Tonight Joanna and I went to Little Baby’s for ice cream. Mimi Gallagher was working the counter, and I had not seen her for many years. I met her when I was 18 and she was 15, and we were at the Trocadero to see a sold-out Hanson show. Mimi still has short platinum blonde hair and twinkly eyes, but she’s 25 now. She looks polished yet punky, and was using a loom to pass the time between customers. This made me reconsider my decision to leave my old loom at my parents house– just yesterday, I scooped up my sewing machine from my bedroom closet and carried it by the arm out to the Jeep. Less Netflix, More Projects 2017. 

“Allison, hi! What’s up?”

“I’m moving to Texas!” I told her. “My house is being packed up a week from today.”

I introduced Joanna to Mimi. “You know Joe Gallagher #1? Mimi is Joe’s sister…”

Mimi is Joe’s sister and Joe is Maddie’s boyfriend and Maddie is Vanessa’s old co-worker and Vanessa is one of Joanna’s best friends.

This is one of the things I will miss most about Philadelphia. 

Jo and I sat down with our cups and our spoons.

My mom is making my clean out my room next week, between Thanksgiving and our move,” I said. “Have you done that yet?”

“Oh yeah,” Joanna said. “No one made me, but I did it back in 20o9.”


The weirdest thing, perhaps, is that I feel okay with cleaning out my room. I feel fine. It almost makes me sad when I walk into it now, with the bright purple walls and the junk jewelry collecting dust on my dresser and Samantha and Felicity’s beady eyes staring at me from their perch on the bookshelf. If my mom had asked me to do this ritual cleansing two or three years ago, I know I would have been far more upset. Why do you think that is?

“Two years ago, you weren’t married,” Jo said. “Your family will always be your family of course, but now you have your own family with Zack. You have a home with him.”

I took another bite of ice cream.

“So this is what you do: you lock yourself in your room for a day and look at every single thing. Flip through all your magazines, take photos of anything you might want to show someone someday or use for a #tbt. You don’t need every Death Cab ticket stub. You don’t need every collage Katie Hudson ever made you. Yes, I know what you have in there. And you definitely don’t need that creepy mask I painted for you in 2003. Throw it away. Keep your love letters from Jake. Keep your litmags.”

I’ve been bringing my litmags with me wherever I go for a long time.

Jo and I lingered for awhile, and the dudes from Pizza Brain started wiping down chairs and tables around us. A girl walked away from the register with a peacoat and bike helmet, carrying pints of ice cream in a paper bag. It was Emilie, my favorite barista from our years in Queen Village, when I would hole up at Bodhi for hours on the weekdays. I ran into her for the first time since 2012 at a Billy Penn event a few weeks ago. “I remember you. “I remember you, too!” It took a moment to place her face. I’m not quite as quick at that as I used to be.

I introduced Emilie to Jo. “Tell Tom Henneman I say hi,” Jo said. Tom owns Bodhi, and he used to work with Joanna at Milkboy in the suburbs. We all agreed he was a good dude.

This is one of the things I will miss most about Philadelphia. 

I asked Emilie if I could give her a hug goodbye (she said yes). I waved goodbye to Mimi, who wished me luck from behind the counter. Jo offered me a ride home, but I walked the five minutes instead, crispy leaves beneath my feet on Susquehanna. In one week we won’t live here anymore.








