Perhaps the most striking part of my move to Pennsylvania was the realization that it is not always sunny in Philadelphia. As I took the train from the airport, I watched the dark clouds roll over the city and felt like someone who was left out of an inside joke. I reminded myself that every place has its gloomy days and tried not to let it get me down as I grew closer and closer to my new life, one I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from. The sun was bound to come out soon, anyway.
It rained for three days after. I’ll admit it: after the second day, I chuckled to myself.
Why Philadelphia? I get asked that a lot now, once people stop laughing over the fact that I’m a Kansas girl. One thing I’ve learned from traveling is that no one knows what to do with a Kansas girl. Once I met a bartender in New York whose eyes grew round as he exclaimed, “Hey, I grew up on a farm, too!” In Italy, I met a couple from California who snorted out laughs and said, “But how did you end up here?”
More often than not, my home is the place Americans forget about. The sunflower state, the breadbasket of the country, the heart of America, that little square on the center of the map like a doughnut hole, inconsequential and often left out. Or, perhaps more importantly, the backdrop of exactly one famous film that would forever scar the world’s perception of it. Nearly every “Where are you from?” is followed by a “I have a feeling you’re not in Kansas anymore.” I always force a laugh out of politeness, or perhaps because I’ve heard it so often it’s almost become humorous in itself. I have become the East Coast’s Dorothy, the lost little girl in a foreign land. Everyone seems to wait expectantly for me to click my heels together and return home.
So why Philadelphia? You got a job, a family, a boyfriend here? My real answer seems to leave people unsatisfied. I guess it’s because I’ve never really followed the most conventional path in life — I take opportunities that make others shake their heads disapprovingly. But no one who knew me well was particularly surprised by the news. When I first called my mom to tell her I was moving to Philadelphia, I was thrown off by her lack of opposition. “I didn’t expect you’d stay around here for long,” she admitted. I guess she’d grown too used to seeing me out the door not long after I entered through it.
I made the decision while I was still living in Italy. My time there was winding down, and I knew it was time to start preparing for my trip back to the States. I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about it. I struggled with the idea of leaving my favorite place in the world to return to a home that seemed to offer little more to me. I was sitting at work lamenting over it when I got the text. “Why don’t you just move up to Philadelphia with me for a while?” my friend had typed. “If you’re just going to be looking for jobs, you might as well be here.”
At first, it sounded silly, but it took only a few minutes for me to register that I wanted to do it. I was filled with an excitement I hadn’t felt in a while. I mean, I was looking for jobs on the East Coast anyway. Why not be closer to the places I was applying to? Besides, my friend was right: I was either going to be sitting around in Kansas or sitting around in Philadelphia. Why not try out something new? After all, I had become the person who jumped on new opportunities with little forethought, and so far it hadn’t led me astray.
An hour later, after some intense online research, I had my one-way ticket and a slight sense of disbelief. When I told my friend, neither of us seemed to really grasp what was happening. We were giddy and anxious and absolutely unprepared. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
It’s been a month now since I sat on the train for the first time, passing buildings shrouded in clouds. A month since I unpacked my single suitcase in my new room and wondered what the hell I was supposed to do next. Philadelphia isn’t quite what I expected when I clicked the “buy now” button on the plane ticket. There have been some bumps along the way — disappointing job searches, a limited social life and a homesickness for my old one, a culture that is not quite as forgiving as the Midwest’s. The uncertainty of my future makes me uneasy. I just got here, but I don’t know when I’m going to have to pack up again and leave. It feels like I’m always packing and leaving.
But I’m happy. Despite everything, there’s so much to love. There’s something so green about Pennsylvania, something so alive. I love the thick patches of trees and the sprawling land. I love the cute little hideaway hotspots in the city, the beer gardens and the water ice stands and the parks with glittering lights. I love people watching on trains and being mistaken for a local, laughing at the actors dressed as Ben Franklin loitering around Independence Hall and taking too many selfies next to the Liberty Bell when it’s late at night and everyone is too drunk to stand still. I look at them whenever I need a laugh. They remind me that it’s worth it.
Someday in the future, when I’m older and established, I know I’ll find those photos again and smile at the blurry moments. They are embarrassing poses and lopsided smiles that will remind me what it was like to be young and directionless and uncertain. They’ll remind me of the days when I was unafraid of taking a leap of faith, unafraid of the unknown, when I took empty promises of sunny days and made them into something worth loving anyway.