Philadelphia in Spring: reflections of youth and self

[Edit: this is a post composed by Gina, but I (Shaun) will be adding commentary in Green]


When I decided that I would take the week off to celebrate my birthday, I was impressed when several people (namely Shaun, Ginny and my best friend Peter) decided to take a day off during the week to spend with me.  I was quite glad because not only did I get to spend entire days with the people I adore, but I wasn’t lonely while Wes worked his long hours.  Peter took Monday off to take me guitar shopping.  Ginny and I spent the day together on Wednesday being ridiculously girly by getting pedicures and then having fru fru cocktails at a very trendy bar/restaurant in Center City.  I spent Thursday with Shaun, having no idea what we would be doing.  Shaun can be secretive sometimes…or perhaps it’s just him not knowing what he wants to do…whatever it is, I was looking forward to whatever he had in store.

I basically winged it.  OK, that’s not completely true.  I did research to see what was available to do that day, wrote down possibilities, and moved towards a specific direction.  I’m more spontaneous than itinerary-creating.


So, we woke up and he cooked breakfast while I sat on the little love seat in their kitchen plucking away on his neglected guitar.  I make it a point to tune it up and play it a bit every time I’m there.  Guitars, and most instruments, need to be nurtured and played with as they age or they wither and die.  It’s true!  Playing them regularly keeps them youthful and spry and age translates into wisdom and beauty instead of bitterness and discord.

Get it?  Guitars are like people.  I’m so fucking poetic!

It’s true.  Her poesy is wikkid sick!

After eating a lovely meal, we set out and decided that Thursday was a day for walking.  It would ultimately be a warm 78 degrees and though it was overcast in the early hours of the morning, the sun was out in uninterrupted full force for the whole afternoon.  We wandered over to the art museum area, a place I haven’t walked around in years.  I have been to the art museum itself recently, but I haven’t partaken of the beauty of Fairmount Park in quite a while.  I used to go there a lot with an ex boyfriend of mine, an ex that I thought I was going to marry, an ex with whom things ended quite poorly.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the city to explore.  I have discovered old ruins, abandoned warehouses, and great concrete structures jutting into the Schuylkill (Philly native win; I didn’t need to look up how to spell that!) river accessible via the bike path near Manyunk.  We didn’t venture that far today, not having bikes with us.

Shaun and I both grew up in Philadelphia.  Neither of us grew up with a lot of money.  We went to school in approximately the same area around the same time.  While the circumstances of our upbringing were certainly different, there were various things that were parallel.  It was exciting to go around parts of town that had significance to both of us, to share points of view on the same places, to look at things again with older eyes, eyes that have changed perspectives multiple times since leaving many of these things behind years earlier.

Can you tell that I was getting a little sentimental?

We wandered along the river where both of us were getting sunburned (and didn’t know to the extent until that evening).  After hours of that, we decided that it was time for snacks and beer (or in my case wine.  It’s almost always wine. Something red and cheap.  Poifect!)  Being on the Parkway at the time, we decided that we should try out a pub across the street from Shaun’s old school, Friends Select.

Shaun and I have an ongoing joke about Friends Select.  I went to J.R. Masterman (a few blocks north of FS) and when I was in highschool many of my friends were obsessed with several people who went to FS.  To them, everyone at FS was deep and interesting (and totes hot) and it was my friends’ missions to appear cool enough to impress them.  It is unlikely that I ever actually saw Shaun there as he is 4 years older and shouldn’t be paying attention to 15 year olds anyway (RIGHT, SHAUN? Right.  I stopped that years ago.  At least 15 years ago. Probably longer.  I’m almost 35….)…although, when I was that age, everyone thought I was 25, so you never know.  I would pass FS regularly on my walk down to the El to get home and there would always be students loitering outside of the Subway sandwich place across the street from FS.  I used to sit on the ground and play Nirvana songs with this guy Leslie (we’d harmonize on “Rape Me”…classy!).

This same spot, as well as the nearby “triangle park,” is where I would play hacky sack.  No, really! 

So the joke is that I couldn’t stand FS kids.  They seemed so out of touch with everything but went on like they had some kind of unique perspective.  I recall one kid in particular was telling some people the story of how he spent the night wandering the streets with a homeless man and now he totally gets what it’s like to be homeless…as he replaced the batteries in his Walkman and ate a snack.  I was amazed that anyone took this guy seriously, but he had women eating out of his hands.  “Wow!  What a sacrifice you made that night!  you really understand things now, man.”  This how most of them came across to me.  Shaun insists there were many who weren’t like that.  I believe him, but, you know, I was 16 and bored to tears by 16 year olds.