In Amsterdam we cruised, sometimes fiercely, in highly structured bike lanes and without helmets. The Dutch didn’t wear them, so why should we?
Everything was stolen from us. Promotional seat covers, removable taillights, back wheels and wicker baskets. It rained all the time, and my chub rub would worsen from wet denim on the thigh of my jeans. On the way home from class, we’d stop at the store for a two Euro bottle wine and strap it to the rack on top of the rear tire. When I sold it my last week abroad, I felt naked, stranded, and like it was time to go home.
Zack built me a bike, part by part, in Houston. It was a gift for me upon my arrival to the Lonestar State, but I did not like it. It was a road bike, and the frame scared me, and I felt like I was going to fly over the handlebars and into the middle of traffic every time I rode it. We sold it and Craiglisted a black Peugeot cruiser I fell in love with.
Houston was not/is not a biking city, but I did not have a choice. Circling the crack corners was a way to kill time, and sometimes after dinner we’d ride to River Oaks and watch the sunset from some rich person’s cul-de-sac. A few weeks before we moved, my Peugeot was snipped and stolen from our backyard. I had to walk to work after that.
Zack built me another bike in Philadelphia. A $20 frame which he repainted in the basement of our Graduate Hospital apartment whilst wearing a gas mask. The frame was cream with three stripes: black, gold and yellow. The seat was vintage leather. I rode it to coffee shops and to my part-time job and to the grocery store and to Rittenhouse, biking home slowly with heavy Anthro bags swinging from the handlebars. Grocery bags got caught all the time and the paper would rip through the front tire like a fan. In Queen Village we didn’t have our own outdoor space, and I would sweat carrying my cruiser up a flight and a half of stairs no matter how hot or cold it was outside. It was a year and a half before I realized the bike was too short for my height. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it.
Zack bought me new bike for my 25th birthday. It came in a giant cardboard box that took up half our kitchen. It was turquoise, with a bell and a cushy seat and shiny splashguards. It was so nice I was afraid someone would steal it, so I started double locking it. That winter it didn’t snow but the temperatures were frigid. I wore two pairs of gloves and rode back and forth to Fitler Square from South Philly every single day. My mom bought me a fancy biking jacket from Lululemon that was extra long in the back and had a massive hood so you could fit a helmet underneath. I hated taking the bus. I hated being on someone else’s schedule.
That spring, we moved to Passyunk Square. Everything was packed, aside from a few random items we couldn’t place. I ended up leaving my old bike frame, the one with the painted stripes, leaning against a street sign in Queen Village. I didn’t want to throw it away. I wanted someone else to have it and keep it and make it their own. Three weeks later, we went on an afternoon bike ride to Fairmount park where Zack asked me to marry him. Every day for the next year, I wheeled my turquoise cruiser into the alley beside our apartment and secured the iron door shut.
The summer after, our bikes went into storage and we lived in suburbia, for a little while. Even after we closed on our house in Fishtown and completely unpacked, the fact that our bikes were still in my parents’ garage escaped us. My dad kept asking when we were going to take them back. I felt no rush. We had the El now, and I could be in Center City in 12 minutes if I caught it at the right time. My job paid for my transit pass. The seasons changed. I did not think about my bike, which was now in our basement, next to all the empty kitchen appliance boxes and framed artwork we’ve grown out of. I thought about how scary it would be riding down Spring Garden during rush hour if I did have my bike.
I didn’t ride my bike for 452 days.
I got a new job, outside of the city. Regional rail is now a thing, affecting my life. I am now more on someone else’s schedule than ever. I brought my bike up from the basement and dug out my U-Lock. I never took the key off my ring.
It’s getting darker earlier, and I forgot to check my bike lights before leaving the house the other night. The batteries were completely corroded, and I didn’t want to chance it, so I rode on the sidewalk most of the way home. In Japan, no one jaywalks. That’s one of the first things Zack and I noticed when we were there a month ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s incredibly obvious that a car isn’t coming, the people just don’t budge until the light changes. But they ride their bikes on the sidewalk. Everywhere, all the time. In Philadelphia, it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk if you’re over the age of eight (something I have to remind my mom when she asks worriedly, “You’re riding your bike again? On…the street?). But it’s completely normal for an adult of any age to whiz past you on their cruiser without apology.
There’s a security guard at Temple Station. She sits on her perch, which is minuscule, enclosed in bullet proof glass, and would make me claustrophobic without question. I feel good knowing there’s someone on watch. My turquoise cruiser is still in good shape, three years later. The bell is busted and there’s some rust on the frame, but the backpedal brakes still work and I feel like a dream riding through my neighborhood, and on the two-way bike lane on Berks, even if it’s mostly deserted. I like the feeling of cool air whipping against the sweat on my back after class in Old City, and stretching my legs with intent with each push forward. I always wear my helmet.

Hot July

We’re with K in Camden, sitting on a bench waiting for the PATCO westbound to Center City.

“I’m afraid I’m going to get raped,” says a brown-haired girl, who has suddenly, immediately, appeared in front of us.

“Are you okay?” I ask. “Do you need help?” She says she doesn’t know how to get home and asks me if I’m going to the Berwyn area. “No,” I say. “But I know how to get there. That’s where I’m from.”

