Living in Philly
I moved to Taiwan in 2004 after I graduated from college. I was going to teach English for a year and then come back to the States to find work. One year turned into five, and then I moved to Shanghai to work as an editor. After a year there—and three years without going home—I moved back to the States to start all over again. This series of posts was written in commemoration of the anniversary of my life in this new town. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 4 here.
“I got Smartfood and a diet Coke from the vending machine, if you want a snack. Hey, why’s all this stuff in your car?”
“Yeah, about that. My mom and I got in a fight, so after this weekend, I’m going up to Massachusetts to stay with my brother.”
“You’ll stay with me. It’ll be awesome!” L actually seemed happy. “You can get a job and live here.”
I tried to laugh her off, then I tried to have enough dignity not to accept a handout from a friend, but finally I had to accept. Where else was I going to go? My brother was a good backup plan, but I didn’t want to go to Massachusetts in the winter and I didn’t want to sleep in a single bed and I didn’t want to take another shitty job as soon as one was offered to me.
I followed her up the stairs of her house to her kitchen, where her husband met us with a tray of fruit and cheese and glasses of wine.
“Rae’s here. She’s staying with us until she finds a job.”
“Oh, awesome,” her husband said. “I made mushroom and barley soup.”
“Yeah, his mushroom and barley soup is really good,” she told me.
I tried to imagine anyone else telling his or her spouse that a friend was coming to stay “until she found work” and that spouse saying, “Awesome” and handing said friend a glass of wine. My own brother had to ask his girlfriend if I could stay. I had slipped into a wrinkle-free, imperturbable IKEA ad.
Their house was beautiful and trendy in that delicately mismatched way that only the sublimely cool can master. She’s a lawyer and he’s a doctor; he brews beer and plays guitar; she bakes bread and roots for the Giants; and they both like to have a drink and a cheese platter after work. All their friends have graduate degrees and careers and interesting hobbies. And they’re all good-looking and boast a great collective sense of humor. I wanted to date the entire social group. After wading through all the junk and drama at my family’s house for the last six weeks, I felt like I had left an asylum and entered into a safe place.
I was still broke and now living entirely off my credit card, but I will always count it as one of the best and strangest times of my life. I looked for work for a few hours a day, but by the end of the first month, I had given up the search because of some weird premonition that I would get the job I have now. I spent my days cooking for L and her husband or reading their books. I had nothing to do except catch up on American culture, so I just observed everything around me and recalibrated my perspective, which hadn’t evolved since I’d left after college. And I was still thinking about my ex, but I had the space and time to mourn.
|Ivan and I did not get along while I was staying in Philly because he is evil.|
I stayed in Philadelphia for two months. I left shortly after I signed the job offer. My credit cards were maxed out and I didn’t start work for another month. I had already relied on my friends to give me a place to live and couldn’t imagine telling them I couldn’t even buy my own food anymore. In the end, I had to borrow money from my brother just to carry me through to my first paycheck.
L, her husband and her so friends had showed me so much kindness that I was disappointed and almost guilty that I couldn’t find a job in Philly, but I was glad for a good job and the chance to get back on my feet. And I was proud, too, for sticking it out: I could have gone back to Shanghai or even Taiwan to teach, but I’d stayed and I’d found a “real” job. Besides, by the time I started working, I was a couple thousand dollars in debt and there was no way I could in good conscience turn down what I had been offered. Anxious, disoriented, and exhausted, I made my way to Virginia.
What’s the most generous thing that anyone has ever done for you? How did you repay them?