So we arrived at the pub (although not Mace’s Crossong, the pub referred to above) and Shaun gets a gleam in his eye and says, “Oh man, we should go into Friends Select!  It would absolutely amuse me to bring you there.”  I figured it would be funny and it was true that I never actually had the opportunity to go in there before, so in we went.  Shaun thought about pretending to be prospective parents, but instead he introduced himself as a former student and the people in the office figured out who was still teaching there that Shaun may have known.  We got visitor badges and started wandering the halls.

It was a very nice place, with multiple halls winding around.  I was certainly amused being in Shaun’s old stomping grounds (and at how much nicer the place was than Masterman.  Oh, public schools).  We walked through the elementary school and then the middle school…and then found ourselves in the highschool.  Suddenly I was right back at 18.  There was a row of lockers and backpacks strewn in front of them and kids hanging around waiting to go home.  I saw a sign that said “Class of 2012” and I felt completely ancient.  So two very difficult sets of emotions came at me: memories of being 14 – 18 and miserable (followed by being relatively miserable in my 20’s too), and the realization that I had graduated highschool 13 years ago.  And that combined with all the memories of the ex that I used to walk around in Fairmount Park with.

Shaun ended up talking to one of his favorite math teachers (Ralph Reinwald, if anyone cares) who happened to be there.  I peeked into the chemistry lab (which was impressive) and steadily became overwhelmed by all of it.  Shaun’s teacher reminded me a lot of a teacher I had back then who had died on TWA Flight 800.  This teacher was also incredibly brilliant and I hadn’t remembered any of my teachers being that learned and smart.  They likely were and we just never talked about such things, but it was an amazing thing to see.

It was great seeing Ralph and talking for about 15 minutes.  I had considered asking him if he wanted to join us for dinner/drinks, since we were going, but it was Gina’s day, so I didn’t.  I might have to do that some other time.

We went to leave, but another teacher (administrator, actually.  Stuart Land, who is the director of alumni/ae programs) wanted to say hi. While we waited, I went into the auditorium (which was exceptional) and was completely overcome by emotion.  I discovered theater for myself in highschool and spent a great deal of time in the auditorium at Masterman and there was something about being in a highschool auditorium that brought everything back.  I fought back tears and floated off in my mind while Shaun caught up with the teacher.

We left finally and I fell apart in the courtyard in front of the school.  It was strange and I didn’t really understand it entirely at the time…but I was happy that Shaun was there because…well, because I want him to know these things about me.

How often we forget, or at least under appreciate, how fragile and emotional we can be when it comes to memory and youth.  I am so proud of the person Gina is today and I am honored to see that she is capable of showing vulnerability with me, for it shows great beauty, strength, and trust in her and our relationship.  I’m a lucky person to have her in my life.

When we meet people at various points in our lives, they don’t know anything about us right away.  There are the things that we can tell others over time, things we are conscious enough of that we feel that we can articulate them.  But there are so many things that we might not think to tell, or we might not realize are significant.  I most likely have talked about what highschool was like, how I felt about myself back then, what my friends were like, all of that, to him before, but perhaps even I had forgotten what it was really like to be in my own head then.  While I am a big fan of paying attention to initial emotions, figuring them out and choosing proper courses of action for dealing with them healthily, I also think it important to let these waves of memory and emotion be expressed to those close to me.  The more you show the people you love, the more they can learn to understand you and help you as relationships progressed.  Shaun wrote about exactly this today with some amazing literary skill and intellectual brilliance.

We quickly found a bar (or two) to while away the daylight hours and as I got drunker and more dehydrated (and a little unstable from all the memories of the day), I talked a lot, but my thoughts kept going back to how different life is now than it was then and that while I felt old for a moment, I wouldn’t want to go back for anything.  I feel younger now than I did then having shed a few pieces of baggage.  I would prefer to feel wise at 31 than wait until I’m 61 to figure anything out.  My life as it is now makes me incredibly happy.  Happiness was something that I thought was not something I would ever truly have.  When I think back to what I expected when I was 18, this is not what I envisioned and actual happiness wasn’t really part of it.  I always thought that I would be 75 and finally over everything and then, and only then, when I was old and theoretically wiser, I would be that old laughing lady.

Ah, wait until what your 75-year-old self says about the 31-year-old self! Hows that for humility! I would love to know what I will understand at that age (if I make it that far, of course), but know I cannot know now.  Stupid time-space continuum!

So, now I just get more decades of being an old laughing lady.  What an unexpected surprise!

I hope that I can go along for the ride, my old, wise lady.