She’s wearing converse and cut-offs, an over-sized black t-shirt, with her long hair straight and parted to the side. She looks about twelve, but her bloodshot eyes and smattering of whiteheads on her forehead says otherwise.

No one has a pen. I start giving her directions out loud. She looks nervous, leans in and shushes me. “I don’t want anyone to hear you. I don’t want anyone to follow me.” I take her phone and type step by step into her Notes. PATCO westbound to Center City. Get off at 8th Street. Walk three blocks west on Market, you’ll see Market East Station. Walk downstairs and look for the TV that says Paoli-Thorndale. “Thank you,” she says. “Thank you so much.” Her two friends, a quiet boy with mousy brown hair and a loud girl with blonde curls gravitate toward us.

“Were you guys at the Wiz show too?” asks the blonde-haired girl. She looks tired, older than her friend. Wearing a crop top and high-waisted shorts.

“Nah, we were at the WXPN festival.”

“What’s WXPN?”

“A radio station.”

“Oh. That’s cool.”

The two girls are giggly now, no more anxiety. The blonde-haired girl starts flirting with Zack. He reaches into his pocket and hands her his trusty bottle of Visine.

When we discover that the blonde-haired girl goes to Conestoga, and that the boy is a new step-sibling of a family I used to babysit when I was fourteen (?!), I feel ten times my age.

“Oh my god,” she says. “What teachers do you know? Wait, how old are you?”

“26,” I say.

“28,” K whispers.

“Oh my god,” she continues. “Are you guys like real adults? Are any of you married?”

I point to Zack. “We’re getting married in a month.”

They balk. They want to see my ring. “I thought you guys were like, 21. In college,” says the brown-haired girl.

K beams.

The train comes. “Will you please stay with us as long as you can?” They ask. “Sure,” we say. We shuffle on in pairs: me and K, the teenage girls, then Zack and the boy, who’s gangly and awkward and looks way in over his head.

“I want to give the brown-haired one her first pap smear,” K, the CRNP,  says longingly when we sit down.

I take out my phone and bring up my own Notes, trying to type up a few things before it’s all a blur tomorrow.

“Are you writing this down?” The brown-haired girl calls out to me from across the aisle. “I feel like you’re a storyteller.”

IMG_3856 copy

The train lurches forward.

“You know when you take the Amtrak around Disney World?” She asks out loud, this time to no one. There’s definitely no Amtrak at Disney World, but I know what she means. “That’s exactly what this feels like.”

From One Thing To The Next

I’m not sure if it’s normal to ask your boss for his opinion before you give your two weeks notice, but that’s what I did anyway. I had been extremely uneasy for the past 24 hours, ever since I got the job offer while I was in the middle of a meeting the day before. At the time I felt like I was going to either throw up or cry (three months later I realize it was undoubtedly a gross overreaction). Tim told me to sleep on it, and I shouldn’t make any quick decisions, and he didn’t think I should leave Tech Start Up, and I wasn’t sure I should either. Tech Start Up was my first real job, and I had became very comfortable and at home there over the past one year and ten months. Tim was my boss, but he was also my friend, and when I pulled him into the break room the next day to tell him I was going to accept the offer at Ad Agency, we cheers’d with our water cups.

Working at Ad Agency is a completely different lifestyle than working at Tech Start Up. It’s not better or worse, exactly. Even though I have the same job title, I’m doing very different things at a very different pace and with a very different attitude. At Tech Start Up I was on a marketing team of one for a long time, with no one to really tell me what to do or how to do it. I became self-taught, in a way, and made the rules up as I went. I was the voice of the company, and I truly cared about what that voice sounded like and how we presented ourselves to our customers, and the world. A month into working at Ad Agency I still referred to Tech Start Up as “we” when my new co-workers asked me about my old job as if I was still employed there. I missed it. I obsessively checked Tech Start Up’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to see what what was happening and if my replacement had started yet. “They didn’t fire you,” Zack would remind me. “You left them.”

The view from the 25th floor.
The view from the 25th floor.

The thing that made me most nervous about Ad Agency was that I didn’t think I was creative or driven enough to actually be hired there. My interview was at the Royal Tavern over a beer and we had talked more about my love life and what I like to do in my spare time than my actual work experience. Ad Agency has a reputation for long hours and quick turnover and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for such an environment. At my Tech Start Up goodbye happy hour, Tim asked me what my career goals were.

