Philadelphia as the setting for change, by Colleen T. Reese

Colleen T. Reese
Favorite Spot: 11th Street

I am: A publishing and bourbon junkie, Geekadelphian and a lover of books.
Years in Philly: 4
Current Home: East Passyunk


My Love Note

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ever-evasive, ever-intangible idea of change–and also, a lot about my life in Philadelphia.

When I first moved back from my brief college stint at Temple, I moved into a rickety little 2BR apartment in University City. My roommate and I moved in rather impulsively and, frankly, late in the rental game. Neither of us attended Drexel and we learned very quickly that college parties made up a large bulk of the social scene there.

It felt really strange to me, being displaced in West Philly.  I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood. I felt like I was just going through the motions of moving back into the city, despite my many objections to the state of the apartment.

The metal in the doorknob had visibly been cut; it rained from the ceiling over exposed outlets in a rotting bay window; we had no screens in the windows and hot water was always an unreliable luxury. But, we moved our furniture in anyway, batting an eye at  broken blinds and dated utilities.

Like many displaced suburbanites, I was running from an identity. My life in Lansdale had quickly exhausted itself. I told the same stories over and over again (to anyone who would still listen), all of them centered around my own selfishness and  disappointed victim mentality. I worked a job that I couldn’t stand. I stopped reading. I continually “dated” a guy (we’ll call him “Brian*”) who admitted he didn’t really care for me or find me particularly attractive. I had two interests in life: wasting time at the local sports bar and hearing myself make excuses about why my life looked so abysmal.

In short, I just let myself disappear.

I have experienced this pattern before. It’s a coping mechanism–one that I had used over and over again to reconcile what I thought I deserved  to achieve and what I actually had. It is only now that I can really see just how entitled and defeated I was.

The imminent change I’m going to talk about was not immediate. I didn’t move into my endearing, cheap apartment and suddenly feel new–and when I look back on that apartment, it certainly holds a peculiar air of orange-lit nostalgia with it. But if I’m being honest about this change, it wasn’t immediate or particularly admirable.

I spent the first three months at my new apartment indulging this disappearing pattern. I let Brian drive up 76, usually drunk, to my apartment and  crash on my mattress on the floor,  eat out of my pathetic pantry and everything else you’re not supposed to let people do. Same actors, different channel.

Fortunately for both of us, I made up my mind one day to simply not call Brian and that decision didn’t seem to affect either of us too much. He made no effort to call me back, either, and that made things easy for me. It was a cheap way to handle the situation but it’s one cop-out that I’ll never really feel sorry for.

I spent the next four months licking my wounds inside my rickety apartment. I didn’t explore neighborhood. I didn’t check bars and restaurants off a list. The nights I did go out, I’d typically over-do it and embarrass myself via a series of uncomfortable text messages to a litany of ex-boyfriends. I turned my nose up at college kids and took the same bus route over and over again on the way to work.

Obviously, I was still not much better than my Suburban self but a few months in, something very suddenly changed. I switched my commute to work from a fifteen minute bus ride to a forty-five minute walk–something I thought nothing of at the time. It sounds so much simpler than it really was but actually seeing and observing people living their lives started to course-correct everything wrong that I was feeling.

In the morning, I’d stroll down Spring Garden and anxiously look forward to seeing the early runners skipping up and down the Art Museum steps. I would smile and say Good Morning! to them in my head. I’d greet the groups of tired people waiting for the bus and salute the bikers kickin’ it around the traffic circles. I’d walk in step to whatever I was listening to, laugh at the tourists takings pictures at the Rocky statue and smile at the little kids playing in the fountains on hot summer days.

It was the most love I had felt in so long and I knew that it was silly… to love so many people that I’ve never interacted with. It taught me about indulging in small pleasures and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

By the time I had moved out again, all of this manifested into something else. I moved into a row home in South Philly. I was bolder and less uncertain of what I wanted. I stopped being afraid of being left alone and chose to go places with me, myself and I. I’d sit at the bar and order game meats and eat the cheese from the Italian Market. I played music. I read books. I watered my roommate’s tomato plants. I ate way too many raviolis at my neighbor’s house. I walked around. I sat in B2 and daydreamed for hours.

I gave into my own impulses and started  focusing on writing about other people instead of myself. I interviewed everyone and anyone that I could. I talked to them about their lives and what they loved, what made them feel joy and what made them feel alive.

And I remembered what it was like to truly feel joy.

It was only very recently that I learned how to identify that feeling again. I was so caught up in meeting all of these exciting people that I neglected to realize that I was becoming a person that I liked. I just remember, fairly recently, sitting in a room, alone, and feeling suddenly very awake–and then, realizing that I had felt that way for some time.

The city had very slowly healed all of the wounds and excuses I was holding so closely onto.

It’s something that I know I will feel but never be able to fully explain for the rest of my life. How do you explain a feeling of gratitude and humility towards a bunch of strangers running up and down the Art Museum steps at seven in the morning? How do you tell them that their morning rituals saved you from becoming a total defeatist?

I suppose this love letter is my attempt to say thank you to an entire city for getting up everyday and not feeling sorry for itself.

Your strangely sentimental admirer,

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Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in South Philly 3 Comments

3 Responses to Philadelphia as the setting for change, by Colleen T. Reese

  1. Jenna

    I love this…thanks for sharing!

  2. Polly Math

    So honest and uplifting. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Tajah


    I love this more than anything! You really know how to capture the heart behind Philadelphia. It has reminded me of why I love my city so much. I look forward to coming home again and (hopefully) playing an intense game of kickball.


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