The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
Pittsburgh was the last place I thought I’d move to, but the two years I spent living and working in and around the Steel City ended up being the most important of my life.
I attended college outside of Boston, and as my senior year drew to a close, I realized that, like many of my classmates, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. While the idea of moving back to my hometown of Philadelphia enticed me, I had no real job prospects there.
At the last minute, I decided to apply for the Pittsburgh Fellows, a business fellowship program that focuses on workplace excellence, faith and community by placing students at a company to gain experience. My sister had done it two years earlier, and though I didn’t have the biggest interest in business, I couldn’t stop thinking about the application deadline. Despite the fact that I had told myself I would never copy her, I decided to apply. Within four months, I was accepted to the program, was offered a job placement downtown and moved to Sewickley, a suburb about 12 miles from the center of Pittsburgh, where the program offered housing.
The beginnings of my new adventure were raw; I cried myself to sleep every night for a week, wondering if I’d made a mistake. I’d been placed at a technology company doing internal communications for human resources, and while I was one of 15 recent college graduates accepted into the program, I started my fellowship a few months early as requested by my company. That meant I spent weeks waiting for the other people in my program to move to Pittsburgh — while also dreading the idea of meeting 14 strangers all at once. Soon I would discover that what I thought was my biggest mistake would actually be my greatest blessing.
Those 14 strangers? They became my family. For nine months, we shared our lives. We studied together, ate together and explored the city together. We experienced disappointments and celebrations, marriage proposals and sudden losses. These people taught me what the word “community” means.
A year ago, I thought I would never leave Pittsburgh. But so much can change in your early 20s. Some people from my program got married and moved. Others got jobs in new cities. Some drifted, no longer bound by our shared experience. A year after finishing the program, it became apparent that I had to seriously consider if Pittsburgh was the place where I wanted to establish myself and my career, where I could picture planting roots. In the end, I decided it wasn’t. While Pittsburgh holds a very special place in my heart, it’s not the place I think of when I think of home.
That’s a large part of why I’m moving back to Philadelphia. It wasn’t an easy decision; I am leaving a group of people that supported me at my best and at my worst. Ultimately, I’ve come to terms with the uncertainty that comes with being in my early 20s. My plans have never really gone as, well, planned — and I’m beginning to realize that pivoting to something new can be terrifying and heartbreaking, but nevertheless exciting and good.
I’m going to miss Pittsburgh, but with the support of my friends and with the unknown in front of me, it’s time to say goodbye.
You are the quintessential small town and the place that felt most like home in Pittsburgh. You charmed me with your coffee shops and cafes, and by refusing to let me walk to the convenience store without waving hello to someone I knew. I could never pick just one shop, street or market to represent everything you mean to me.
Pittsburgh has 446 bridges. But when I worked downtown, you were the only one I got to walk across every day. I’d carpool to Station Square with friends each morning, and we’d make the seven-minute walk over the Monongahela River. The sun would just be climbing into the sky, illuminating the other bridges in sight and the buildings opposite us. Every morning, that walk into the heart of the city gave us new energy for the day. And each evening, we’d make the trek back, discussing the day’s trials and triumphs.
In the summer, you were my escape from a cold, air-conditioned cubicle into the warmth of a sunny day. Every Thursday from May through October, your farmers market offered deep-fried pierogies, fresh flowers and live music. Just a few steps away, PNC Plaza was the perfect place to sit, eat and watch kids and adults alike run in and out of the fountain’s jetting streams.
You were the perfect place to grab a warm drink and people-watch on a Saturday morning. You hosted coffee dates and work meetings, and your chai latte never disappointed. You also inspired me to explore the rest of Lawrenceville, where I could eat a gyro at Pastitsio and find the quirkiest home decor at McDonough’s Antiques.
You were the greatest discovery my roommates and I made while living in the North Side. Every Wednesday night, you offered us a warm and inviting place to chat with friends and make new ones. From college students to veterans, people of all different backgrounds and ages gathered in the community hall to eat and drink and listen to the Pittsburgh Banjo Club. Our voices would unite at the end of the evening with a sing-along, and we never left without a smile on our faces.
Cathy (as we lovingly referred to you): You are the perfect spot to study and explore, and a great escape from the summer heat. I didn’t attend the University of Pittsburgh, but that didn’t stop me from spending time in its most recognizable building. Walking up all 36 flights of your steps was not easy, but being rewarded by the views at the top made it all worth it.
You were our go-to brunch spot. You have the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and you let us sit for hours just laughing and catching up with each other. Plus, the guy in the cowboy hat playing guitar right outside always performed whatever song we asked for.
Visiting Pittsburgh? Find Alex’s recommendations mapped out here.