“I don’t know. I don’t really have any career goals.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you want to become a partner at Ad Agency some day?”

Our team had just done a round of lemon drops and I was feeling it. My eyes brimmed with tears as I looked down at my shot glass.

“I don’t know. I kind of just want to see where this takes me. And I want to learn a lot. Then I want to raise babies and stuff.”

“You wanna be a good mom. That’s cool.”

I felt stupid the next morning, even though I know Tim respects that sort of decision. It’s not that I don’t have “career goals,” I just honestly don’t really have a plan. And yeah, I do want to raise babies. I also want to write a young adult novel.

It’s been about ten weeks since I started at Ad Agency and for the first time, “climbing the ladder” has organically appeared on my radar and doesn’t seem nearly as scary as it once did. I’m learning so much, so fast, and the pace at which Ad Agency works is thrilling, if not satisfyingly exhausting. My office hours have shifted. Zack and I eat dinner later and I work out in the morning. I’ve adjusted.

The new plan is to seize opportunity, take it, and move along. It works or it doesn’t. In this case, it’s working (for now). I have a new boss named Annie who’s been in the biz for more than half my life and she’s teaching me everything there is to know. (Advertising language and tech speak are two very, very different things, by the way). She wants me to think as big as possible, and I am pushing my brain in ways I forgot existed.

Every once in awhile it hits me that ten years ago I was a sophomore in high school. Sometimes I think about my sixteen-year-old self who used to stare and prod and contemplate in front of the bathroom mirror and wonder, with a great sense of both fear and happiness, if she ever would have expected any of this.

House Hunters

Our realtor knows us pretty well by now. She knows she has to bring snacks in the car or else I’ll get cranky and that Zack will only consider homes with basement storage so that he can have his bikes and beer brewing. The man wants a man cave, and I don’t blame him. We’ve only been looking at houses for a little over a month, but it feels like a lot longer than that. The listings have started to blur together. Row homes are cool because they feel adult and complete. Condos are enticing because there’s less of a commitment in the event that we want to leave Philly. We’ve probably seen two dozen places.

Liz has a bright personality and a deep, throaty laugh that catches you a little off guard because she’s so tiny and high-energy. I met her when I participated in Le Grand Continental, and she gave me her card after our last performance. “Standing up to serve you!” The card has a cut-out of her body that flips upward. She orders new ones when she changes her hair color.

We go looking on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, mostly. When we get in the car Liz blasts pop music and grins. “Are you ready to find your house today?!” We have lists and lock box codes and open houses and rating scores. Most places rate a six or seven and we’re striving for that nine-point-five. There are three things we want the most: closet space and outdoor space and counter space. Oh, and a decent block. Gotta have a decent block. Liz says when you buy a house it’s gonna be 80% of what you love and 20% of what you’re going to have to make your own. We understand. A small bathroom isn’t a deal breaker. A crack corner is. “You can change anything about a house except it’s location.”

We circle blocks and listen to Siri give directions. You think you know this city like the back of your hand, but then you forget about the side streets that only exist on one side of Broad. Liz constantly touches the talisman that hangs from her rearview mirror. She got it in Asia and she says it brings her good luck when it comes to finding parking spots. I believe her.

Last week we fell in love with one of Liz’s “wild cards,” a house on Madison Square, which is a historically certified block in Graduate Hospital. It’s one of those streets you can’t drive on- there’s a wide brick walkway and a well-kept garden that runs down the center. I had never heard of it before. It amazes me how much Graduate Hospital has changed in the past three years. Zack and I lived on 21st and South when we first moved to Philadelphia and there wasn’t much south of South. I know gentrification gets a bad rap, but I think it’s pretty great.

Madison Square was the first place we saw that I felt could be ours. The second time we walked in I got butterflies, like I was in the same room as a middle school crush. It was wide with high ceilings, loads of charm and character, counter space and outdoor space and a basement. No central air, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Not a lot of closet space, but we could make it work. It was out of our price range, but it was vacant and had been on the market for almost three months. Liz said it was overpriced and we should give it a shot if we wanted to, so we put in an offer that night. I was terrified, but it was thrilling. In a matter of weeks, my entire life savings could be gone and Zack and I could own a house. I started pinning ideas on how to make the most out of a small bathroom.

