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Why I Could Never Live In Charleston


DSC_0609I grab the wheel in fright, cautiously aware of the wide-load truck passing through the porous one-way road towards KingStreet. I keep an eye on my GPS while channeling over Gospel radio stations. Just a few turns from Gabi’s house, I attempt to stay focused on the road, but the crowds of students put me in a wistful state of my college years. I pull over on the cobblestone road, embodying my return to Charleston.

There’s much to look forward to in a trip to Charleston. The food, the history, the darling housing; Though for me, the quality time to spend with old friends. There’s Gabi, a Jersey native testing out her first job downtown after graduating from the College of Charleston; and Lynn, my Xavier roommate from Cincinnati, who fled from her coveted home base to pursue her teaching career in Charleston for the Teach for America program. The two women couldn’t be more opposite. Though the more I ask about their city, (excuse me, town), the more similarities I find in their opinion of Chucktown. 

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“It’s too small” they say. With a population teetering over a quarter million, I can relate. Within the few hours Gabi and I spend window shopping down King Street, she throws out at least a dozen “hey”s to her peers. Ah, the obligations of being popular.
“I forget that I’m not in school anymore” Gabi adds.
A majority of her friends are running collegiate victory laps, continuing to bar crawl any given night of the week. After all, socializing is a heavy part of their Southern culture, alongside preserving history and reciting ghost stories. Though in modern times, you’re more likely to be haunted by your ex than any civil-war phantom. That is, of course, if you’re still single…

“Everyone’s engaged!” claims Lynn, as we walk around Halloween night amongst terribly cute couple costumes. I stand ostracized in my nightgown and curlers, holding a stuffed cat and an ice cream bucket, with my mascara running as “single”. We carry on proudly, ordering our own drinks between deep conversations. Before getting too intimate on the topic of race, I stop her: “But is it, like, appropriate to hit on guys? What if he’s taken? What if he’s engaged and his finance is shooting fierce looks to the back of my head and I come off as a whore?” No naughty intentions here, just looking to flirt. But the more I look around, the more desolate I feel on Noah’s Arch.

Like any night as a single girl, we end the holiday with pizza. Life-size bananas and face-painted skeletons wobble in line at Gilroy’s off King Street. Lynn waits in line as I scope out an empty booth. The meatlover’s za arrives, and I ask Lynn if she wants ranch.
“NO!” she exclaims. “I just want water!”
Moments later, her wish is granted by a middle-aged bald man.
“This is what I love about southern men, they’ll go out of their way for you”.
The man then proceeds to offer Lynn with $2 in exchange for a slice of our pie.
“Of course you can pay me for pizza!” Lynn replies in delight.
The man perceives the bargain as an invite to sit by Lynn, and begins complimenting her ruthlessly. I sit opposite the booth, documenting everything on Snapchat.
“Stop…You’re married!” Lynn cries aloud.
We find out this meatlover is visiting on a boy’s weekend from New York. Just a few silver-haired (as for this guy, a non-existent haired) guys who have fallen in love with Charleston.
Bite your pizza and your words Lynn, for sometimes guys go out of their way to sit next to a pretty girl, regardless where they’re from.

The men carry on their way, and a ballerina replaces them.
“I hope it’s ok if I sit here?” She asks.
I don’t contest, and offer her a slice from our vanishing box.
“No, I’m ok… O look, there’s my husband! Thanks for letting me sit!”

Dear lord. The impossibly thin ballerina couldn’t be more than two years older than me, but definitely half my size. And this girl wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked throughout the weekend, skinny girls pranced in their Lululemon leggings. Either effortlessly running or with one hand intertwined with their hipster boyfriend. Ugh.

So maybe I left the pizza joint without my husband or a double-zero waistline. Maybe I left the peninsula without eating seafood or visiting Fort Sumter. Maybe I left without my Italian leather bracelet, debit card, and original car keys. Damn you, Fireball.

And maybe I left in a jubilant reflection of the relationships I’ve made, of differentiating the places I want to inhabit and the places I want to visit. Or maybe I left in fear that I don’t have my life straightened out. That I’m alone and irresponsible, while my peers are planning their weddings and retirement.

And maybe that’s why I could never live in Charleston.

-JMM

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