One day, my brother, a mere year younger than I, came to me and told me that he'd just joined the Marines. He told me I should, too. I told him he was nuts and that there was no way in hell I was joining the Marines. He told me I could join a different branch. So I did.
We both left after graduation, knowing but never discussing how we had to leave as soon as possible to escape the insanity, the cruelty, the suspicion, the religious fanaticism, the purposeful misunderstanding, the lack of love.
I had my friend Alisha cut off all of my long, dark hair in the weeks before shipping off to boot camp. When the recruiter came to pick me up at my house, my father began to cry and his exact words to me were, "I"m so sorry you have to do this."
In the months before leaving, I did push-ups and sit-ups every day and ran three miles. Little did I know that I wasn't really training, I was merely starting to burn off the rage. I was so prepared by the time I got to boot camp, I beat out everybody when doing PT: running, push-ups, you name it. I was angry. Oh, I had a big smile on my face, but I was fucking mad. It felt good to beat the shit out of that hot Texas pavement. I got the highest scores on all the tests on paper, blew past everyone running, blew so many holes in the center targets at the shooting range, the sergeant asked me if I'd done it before. Nope. I was just angry. I was the only female marksman in two flights of women and the only other person who earned it in the squad was a guy. A rancher's son from Montana, he saw the ribbon on my blues at boot camp graduation and laughed saying, "Who pissed you off, little lady?"
Years flew by. Five years in the military. Five years of college. Third world countries. Falling in and out of love. Getting a chronic disease. Finding my birthparents. Waking up...to Everything and Everyone I'd been told to ignore. The rage left; I was tired. And the most awake I'd ever been in my life.
But I missed Home. I craved her like salt. I could taste her lush green, her three wet rivers, hear her stark laughter and bad accent. I remembered her culture sitting on blue-collar roots. The houses and steps built high into hillsides, the endless numbers of bridges and colleges and churches stacked upon each other. Her gray skies turned thunder then soft wet grass. Each neighborhood a distinct flavor, a city all its own with room for anyone to be themselves.
I didn't dare go back, though. Where would I fit in? I never belonged before; I felt a part of her and apart from her, the girl who left because she was the one standing outside of everything she wanted, perpetually Looking In.
But everywhere I went, I wanted Home. I had a son and wanted Home. I had old friends and new friends there; a support network built up, like those houses on the hillsides. I just needed to get the guts to walk up and knock. I realized over the years what it was I was escaping; at the time I thought it was the city I was born in, but no, it was the house. And a house is not a home. You can leave the house, burn down the house, throw away the key if you have to. Some people say "home is where you put your hat" and I used to be one of them. But now I know that Home is also where you actually want to put your hat.
Pittsburgh, I love you, and don't you ever fucking forget it.