by Phil Thomas
Phil says goodbye to Reading before leaving for the University of Pittsburgh
Chapter - Endings and New Beginnings
I knew it was going to be a long day; a long, six hour ride to Pittsburgh via the PA turnpike. I was up at five a.m. packing the last of my clothes into a duffel bag. I had such a hard time getting to sleep. I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing. This was such a huge jump, a leap into the unknown. I took a shower, got dressed and picked up my old duffel bag. Bessy was in the kitchen. She walked me to the door to see me off. I thanked her for putting me up over the past few months. "Bessy, I don't think you have any idea what this meant to me. I'd be on the streets if it weren't for you,"
"Oh, Phil, I'm so glad you got to stay with us. It was my pleasure. I'll miss having you here. Be sure to call me when you get there and give Sharon a kiss for me."
I assured her I would.
"Keep in touch Phil. I loved having you here. You deserve the best," she said with a warm smile. It was obvious she was trying not to turn into a puddle of tears. I was just about there.
I gave her a long hug then got in the rented Oldsmobile. I waved goodbye as I drove off towards Route 222. As I rounding the corner onto Fifth Street, I had an idea; something I needed to see one last time. I took the winding roads to the top of Mount Penn and watched the city come to life. I looked up at the Pagoda thinking of all the happy memories of Gran, Eileen and my brothers excitedly spotting the lights of the Pagoda on our vacations from Philadelphia. I thought of Iggy and the times we came up here. I thought of all the drives I took along Skyline, marveling at nature when the autumn colored leaves seemed to light up from within on sunny October days.
"Good bye Reading. I'm going to miss you."
I thought a moment. "Gran, wherever you are, I hope you're proud of me. I wish I could see the surprise and happiness on your face when I got accepted to the University of Pittsburgh. You probably already know that because I think you're always with me somehow. Well, be there for me if you can. Watch out for me while I'm in Pittsburgh. God, I wish you were here so bad." I cried. I cried so hard. The emotions were overwhelming. I'm just glad I took this one last time to see all of Reading from up here.
Who knows? Maybe someday I'll move back?
I think that's the biggest difference from when I got here to now; I have options that I didn't know existed. I can choose to make my life anything I want. It's my choice, but that also means I'm responsible for the failures as well.
I drove down to the city, over the Bingaman Street Bridge and onto Lancaster Avenue. Before getting on the turnpike, I knew I had to eat something. I needed breakfast. So there was only one place to go. I had to eat at the Shillington Diner. As I pulled into the lot, I thought to myself, Damn it!
I saw his car. The primer grey Bonneville parked right in front. I thought about turning the car around and going someplace else. I mean it's been over a year, I hoped there are no hard feelings at this point, but I still wanted to take the easy way and avoid any weird, awkward meeting. I thought, we really should stay in touch. Iggy is a good person. I'm grateful to have him as the first love of my life. I just feel bad my insecurities and possessiveness took over. What I didn't know then was that fear was the main motivation after we first kissed. My mind wasn't filled with a joy so much as a dread. I used to think, how do I keep him? What if I love him more than he does me? How do I lose the least?
I think I'm always going to have that insecurity; a scar that will always be there. I just need to stay conscious of my motivations and act out of love, not fear. I chose to forgive Iggy months ago, but first I had to forgive myself. There wasn't any shame in falling for him. There was no shame in giving my heart to someone for the first time. I just had to feel the hurt and move through it. I'm lucky he was my first true boyfriend; guess I could have done a lot worse.
I hope he finds happiness. I hope Crystal and him make a go of it. I thought a little more as I sat there parked next to his car. Come to think of it, they would be good parents; they have the capacity to at least.
I think growing is the difference between holding onto everything versus being free to allow things to go as they should be. Love can't be forced. Love can't exist alongside fear. So, I'm going to walk in and have a good time, one last time, with Crystal and Iggy. I walked in and looked around, there he was. "Hey! Good to see you!" I said giving Iggy a big hug, "How have you been Iggy?"
He looked happy. He had a grin from ear to ear, "Great man, I'm great; good to see you too. Wanna join me?"
"Sure. I'm getting breakfast before I head out to Pittsburgh. Where's Crystal?"
"Crystal is working. I'm supposed to meet her in an hour, so I thought I'd stop off here first," he said. His eyes lit up with a thought, "OH, that's right. You're going to school out there. Well, good luck man. You're going to do great." Knowing Iggy, I'm positive he knew this was the day I was leaving.
We made a lot of small talk. We talked about Crystal, the weather, how Reading is getting more and more run down. I asked about his new job with the ambulance company. He asked how I arranged the whole move and was I going to be living with Sharon? What was going to be my major?
"Yeah, I'm going to stay with Sharon and Kim. We're sharing a large apartment but it's a mess. You know, usual student off-campus housing. It's sorta like your apartment with Del except worse," I laughed, we laughed.
"How could it possibly be worse? Does it have a roof?"
"Iggy, you know me too well. You know I'd live in an apartment with no roof. You know me by now."
I glanced at one of the waitresses and reminded him of 'voice woman' and her 'some rainbow' remark. We both cracked up, each adding another detail to our interactions with her over the years. I never figured out where she went.
