The same goes for the people who live in Pittsburgh: many of their lives have drastically changed, but yet they are still very much the same people I knew when I left Pittsburgh. My family provides one example: my sister is now in her junior year at the University of Pittsburgh. She started out applying to prestigious musical conservatories around the country to sing opera and is now preparing to apply to graduate school in order to become a physical therapist. Yet she is still the same energetic, enthusiastic, endearing sister I have always known, who tries to make me “dress up more” and wants me to dance to hip hop music with her in every room of the house at every hour of the day.
My mother and father are also the same . . . but different. They are both working far more than they ever worked while I lived at home—three jobs apiece during tax season, when my dad works for the U.S. Postal Service, Aramark, and H&R Block, and my mom works for University of Pittsburgh Press, UPMC Rehab Services, and (also) H&R Block. Otherwise, however, they are merely aging versions of their endlessly patient, good-humored selves.
Where the most drastic changes have occurred, I think—and therefore the scariest changes—are with my friends. These are the people I grew up with: my neighbors, my classmates, my high school crushes. Seeing them take what I consider to be enormous steps in life is both a little bit scary and a little bit heartbreaking. It’s scary because I know that I am nowhere near taking on these sorts of gigantic responsibilities. It’s heartbreaking because such huge changes, ultimately, cannot help but wrench our life paths in separate directions.
One of my best friends recently got married. In her case, I was already realizing the differences of “married life” and “married priorities” well before she was married, because even a year before the wedding, she and her now-husband were already hanging out primarily with other couples, a number of whom were already married. My visit this break merely confirmed what I already knew: that one’s definition of “family” ends up defining one’s definition of “friends.” Unfortunately, that means married people hang out with married people, and single people . . . .
Case in point: another one of my friends found out he was a father last year, moved in with his girlfriend, and committed himself to raising her already-three-year-old son as well as his own newborn daughter. Now, he no longer talks to any of his former friends, many of whom are still single, and all of whom are childless. The worst part is that this friend pool includes me. And as sad as this might make me I do understand, because even if I call him once, twice, ten times, his children will probably need his attention, and when you have kids, your kids come first. When you’re single and childless . . . all you have to worry about is you.
The third huge life-altering change I witnessed while I was home in Pittsburgh was a purchase: one of my friends bought a house. We’re approximately 23 years old, and this guy feels settled enough to buy a house. Meanwhile, I can’t even decide if I want to live in Queens, New Jersey, or China. Talk about being in different places in life!
Like always, one of the questions I was most frequently asked was, “Are you coming back?” Of course I said yes, I’d be back already at Christmastime, but then the questioner would revise their question. No, no, they would say, do you think you’ll ever move back? To Pittsburgh.
While I usually give the same noncommittal, “maybe, but I can’t see why,” type of response, my answer lately has felt more and more certain. Over the years, as I witness more changes in lives of those around me, I feel less and less compulsion to come back. If I could have frozen time right when I graduated high school and then left, gone to college, done my stint in New York City, gallivanted around the world, and then returned to things exactly as I had left them here in Pittsburgh, I might feel a stronger compulsion to stay. But I don’t fit here anymore. This space, in this portion of my life has changed shapes, and it no longer calls to me the same way it did when I first left. Every time I come back to Pittsburgh, it feels vaguely like I’m trying to force my life back into that original shape, even though I recognize that so much has changed. And it hurts to try to make things like they once were, because that’s an impossible feat, and one that always results in disappointment. It’s just that the place feels the same, and the people are the same. But everything has changed. Including me. So I doubt I’ll ever really be back. But, as they say, never say never.