“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
I could feel myself start to annoy my best friend.
“They have everything. So many clothes and books. The room in the back has records, you should check it out. Upstairs there is a room dedicated to all vintage clothes…”
My sentences all ran together because I wanted her to know this was my place.
But then even I started getting annoyed with myself for repeating the same story over and over again. “I used to volunteer here, when I lived in the city. It was far from my apartment so I…”
It would be the first time I visited the store since I moved away in 2014. And while I do love thrift stores, I was having a hard time wondering why I was so excited to visit this particular place again.
It had been so long since I left Philly, or so it seemed. I guess in the grand scheme of life, a year and a half isn’t that long, but my life is a tenfold different now. The scared person I was at 23 seems lightyears away. Maybe the main difference is now I have money in my bank account (ahem, not a lot). But at that point in my life, overdraft letters showed up at my house through every crack, window, wall – not unlike Harry Potter’s Hogwarts acceptance letters. Intangibly (and perhaps more importantly, at least in my book), I am no longer as god-awfully lonely as I was then.
To be quite honest, when I left, my time in Philadelphia was a chapter I wanted to close. I loved the people I met and the places I got to experience. I loved having my own apartment I could decorate any way I wanted. But my life and mental wellbeing could use some help. On its best days, Philly was an adventure and taught me how to live on my own and survive. On its worst days, I would pinpoint it on the map as the city where I went through the worst depression of my life.
But here in the present, Philadelphia was my city again, just for today. I visited all my favorite places in the thrift shop starting with the room with the mugs, cups, and plates. It was in this very room that I scrounged around, looking for matching sets of dishes and cutlery. After finding the perfect un-matching but charmingly rustic set, I would go home and soak them in bleach for hours. At the time, it was the only thing I could afford, but in my eyes, it was still as special as any expensive set I could find.
Next, I visited the dollar room where I used to look for clothes to refashion with my sewing machine on boring Saturdays in my apartment. Then I (somewhat shamefully and somewhat proudly) visited the Self Help section of the book room where I had found books upon books that were there to help me get over my ex-boyfriend or give suggestions on how to cope with my anxiety. And I did the work, too, because at that time, I had all the time in the world to dedicate to my own sanity. I’m proud of that today.
Being a volunteer there gave me three-hour chunks of time where I wouldn’t be lonely, but instead could hang out with the cool people who worked there. I often would look around the room and realize that these people would never know how much the simple task of returning clothes to their proper place in the store was saving my life. I remember once they told me I was one of the few volunteers that actually did work. It wasn’t work to me, though. It was kind of the only thing I had at the time. I would look at the clock knowing I would be parking for three hours in a two-hour spot, but yet, I never did get a ticket. Maybe god just knew that place is what I needed.
It was funny being back. When I touched the clothes, I remembered what it felt like to find an over-sized sweater that I hoped would keep me warm in my always-cold apartment. I missed the girl I was back then, looking wishfully at any cute guy who entered the store, hoping that maybe we’d fall in love over worn out smelly shoes. And how at the end of the night when it was time to pack up the store, I’d hoped that one of the cool volunteers would invite me to go out with them for drinks. They never did, but that was probably because they were as broke as I was.
I get so nostalgic when I visit places from my past not because I miss the place itself so much, but because I miss who I was at the time. So lost and confused and broke. But living in my own apartment in a big city nonetheless. Picking out a basket from the thrift store to hold my dishrags in the kitchen, finding old picture frames to hold the images of people I missed most from home, and buying old rustic coffee mugs that would keep me warm on Saturdays when I was so lonely I could burst.
That was my life then, and strangely, sometimes I miss it.