The seller countered our first offer, slept on our second and denied our third. There was a $10,000 difference between our highest and his lowest, and I wish so badly that he would have just accepted it. I know everything happens for a reason, and what’s meant to be, will be, but goddamn, I wanted those built-in bookshelves. I wanted that dining room, I wanted that crown molding.

“You have to think about how you’re going to live,” Liz tells us often. “It’s going to be your house. How will you live in it?”

The Story of Us

I was supposed to be at my cousin Lynn’s bridal shower, but I had just gotten back to school and really didn’t want to go back home, let alone schlep up to Long Island. I was having the best syllabus week ever, despite my 20th birthday looming ominously in the near future, and I wanted to keep raging. I had spent the summer nannying for a wealthy family on the mainline and making out with boys I knew from high school. I was not ready to be twenty.

It was Friday of Labor Day weekend. I was with Amber and Maddie and Ida. Maddie and I weren’t close friends yet. Our first stop of the evening was Kaela McLaughlin’s 19th birthday at Calder Commons. I’m not sure how we ended up at a party thrown by Collegian kids on South Atherton- it was on the complete opposite side of town, but there we were. We were all on the porch drinking out of solo cups when I saw him- Zack, I mean. He was wearing glasses and a button up and jeans. We made eye contact and stayed there for a little while. The bluest eyes I’d ever seen. It was, as my mother will tell you when she tells the story of us, “smoldering eye contact.” The girls were nudging me to leave- they wanted to go smoke a bowl at our guy friends’ place at Highland Tower. “I’m going to go say something to him,” I told Amber.

“Hey,” I said as I walked up to Zack. “My name’s Allison. Me and my friends are leaving, do you want to come with us?”

Turns out he did, and he brought Brian too. Ida recognized Brian. “We had CAS100 together and hooked up at a frat freshman year. He was cute, I liked him, but he was a republican.” Zack and I talked a little bit on the walk downtown, but he ended up chatting with Amber for the most part (everyone always had a thing for Amber). I left the guys’ place early and went home.

A few days later I was at the HUB planning the Good Life show for SOMA. I had opened up my Facebook on the computer at the front of the classroom and saw a little red flag over my inbox. I opened it. “Who the hell is Zack Hartman?” Danny Greene and a couple other SOMA kids gathered around me, curious. “Oh god,” I said. “He’s that kid I met at that party.”


I was a real bitch in return. Totally holier-than-thou. Embarrassing. Honestly I can’t even believe he wanted to see me again.


Cringe-worthy, but he still invited me to a party, which was on the same night of my 20th birthday party. I got blasted, threw up in the bathroom at the hookah lounge and didn’t want to see anybody (but I did survive).  Zack swears he called me and tried to come, but I don’t remember that at all. Monday morning we ran into each other on the corner of Pollock and Burrowes. We made a coffee date at Webster’s and I told him he should come to Feist at Messiah College with me and Kelly Murphy and Ted Wheeland that Friday. Most of our correspondences were via flip phone; those initial text messages were so cautious and sweet. At the show, I got onstage and danced with Feist. I crawled down from the stage and she sang “1 2 3 4.” Zack put his arms around my waist and kissed me.

We hung out for ten days straight after that, and I was in love with him come January.

Spring semester, Zack was accepted to a summer study abroad program in Beijing and I had applied to go to Amsterdam in the fall. When we broke up at the end of the school year, we knew we’d get back together later. We weren’t really breaking up, we were just “on a break.” We instated the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule (which always fails) and continued on with our lives. I spent the summer in Manhattan, interning at an indie music PR firm and serving pastries and coffee to tourists in Union Square. I could always expect drunken phone calls from Zack around 2pm, just as my shift at Tisserie would begin. Those ten weeks went by so quickly. I spent most of my days with Ida and Maddie and new friends from my job. We were always doing something; our New York to-do list was a mile long. We ate and drank as much as we could (I can still remember all of Maddie’s stats from her expired driver’s license) and we went to shows, museums and parks whenever we felt like it. My 20th year was coming to a close, and it had been pretty fucking amazing. I don’t know what I had been so worried about.

