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My Philadelphia: Rhawnhurst

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By S. Trinh

I wake up every morning to leave Rhawnhurst. Well, I guess it's not as simple as that. I wake up to go to school, which is in North Philly, which is not Rhawnhurst. And plenty of other people do the same thing. In Rhawnhurst, everyone wakes up to leave Rhawnhurst.


I don't always do it because I have to. Sometimes I hop on a bus to go to Center City, or Chestnut Hill, or Abington. I always try to go somewhere that is not Rhawnhurst because, well... I moved to Rhawnhurst from South Philly when I was two. My mother tells me that the first night we slept in our new house, the noises bothered me so much and I kept crying that I wanted to go home. It's different now - I need the sound of cars constantly driving by to lull me to sleep. That's the only thing that's really different, though. The single home and a lot of yard in a neighborhood that you most likely won't get shot in is still my parents' vision, not mine. My house is not a home to me, and I want to find where my home really is.


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So I try my hardest to get out of our neighborhood. I'm not the only one, either. I have friends that have moved out of their Rhawnhurst homes and into very expensive, very small downtown apartments that they can barely afford. When I ask them why, they tell me different things. Because there's a culture there, because it's more convenient for school, because they want to be near their jobs, because there are people there that are actually interesting. It doesn't matter to me what the actual words coming out of their mouths are. It always boils down to one thing - it's not Rhawnhurst.


We, as Rhawnhurstians, migrate elsewhere. Sometimes toward the suburbs, usually toward the inner city. We drive, bike, take the bus to where the buildings tower over us, shining in the sun, uncaring of our tiny frames. And yet we worship them, spending too many of our hours in them, doing work that we tend to not enjoy. We take a lunch hour outside in some local stand, we eat pizza or a sub or sushi or half a pack of cigarettes. We work until work is over, and when it's cool out, when the heat of the pavement finally dissipated into the air, we hang out with our co-workers and classmates and grab dinner and maybe drink alcoholic drinks to make us forget about our bureaucracy filled days that so pervade our happiness.


And then we go back to where we came from.


We wake up every morning to go to Rhawnhurst and we come to Rhawnhurst every night to sleep the six or eight or ten hours we all need to feel positive in the morning again, to feel like we absolutely can deal with life another day. I don't like it, personally. I don't like the neighborhood - there's no excitement, weeds litter cracks in the sidewalk, all of the buildings look grey. There's always someone asking for change, and unless you've lived there for a while, unless there is some kind of common interest that typically involves small children or gardening, you never really get to know your neighbors. But walking the streets evoke a certain type of melancholy that in turn sings to the nostalgia that is always lurking in your mind. You look at sidewalks covered with chalk drawings, dogs lying in the shade of their homes. Cats sit in windowsills, silently staring outside, and that is when you realize that this place will never leave your heart.


It takes a long time to realize this. Having lived in the neighborhood since I was two, it's taken me about sixteen years to learn this. And after you have this very familiar epiphany strike you, you start noticing things. Children play in the streets sometimes. Your neighbor gives your mom gladiolus bulbs to plant around your house. The local marching band is always filled with energy. The owners of the little coffee places that litter the streets turn out to be actually very cool people with so much to share. People smile back at you when you walk in the neighborhood. The place doesn't seem so bad anymore after seeing these things. Your house really starts to feel like a home when you open the windows and curtains and let the world in.


While the city has a certain, seductive luster, Rhawnhurst is where I belong. It's a place where you can take pause and a breath without worrying too much about the polluted air or people running into you. When you miss the city a little, you look down one of the many streets that lead into the city and you can see the towering buildings that are symbolic of a bigger population, of culture and interest and just something different. But you take a step on uneven cement (those cracks in the sidewalk will get you all the time) and you remember that this is where you are, you are here, you are in Rhawnhurst and at some point, you won't be anymore.


That day probably isn't today, and it isn't tomorrow either. A noisy Septa bus rushes by you, and it's a constant reminder that there is always a bus going somewhere else. There are always ways to get out, and one day, you will. Just remember where you came from.

Sandra Trinh has written before about her life and times in Northeast Philadelphia.  She is a student a Temple University.

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