Six years ago this month, my husband and I finished loading our U-Haul and hightailed it out of Pittsburgh and back to New England.
We had lived in Pittsburgh for several years after college. It was where Chris and I had our first home together, where he proposed, and where we adopted our little big-eared wonderdog, Colby.
We left Pittsburgh on very bad terms. People we had thought of as dear friends screwed us over for their own professional gain, while other friends silently stood by, or shut us out of their lives completely. To this day, there are only a dozen or so people we still keep in contact with from our time in Pittsburgh.
When we left the city, we had no idea what our future had in store for us. All of our plans were now completely shattered. Neither of us had jobs lined up in New England, and we would be staying with family until we could land on our feet. Those first few weeks in limbo were easily the worst time in my life. I can’t think too much about that period, as it’s still so painful. In fact, it’s taken these past six years to gather the courage to write about it even briefly.
However, I have been looking back on our time in Pittsburgh before we were dealt that blow.
It was pretty common knowledge that while living in Pittsburgh, I hated the city. I did not want to be there; it was not New England. I never expected to live there, and before moving there all I knew about it was it was where Topanga’s family moved, ripping her away from her true love, Cory, on Boy Meets World.
Now, though, with some literal and figurative distance between the city and myself, I can appreciate the good parts of living there. I made incredible friends through my graduate school program at Duquesne University, and with my neighbors at our apartment complex. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fan, and met Sidney Crosby at the Whole Foods deli once – swoon. As an American Studies major and history minor, I loved the historical significance of the city. Most importantly, Pittsburgh was the home of Mister Rogers, a personal hero of mine, and a constant reminder that kindness and decency are still very real. (Get ready for at least one blog post about Mister Rogers in 2021!)
So why am I sharing all this right now? Well, we are all coming up on the end of what seems like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. It’s easy to blame it all on 2020, that abstract, convenient scapegoat that summarizes everything bad lately.
I felt the same way about Pittsburgh a few years ago. I thought of the city as a whole, giant, evil entity that was at the root of every hardship we were facing at that moment.
Did it help in the short term? You bet! I went through a good few years where I wouldn’t mention Pittsburgh without an F-bomb or two before it. It felt almost cathartic to hide all of my frustrations and fears under that general “villain” I created.
But then, once things started improving here in New England – once I had a new career, and new friends, and had JB – I didn’t need Pittsburgh to be the bad guy anymore. I could admit that I missed certain aspects of life there – restaurants, museums, etc. Sometimes I miss it a lot, and think about going back to visit. Make no mistake, I still hate the decisions certain individuals made to hurt us during the end of our time in the city, but it was the actions of a small group, not the entire city. (Side note: I do, however, still blame the city of Pittsburgh for everything bad the Pearson Family has gone through thus far in the first 3.5 seasons of This is Us. I will not budge on this.)
Back to 2020: It’s obviously not the entire year’s fault. But right now, I think we need to express our collective grief and fear in a way that’s easy and relatable. And yes, that makes 2020 the scapegoat. When we are in a better place, once the vaccine is more available and we are under more stable political leadership and our daily routines are able to return to normal-ish we will be able to learn from this chaos. We may even find one or two parts of this crazy quarantine life that we miss someday.
So for now, keep those “F U 2020” Christmas ornaments, or make all the “Thank God it’s 2021” comments you want! There’s a time to be mature, and we will get there. But don’t worry if you aren’t there yet. Heck, maybe you’ll never entirely get to that point of acceptance and understanding. After all, lord knows I’m never going to be a Steelers fan!