Zack and I reunited in August and I started having second thoughts about going to Amsterdam. I went to State College 48 hours before my flight, which was a horrible, stupid idea and I didn’t want to leave. “I will be here when you get back,” Zack told me.

In Amsterdam everything was beautiful and I felt cultured and independent, but it rained a lot and I was homesick often. Over the course of the semester, I spent nearly every dollar to my name traveling. I explored Switzerland, Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden. I thought about Zack all the time. My darling 26-year-old Dutch RA had a thing for me but I couldn’t bring myself to let anything happen. “I don’t want to marry you, I just want to see you,” he said to me when I explained my situation with Zack.  I know, I know, but still. Matt Wanetik passed away at the beginning of October and St. George Hunt shortly after. My anxiety surrounding death was at all-time high at that point and by mid-December I was so ready to come home.

Back in State College, everything fell back into the way it had used to be. My living situation was hell, but Zack and I were an item and I spent most nights at his giant house on West Prospect anyway. It felt like my senior year even though it wasn’t. I drank five nights a week and still managed to lose the beer/cheese bloat I gained when I was abroad. I was writing poetry and keeping a daily journal and feeling pretty on top of my shit. Zack and I would fight when we were drunk (which was, frankly, too frequently). He had already secured a full-time job in Dallas, Texas and we both knew that we’d break up for real when he graduated. Zack wanted to spend his final weeks in college amongst all his friends, always and forever, and time for “just the two of us” simply wasn’t a priority. This was by far the ugliest and most tumultuous time in our relationship. Zack moved back home before he left for Texas and I stayed in State College for the summer. We said goodbye for the entire month of June, thinking that every time we saw each other would be the last.

That summer was the “Summer of Women,” which were three glorious months of being surrounded only by females (and Conyers). I became super tight with a bunch of girls who made me feel empowered and sexy, interned at the State Theater and waited tables at the Golden Wok. I missed Zack but was having too much fun drinking outside and flirting with anything that walked to think about him that much. Zack, on the other hand, was wildly lonely in Dallas and called me a lot. In August I went to visit him. The car ride from the airport was awkward and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing there. In his studio apartment, there was soy milk and turkey bacon in the fridge, just for me. All of our feelings towards each other were good ones, and I looked forward to his visit to State College in September.

In October, I booked another flight to Dallas over my week-long Thanksgiving break. A few weeks later, I met a really nice boy who was on litmag with me, and we started hanging out a lot. I timidly told Zack, who was, oddly enough, seeing someone too. I didn’t believe him- how could this happen to both of us at the same time? I canceled my flight but still made plans to see Zack when he was at home for the holiday. When he pulled into my parents’ driveway, I started crying immediately.  We had coffee at the Gryphon in Wayne and oh god, it was so over. I was so sad and felt empty and relieved at the same time. I could finally move on, I could keep dating this really nice boy who was on litmag with me and I wouldn’t have to feel weird or apprehensive anymore.

But Zack and I didn’t stop talking to each other. In fact, every time we were on a break or broken up, we never stopped talking to each other. Four weeks after thinking we were done, it was finals week and I was drinking at the Phyrst. I so wish that I had my old text messages somewhere, because I don’t remember how or why Zack and I were talking at that moment. All I remember is being crouched in the corner, huddled by the coats with my finger plugged in one ear and my cell phone pressed against the other. “I’m still in love with you.” “I’m still in love with you too.”

And so it was decided: we would get back together, do long distance for one semester, and after I graduated I would move to Houston, Texas, to be with him.

Over winter break I spent some time at the Hartmans’ in New Jersey. Mr. Hartman loves to make a good cocktail, and I was pounding gin and tonics. I wanted to be able to tell the Hartmans our grand plan by dinnertime.

“What are you going to do after graduation, Allison?”

“Well… I’m going to move to Houston. How do you feel about that?”

“Houston?” Mrs. H said, surprised. “That’s where Zack lives!”


My parents were oddly okay with it as well. I expected more of a backlash, especially from my mother, who didn’t want me to grow up AKA refused to let me make a gynecologist appointment when I was 19 years old. Of course, the decision to move was ultimately mine- but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t have risked my relationship with my parents for the one I had with Zack. My mom and dad liked Zack, and they trusted me. Some family members were skeptical and tried to tactfully imply that I was too young, or brushed me off as naive. On June 30 my bags were packed and I had my one-way ticket to Houston. Zack was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator at baggage claim with a bouquet of flowers. A gaggle of women watched and cheered as I jumped into his arms. I had moved halfway across the country for love. Here I was. I was ready.

