In Philly, I started over. I became a regular at local restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. People recognized me and my dog walking down the street, and I recognized them. I made friends, I got involved in my coworking community, I became more or less a fixture in the leadership of several professional organizations. I started to grow into my element, and for the first time in years, feel not only independent, but happy in that independence.
Let me be clear, it wasn't all roses. In fact, I went through some terrible times in that apartment. Those walls, floors, bed, shower saw more tears than I can count. Heartbreaks both personal and professional happened over those years. People who faded from my life, or I from theirs. Positions I felt I deserved that were given to others for reasons that to this day still hurt a bit. There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of difficult times there. But I persevered and I continued to strive towards my goals. One foot in front of the other, as my grandmother always said.
This past year, I decided to make some major changes in my life. After years, I stepped down from my leadership positions, feeling that I'd done what I could do, and it was time for others to have their chance. I started to shift much more of my focus to mental health awareness and advocacy, with the goal of eventually establishing a successful non-profit. I took a part time job at a conference center, and for the first time in eight years, I have to get up and dressed and start working by a time set by someone other than myself. It's a major change, but I have to say, I love having the structure for at least part of my work week. Most notably, I have become part of a new family through my current relationship. In April, I signed a lease on a house in Cherry Hill, and I gave my 60-day notice at my Philadelphia apartment.
Yesterday, my dad and I finished cleaning out the apartment, removing (or trashing) the few remaining items that were still in there. As I stood in the empty rooms, I experienced what felt like a bit of time travel. Random images of the last four years, flashes of occasions that happened in those very rooms, or just outside in the surrounding neighborhood. I thought about all of the laughs that had echoed in there, and the tears that had been shed; the way too numerous to count solo song and dance concerts that I performed while listening to iTunes and cooking dinner; the first time I'd attempted to get Cinn (my dog) to go up the elevator, and how far she'd come in conquering that fear over the four years. I felt that "feel" that only my apartment had, even cleared of my things. Like an old, familiar friend, always there for me to come back to. I checked my mail one last time, in case forwarding mail wasn't quite as accurate as it claimed. And then, with one last sigh of nostalgia, I closed the door on that one bedroom apartment that had gotten me through so much, looking at the sign that I'd taped to the door informing people that there was a dog in there and to make sure she got out in case of fire or emergency. It felt wrong somehow to take it down, that last remnant of my and Cinn's adventure there, so I left it.
As my dad hugged me goodbye and I made a joke about it being the last time he had to worry about finding a parking spot to come visit me, a famous literary line popped into my head: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Dramatic, I know, but I think it sums things up nicely. Overall, I'll remember the good, with a quiet respect for the tough times that became learning experience. Over those four years, I do think that I established my independence rather well, and I have a bit better idea of myself. I never did figure out life. Maybe someday.