The New Jersey side of Philadelphia is a city suburb even though Philly natives like to deny it.
The Philadelphia tri-state area is home, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t, no matter how much I wish I had an upbringing surrounded by mountains instead of houses, the moos of cows instead of the honks of cars. An upbringing where I looked up at the sky and stargazed, blissfully unaware that pollution stole them every night. If I lived this life, I wouldn’t travel as a tween and wonder why other states had stars and we didn’t.
Instead, I had flatlands and telephone poles on every corner and shopping plazas at every red light. I encountered racist South Philly Italians. I said “this jawn is outta pocket,” and said “it’s bricks,” when I stepped into a particularly frigid day. Regardless of my dislike, there is one month of the year where I would not want to live anywhere else. October—when football season is in full swing and the sweltering heat dwindles enough to drink coffee on the porch with a blanket every morning. For many years, a kind-hearted German shepherd joined us, nuzzling her head against our knees and smothering us with kisses when we allowed. When she slipped into her eternal rest, we sat and sipped silently, our knees growing cold as they longed for her soft black fur.
Football bound my family. I would get to see my older brothers for a change. All of them are half-brothers and didn’t live with us full time. We would laugh and eat and yell and they would tease.
“What’s wrong with you?” one of my brothers asked. The Sunday game played on the large TV and I tried and failed to work on my homework despite my hangover.
“She went to Homecoming last night,” Dad said.
“Oh, shit!” another brother said. “Did you get drunk?”
I grunted in response, which sent my brothers into a laughing fit. My partying was such a rarity that my parents paid me to leave the house and my dad offered to buy me alcohol and weed before my senior prom—just so I would stay out and have fun.
Mom went to the produce store every Sunday—sometimes Aldi or ShopRite, too. She usually arrived right before the game or sometime during the first quarter. I never watched the football games with Dad and my brothers. I twirled into a blanket burrito on the couch because the weather had cooled and Dad insisted on keeping all of the windows open. Despite the rowdiness, I sat and read or worked on homework or continued with whatever writing project I picked up for the month. My Sundays were never peaceful; my brothers bugged and disturbed me and I never got anything done. But I liked being around them. I didn’t care if I went to bed with unfinished homework if I got to see my brothers.
Late-night football games were the worst. The ones that started at eight. They were always on school nights and I preferred to sleep. On a regular night, Mom and Dad watched them, but Dad’s yelling eventually woke me up.
I would shout from the top of the stairs for him to stop. And he would. Until the next interception, touchdown, fumble…
Everything started to change when the second youngest brother moved far to attend college. My grandmother moved south, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins… Kids were born and lives built—lives that didn’t include me in the daily or weekly routine as it had my whole life. Our house, once filled to the brink with bodies in every room, grew emptier each year. Once, our biggest concern was having enough chairs in the dining room for Thanksgiving. One year, there wasn’t enough of us to fill the four-chair kitchen table.
Another October rolled around with more football games but no more kind-hearted snuggles from the dog and pit stops from brothers. They lived much too far now. Wind flowing through the door was a constant companion.
Dad was watching the game alone, the windows wide open as usual. Mom shopped for produce—she can never sit still even on a Sunday. I twirled into a blanket burrito and flopped next to Dad, ready to watch the game I never watched. He welcomed me instantly. I looked up at him and asked, “What’s a fumble?”