Zack had made me a “Welcome to Houston” mix that we blasted along with the A/C during the car ride from the airport to Montrose, my new neighborhood. It was unbearably humid in Texas and would stay that way until the last few weeks we lived there. My first 30 days in Houston were spent unemployed and felt like an eternity. I didn’t have a car but I did have a bike. I went to coffee shops and yoga class. I cold-called PR firms looking for work until someone decided to interview me. In retrospect those 30 days should have flown by in a hot minute but it’s hard when you don’t know anyone or the area at all. Living with Zack didn’t feel weird at all, and I don’t remember having that many arguments, mostly because we didn’t have any family or friends to attend to. We had our neighbors, and a few friends from our respective jobs, and that was it. There were no set plans or obligations, and we always spent our weekends outdoors and exploring.

Texas was kind of a culture shock. I worked for a small PR firm with a bunch of girls around my age, most of whom had been married right out of college, or were engaged (but absolutely, definitely not living together). Texas overall is conservative; Houston not as much.  Zack and I lived on a crack corner in the heart of the gayborhood (nestled between an autobody shop and a leather bar) but outside of Montrose, the city was pretty ho-hum. Because Zack’s job had him on a rotational schedule, I knew we wouldn’t be in Texas that long- we were going to move at the end of October. I had my fingers crossed for California, but when Zack called me at work in the middle of the day to tell me we were moving to Philadelphia, my eyes welled with tears and I could hardly gchat everyone fast enough.

In Philly, Zack and I lived in a first floor apartment on the cusp of Rittenhouse Square and Graduate Hospital, which was a far cry from our old digs on Hyde Park Boulevard. Suddenly we had this massive social network of family and friends (from Conestoga and Penn State and Chatham) who we could hang out with whenever we wanted! It was in this apartment when I told Zack I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We were happy together. Shit was serious.

We moved to a less expensive apartment in Queen Village in the spring, right as I was fired from my part-time job (which I despised). I started interning for Yelp and nannying for an Orthodox Jewish family that summer. I was broke as a joke. Zack was there for me and supported me in every way, but freaked out every time I brought up getting married. The two years we lived in Queen Village were a blur, partially due to the fact that I wasn’t writing anything down at the time, but also because our lives became so routine. Not in a bad way, just in a more permanent this-is-adult-life kind of way. I felt depressed for the first time in my 24 years. I had been on over a dozen interviews in less than 12 months and couldn’t land a job. I felt worthless because all my friends had “careers” and I spent my days in leggings toting elementary schoolers to and fro after-school activities. I was getting 10 hours of sleep a night (too much, man). I had all the time in the world to write, and I didn’t. My brother Michael had lost three friends in a matter of six months, and I was constantly thinking about death. I had horrible anxiety whenever Zack or my mom or dad didn’t pick up their phones, and I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. Therapy helped.

In 2012, I finally got a full-time job in social media/marketing for a tech start up in Center City. This was it! It was all happening! I was infinitely happier in my mental state- now why hadn’t Zack proposed yet? Oh my god, we had been living together for two years and had been dating (on and off, whatever) for almost five. What was the hold up?

I was ready to get engaged a solid year before Zack was. And there was nothing I could do about it. (Pro tip: Every time we fought during this period of our lives, I had usually been drinking and it was almost always about getting engaged. I know it’s easier said than done, but guys and gals, whoever’s in more of a rush: you gotta stop nagging. You gotta stop bringing it up, you gotta stop weaseling the topic into conversation. It will happen when it happens, and when it happens it will thrill you).

This past April, we were at a family friend’s wedding when Zack cornered me at the bar at the after-party. We were sobering up with chicken wings and water.

“Guess what?”


“I did it. I asked your dad.”

“For my hand in marriage?!


“Why are you telling me this?!”

“I don’t know. I’m just proud of myself. And I’m really excited!”

It was so damn endearing.

