Soon, I will be driving far, far away from this town. There is nothing like waking up at 4:30 a.m. to begin a family vacation to the east coast. Even though the days of waking up that early for dreadful cross country meets are far behind me, I make an exception for vacation.
As I stuff the last few t-shirts into the suitcase my brother and I are sharing, I cannot help but think about the places we will be visiting — Philadelphia, New York City, New England. In the span of a few days, we will be going back to places we have been a few times before. Nevertheless, this does not hinder my excitement.
I have not been to Philadelphia since we moved from there 11 years ago. I was eight years old when we left the city I had grown up in. I remember driving on a busy road to Super Fresh to go grocery shopping. I loved double bagging the groceries and organizing them into the cart.
I remember walking to McCall Elementary School every day with my dad, cutting through a mini park with trees that had huge leaves on them. Some days we would stop to get bagels and water at a mini store underneath a skyscraper just down the street from our apartment.
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The school had a huge playground; I sprained my ankle there more times than I can count. Before school started, we would all line up with our homerooms outside before walking in. As you went into the school, there was a huge flight of stairs to your right; we would sit on the stairs and slide down during breaks.
Straight ahead, there was a huge room that acted like a cafeteria and gym, with paintings on the walls. We would do rehearsals there for the drama club I was in. “Beauty and the Beast,” “Once on This Island.” I always looked up to the 7th and 8th graders that played the important characters, thinking they were significantly older and cooler than me.
I also remember riding the subway with my dad every day of the summer to go to the Rising Stars summer camp. We would stop at Dunkin Donuts to get golf ball-sized donuts at the station. Some days, he would let me lead the way through the subway, following my directions to get to the right stop. I remember thinking I was so professional and a master at directions. Yet after struggling to navigate my way through the tube and metro in Europe this past Spring break, I doubt I could find my way through the Philadelphia subway system.
I remember trying to find where we had parked Peter, our 2002 navy blue Honda CRV. Sometimes we could see him from our apartment window on the 9th floor. Other times, we had to walk up to 20 minutes to find where he was hiding. There were a few times in the winter where we would find him covered in snow. I remember reaching up to remove the snow from the top so it would not fall on the windshield while driving.
Even though I miss Peter dearly, I am glad I did not have to learn how to drive a stick-shift car. That would have made my driving experience 100 times more miserable.
Rihanna, Shakira and Selena Gomez would blast from Peter’s radio. Yet I mostly remember inserting the Black Eyed Peas Album, “The E.N.D.,” numerous times. I never got tired of “I Gotta Feeling,” “Party All the Time” and “Meet Me Halfway.”
One of the things I remember most is our apartment. I remember watching “Blue's Clues” on the TV, playing with trains and cars in the living room. We would watch “The Lion King” and “The Princess and the Frog,” DVDs that my dad would borrow from the Drexel University library and bring home every Friday evening.
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I remember never wanting to eat bananas and watching as my brother would knock down the plant we had in the living room. My parents probably spent hours during the 8 years we lived there vacuuming the soil from the carpet. My brother and I would eat cheerios and fruit on the couch as we watched TV and read picture books together.
When I think of Philadelphia, one of the main memories that come to mind is setting off the smoke alarm in our apartment after microwaving a plastic plate with pizza. My grandparents and I were not sure if it was microwavable, so we took a chance. When my parents returned, they had told us you could smell the smoke from the main level nine floors down.
Philadelphia is home to some of the greatest memories of my life and thinking about going back — even just for the day we are passing through — gives me a sentimental feeling. I want to see what new skyscrapers have been built and what our apartment looks like 11 years later. I want to see the Starbucks we would walk to every Saturday morning and the park where I tried learning how to ride a bike. I want to see the place I called home.
Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian. She hopes to one day live in Philadelphia again and relearn the subway system.