that I was, in fact, leaving Philadelphia.

My summer was a stay-cation, and categorized by this laid-back routine: wake up, eat breakfast, watch CNN, workout. The afternoons were my favorite time of the day, where I would hop on my bike and cruise around the city.

One Thursday I went through my morning routine, put on my bathing suit, and excitedly propelled myself out the front door. And as I biked down the street to go get air in my tires, I thought about the power of place.

Take the act of getting somewhere. It’s really brave to consult a map and navigate to your destination. The ability to read maps is a skill, and getting yourself somewhere without Siri talking to you the whole time is invigorating, even if it’s a lost art. But there is nothing nicer than arriving somewhere through streets you know like your backyard, address or zip code.

Biking toward the John B. Kelly public pool I saw old heads and mothers, kids sitting outside on their front stoops and sidewalks. I easily dodged children running across the street to meet neighbors. I smelled trash, barbecue and weed. I heard people yelling from houses, jacks hammers, sirens, kids screaming and horns honking.

The symphony of a city workday.

I arrived at the pool and laid on my towel in the grass — surrounded by strangers in the city that I knew so well — and felt that feeling you feel when you start to like someone as more than just a friend. I was in the throes of a love affair with the city of Philadelphia.

Little did I know, I was just priming myself for a break-up.

In the coming days I thought about how I’ve taken the familiar things in my life for granted. I popped into my favorite Indian grocery store/restaurant in West Philly for a club soda and 75-cent onion Bahji. I rode across the Spring Garden Street and Girard Street Bridges, stealing glimpses of the city through the metal barriers, and was slightly blinded by the shimmering waters of the Schuykill River below.

Days passed, and I found myself in coffee shops around the West Girard, Northwest, West and South Philadelphia neighborhoods. I slurped soup at my favorite ramen and pho restaurants, my feet pounded through the trails of the Wissahickon, and I had ‘goodbye’ margaritas with loved ones. One evening I got in my car to go to a childhood friend’s house for dinner, hugging and anticipating the turns I’ve made so many times, and dialed the radio the only way I know how: 107.9, 102.9, 94.5.

But as the days went on my body started to anticipate leaving for Connecticut. It was anxiety. I had trouble falling and staying asleep. I was even getting canker sores in my mouth. It was an unfamiliar feeling in my skin and at the top of my throat, and it was distracting me from Philadelphia. It was like the hairs along my arms and legs were being plucked slowly all at once, lifting me up, and out.

“Does the city have it out for me?” I thought. “Is she trying to tell me something?”

The feelings took over. Then all of a sudden they were gone. I drove my car to Watertown, U-Haul in tow.

I am now in a new place introducing myself as “Ms. Williamson, new faculty, born and raised in Philadelphia.” I am starting a long-distance relationship. So as I sit here in Watertown writing this, I think, Maybe Philly was just trying to give me a not-so-subtle boot in the butt to get me out.

Even now, 194 miles away, I am certain my love affair with Philadelphia is still going strong. I only hope that she’ll take me back into her arms one day.

Editor’s note: This story is part of our September 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about Location: Where are you, and how does it affect how you see the world?’


Iris, a true Philadelphia native, graduated from Germantown Friends School in 2012 and the University of Pennsylvania in 2016, where she received a degree in art history and fine arts. She enjoys reading, listening to radio, eating Cheetos and laughing. You can reach reach Iris at iris.williamson@gmail.com.

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