Three weeks later, we didn’t have any weekend plans. The first Saturday in months where there was absolutely nothing on our calendar, but when Zack asked if I wanted to go on a bike ride, I didn’t think too much of it. When he asked if I wanted to pick up a bottle of wine first, that’s when I had my suspicions. It was barely noon. We threw our bikes down in the grass like little kids, and set up camp in the Azalea Garden at Fairmount Park. Just as I pulled out the novel I was in the middle of reading, Zack put his arm around me and looked at me a little funny. Then I knew, it was really happening.

Afterwards, as we were staring into each other’s eyes with utter joy and happiness, Zack still down on one knee, I saw a figure behind him coming towards us. Did he hire a photographer for this? I wondered to myself. Nope, it was just a little old lady. “Oh my god,” she said. “Am I really seeing what I’m seeing?” We smiled. “Yes!” “Oh my god,” she continued, flabbergasted. “I’ve never seen one of these before!”

After we made all the phone calls and I posted a photo of our smiling faces to Instagram (sorry I’m not sorry) Zack took me to Vetri, where I had one of the very best and most special meals of my entire life, all while being transfixed on the engagement ring of my dreams, which fit so perfectly on my finger. We toasted to our future together, over and over again. 

When I opened the door to our apartment that night, Zack flicked on the light and in front of us were all of our favorite people. Friends from Philly, New Jersey and New York, and of course both of our families. Zack (my fiance!!) had meticulously planned a surprise party for our engagement, and he pulled it off without a hitch. I felt (and still feel) overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

Zack and I will be married on August 29, 2014, seven years to the day after we met at that party on South Atherton. Friday of Labor Day weekend.

I want to badly so believe that there is truth, that love is real

Last night Zack and I saw The Postal Service, who are touring in honor of the 10th anniversary of Give Up. It was one of the last stops on the “Allison Berger Nostalgia Tour,” which began last May with The Shins, continued into fall and winter with Metric and Tegan and Sara and then went full-speed ahead into Spring with Stars, Owen, The Shout Out Louds, and Iron & Wine. It’ll finish up strong in July with Lindsay Baltus’ wedding in Portland, Oregon.

If you had told me in 2004 that I would get to see both Iron & Wine and The Postal Service perform “Such Great Heights” nearly ten years later, I never would have believed you. The Postal Service was my first foray into “emotional music,” a disc that was burned for me January of my sophomore year of high school. While many of you may be reminded of backseat makeout sessions with your high school lover, I don’t really associate Give Up with anyone besides myself. To put things into perspective, by January of my sophomore year, I had yet to be kissed, was going through a lot of problems with my best friend, and oh yeah- I didn’t own a cell phone (unrelated, but can you imagine a sixteen year old without a cell phone these days?).

The majority of the audience last night appeared to be in their mid-twenties and thirties. As I sipped my fourth drink of the evening, I looked at the folks around us, wondering what every single person was being reminded of at that moment. I tried to explain this to my thirty-two year old boss this morning, who was also at the show. “It’s just so crazy that this one album from ten years ago meant so much to everyone, when we were all different ages,” I tried to explain. “What do you mean?” “I mean, I was sixteen, you were twenty-two…like, all the different stuff that we were going through at the time, you know…?” I was rambling.

When Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis kicked things off with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” Zack turned to me and said, “All of the feelings.” Pretty much. But in a totally removed kind of a way. As in, hey now, I can think these thoughts and feel these feelings and not get lost in them like I did at nineteen, I can think about the past without getting caught up in it, I can enjoy this music for what it is, at twenty-five years old standing next to my fiance for crying out loud. This is me understanding my own path to maturation, don’t you see?

feelsIn high school, I scrawled the lyrics from “Clark Gable” on my desk in black sharpie.

I want so badly to believe that “there is truth, that love is real,”
And I want life in every word to the extent that it’s absurd
I know you’re wise beyond your years, but do you ever get the fear
That your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?

Certainly a highlight from the setlist (yeah, yeah, they played the entirety of Give Up, whatever).Nothing Better” was another favorite. Jenny’s voice is downright angelic, and she and Ben did this weird prancercizey half-grind which made the crowd go wild. “They’re definitely getting it in,” Zack commented. We left the Mann Center and hopped on the bus, then walked home from 7th and South, bathed in the streetlamps’ yellow light.

I woke up this morning from a dream where I running around the halls of Conestoga because I was late for 5th period. There was a Nokia brick phone in my hand.