It felt so good to laugh with him. The feeling we had when we first met. The feeling of just silly conversation and laughter; the feeling we were such a good match; a feeling of pure joy.
"She could have retired, died of lung cancer or just moved to another waitressing job. In a weird way, I'll miss her too," I said.
After we finished eating, the waitress, a cheery full-figured, blonde woman in her thirties walked over to our booth. Her name tag read "Robin". She smiled and handed us our checks, but Iggy quickly grabbed mine, "This is a goodbye present. Don't worry about it; I'll pick up the check."
"I appreciate that Iggy but you don't have to -"
"No, I'll get it," he maneuvered out of the booth and went up to the counter. I looked in my wallet, I had thirty dollars. I pulled out the piece of paper with Sharon and Kim's phone number, the "412" area code stuck out of the folded piece of paper. They're expecting me later in the afternoon. I planned that thirty bucks should get me through a few tanks of gas and lunch on the way. At least the weather is supposed to be sunny. No clouds, only blustery cold winds. I'll have to keep that in mind as I'm going over the mountains. The winds can be so strong; they can knock a car right off the road.
"OK Iggy, well this is it. I'm off. It was so great seeing you," I felt my heart breaking all over again.
"Same here, same here; I'll tell Crystal you said 'Hi'. Come to think of it, "he paused, "I have something I need to give you. Don't worry, it's not a bomb."
"Oh, man. Really? I wanted a bomb so bad. You know how I love plastic explosives. A bomb would really go well with my credit score."
Iggy looked at me for a moment, "It's strange, I mean it's almost like you were supposed to stop here before your drive out west," He motioned me out the door, "Come, It's in the trunk of my car."
We walked outside into the sunny morning as the wind gusts kicked up and put us in a virtual deep freeze. "Whew, it's cold as hell out here," I rubbed my gloves together as though that would warm me up: it didn't.
Iggy unlocked the trunk and handed me a brown paper shopping bag with some sort of box.
"What's this?" I said.
He smiled that lopsided smile I'll always remember and said, "Open it."
I tore off the brown paper bag and saw it was the art work I gave him for his birthday a few years ago. Now he's handing it back. I felt confused and let down. Why is he giving me back my gift to him? Why doesn't he want it? I could think of a few reasons.
"See? I added something. Look out the window, next to the piano," he couldn't wait to see my reaction.
"Oh my God, you added your Pontiac in the driveway! How did you manage that?"
He beamed with pride, "It was Crystal's idea."
"She's a really special woman. I hope you know how much she loves you."
Iggy continued, "Crystal told me the bests gifts are the ones you give away without expecting anything in return. When you gave me this, you didn't expect anything in return. I didn't see it at the time, but Crystal pointed that out," I could see he was getting emotional, "So, she added the Pontiac. She had a bitch of a time ungluing and re-assembling it. I had it in the trunk because I was going to mail it to you this week. Think of it as a house warming present."
"Oh man, I think I'm going to cry. This is perfect. I'll always think of you guys when I look at it. This means so much to me."
We both smiled at each other with tears welling up. "Phil, I'm so proud of you. You've overcome so much. Gran would be proud too. I'm sure wherever she is, she must be happy as all hell."
"Iggy, I...I mean," I pulled him close to me and gave him a strong hug. I didn't want to but I started crying again.
I know I could always feel safe telling Iggy anything. He always had that effect on me. I don't know why. "Iggy," I sobbed, "I just don't know."
It was finally hitting me. This was it. I was leaving for good. A whole new part of my life was waiting and it felt both exciting and terrifying. I had my head buried in the lapel of his leather bomber jacket, "Am I doing the right thing? I hope I'm not fucking up my life. This is such a huge leap into the unknown. What if I fail? Iggy, I'm so scared. I'm so damned scared."
"Hey there buddy; no tears right? Hey, look at me. You're going to be OK. Trust me on that. You're smart, talented, and sexy as hell," he tilted my chin up to meet his face, "Look at the blue eyes on you; I'll definitely never forget them."
"OK," I conceded, "I guess you're right. I am sexy as hell. You know something? I'm confident. I can blow my way through college! I'll sleep my way to the middle and save on school loans at the same time! That's a pretty damn brilliant idea, don't you think?" Our tears turned to laugher until there came a lull in the conversation. I had the image in my head of a carnival ride and how it feels when it slowly comes to a stop. It was time to get off; time to ride the next one. "OK, Iggy, I'm off. Please tell Crystal how thankful I am for the present."
"It's my pleasure. I'll tell her. Be safe driving out there and stay in touch, 'kay?"
"I will, I will," I gave him a couple of quick pats on the back. We gave each other one last quick hug. I looked back in the rearview mirror while waiting at the light. Iggy was wiping tears from his eyes as he got into his land yacht and drove back to Reading.
I turned on the radio. The DJ advised of a black ice warning after five p.m. Then the sound of synthesizers slowing rose in volume as the DJ said, "You're listing to WIFI, Berks County's sound of the 80's. This is A-Ha with "The Sun Always Shines On TV".
Music has always been my first language. I remember portions of my life in lyrics and bars of music. That day, that song, on that sunny, Saturday morning; this song heralded the closing of one chapter in my life and onto the next... somehow, the music never sounded so sweet.