For the past 5 years, my now husband and I have lived on our across the country in Charleston, South Caroline and then in Chicago, Illinois. After 5 years we decided it was time to move back to California to be near our families and upon moving I’ve done a lot fo reflecting on how the journey was for me and the things that I have learned. I wanted to share the experience here so at least I have documentation of the things I was feeling so fresh after the experience. I am going to publish it in a few posts, as it will be long. It’s alright with me if you don’t follow along as I update, as I said before, this was mostly for me.
Five years ago, an eager and nervous twenty-four year old version of myself hopped in a Prius with my boyfriend and embarked on journey with him that would impact me more than I was prepared for. From the time I first really remember leaving my home state of California, I knew I needed to leave it again and again. I had big plans of applying to colleges in New York and becoming a writer and living abroad. My lack of ambition got in the way of my plans and my strong aversion to applying myself during high school prevented me from applying anywhere other than a Junior College near my parents house, let alone a prestigious college on the East Coast.
My senior year I began to fall for a boy. He didn’t really have big plans at this point, either. He wanted to be the head football coach of the high school he attended and I hated that. I knew I was falling for him and I knew that there was no way to know what either of us would actually end up doing at age seventeen. I stuck with him. We went to the same Junior College and our dreams began to shift. My friends were moving on to better schools and finding what they were passionate about and I found myself just still getting by pursuing a degree that seemed interesting. At the same time, my boyfriend was getting into cooking. He began to dive head first into that passion. He applied to culinary school at the same time as I was finally heading to a state college. We were now hours apart from each other, but for the three years that followed our initial journeys apart we learned that we wanted to travel together and learn what was out there for us beyond our hometown and the lives we thought we’d have, for example being the head coach at the high school he graduated from.
The Food Network; whether he’d approve of me admitting that or not, played a large role in making the choice for our first destination. Every time we turned a show on, there was something pointing us to Charleston, South Carolina. There were numerous big name chefs popping up in the area and a lot of great restaurants that were growing in popularity. After a lot of research on the area we booked a trip to Charleston to find a place to live and then moved there three months later. I had quit my job as a barista with hopes of putting my degree to use and he also began our new chapter jobless, confident he would find something, as well.
Charleston, South Carolina
We packed up his car with whatever would fit and set off on a five-day road trip to Charleston, South Carolina. I was nervous to begin with at the idea that we’d spend five potentially stressful days stuck next to each other in a car. We saw incredible things like the Grand Canyon, drove the old Route 66, ate great BBQ in Memphis, and drove through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, just to name a few. The road trip was incredible and the feeling that the two of us could have such a great time on a road trip to our future doesn’t compare to any I’ve had before. Not long after we settled in, he was able to find a line-cook position at a restaurant that would open right next to our apartment for a restaurant group that was well known in the Charleston area. I had ended up reapplying at Starbucks after searching and failing to find a job that paid better with my psychology degree, and I have been there ever since. Things couldn’t have gone better.
Usually someone says, “Things couldn’t have gone better” only to follow it up with the downside, but we never had a downside. It wasn’t always easy in Charleston, though. He worked twelve hours a day for almost the whole three years we lived there and our days off never quite lined up. We fought often about my jealousy and my loneliness, even though in my head I KNEW nothing was happening and I also knew what I signed up for when I jumped into a car with a man pursing a cooks life. In reality, I considered myself very lucky to have him. He went to work and came right home. His friends and coworkers would stay out drinking; among indulging in other substances, until the bars closed every night. Through the process of getting over my unsubstantiated jealousy and occasional fits of rage towards him, I learned the importance of communication. He proposed to me our first Christmas there and as his fiancé I needed to learn to trust and be vulnerable with him or I’d only drive myself crazy.
I want to preface this by saying I met amazing people in Charleston, I made a forever friend who I can’t believe I was missing from my life for twenty-four years, BUT I understoodprejudice for the first time in my life in Charleston. Living in the south was very different, it was hard to swallow and I learned more about slavery and African-American culture than the history books in school even pretend to teach. It was eye opening to learn how much of what we do and have today is because of what was brought and/or taught to us by slaves that were forced here. I know that isn’t any kind of revelation, but to actually live in the south and learn about it there and stand in an old slave-trade building and learn about exactly what happened where I was standing made me feel foolish for not having a better understanding before.
The city itself was still very segregated. I learned what it meant for a neighborhood to be gentrified. I had heard the word before but didn’t grasp what it meant until I watched what was once a low-income neighborhood in Charleston get taken over by boutique coffee shops and expensive fried chicken joints with outdoor patios and craft beer. As more old buildings were being torn down to make room for new buildings, more and more tents would pop up under the highway off-ramps. I’d heard of dwellings referred to as “tent-cities,” but never knew what that meant. I suppose that “squatters” from the old buildings were being pushed onto the street, but it was still devastating to watch happen. The newspapers would have updates and deadlines for when the tent-cities had to be evacuated, but I never saw it cleared out.
We were fortunate enough to find an affordable apartment on the very outskirts of the downtown area. By very outskirts I mean that we were smack dab in the middle of the most expensive shopping and the most undesirable neighborhoods. The line where it became less safe was clearly drawn out by a former Piggly Wiggly that we used to live next door to. Our rent started at about $875 dollars a month WITH parking, which was a steal, but three years later we would have been looking at an almost $400 dollar increase a month to re-sign our lease there. We had considered moving out of there the year before that, but couldn’t find anything else for less money with a parking spot downtown. This was important to us, because we shared a car and we needed a place within walking/biking distance to at least one of our jobs. Fast-forward to eight months after our move and our friends were sending us pictures of our former apartment being demolished. If we hadn’t left Charleston we would have been out of our perfectly located, expensive but affordable apartment at the heart of it all. I often wonder where we would have ended up had we of stayed. It is also sad to think that we would have been pushed into the less desirable neighborhoods due to a (rumored) Whole Foods being built on our once lived on block.
I need to make it clear that I am not against fancy fried chicken or Whole Foods, I happen to love both, but I am not a fan of knocking down pre existing dwellings to put them up. My husband and I would have been able to afford something outside of the downtown area, it would have just been a longer and very different bus commute for one of us, which I fully understand isn’t a hard thing to adjust to. It just put into perspective for me how fortunate I was and how unfortunate things can happen to anyone. I couldn’t help but think about the people that were being pushed out and it was a reality check to witness and learn first hand what gentrification looked like.
Another lesson I learned while living in the south was that in addition to racism, classism was very much alive. I’d say both of our parents were raised working class and raised us working class. I had a job as soon as I was old enough to get my worker’s permit, because I enjoyed knowing that I was making my own money. I began working for Starbucks, because I knew I could transfer out of my hometown to college with that job, and it has transferred all over the country with me as my job. Working as a barista in an affluent, majority white town in Charleston I learned that I was the help. The customers there could not understand why I was only a barista and why I wasn’t pursuing better. Let me be clear, this job is good to me. I get full benefits for my husband and for myself, I have a retirement fund, paid vacation, free coffee, and I have free stock. The customers wouldn’t give us the time of day, they would carry on conversations with each other or on their phones, or bark at us to make sure their skinny cappuccinos were just a little lighter, because “milk makes me bloat.” When they did give us the time of day it was to tell us things like “Don’t worry, I am sure you’ll find a real job soon.” People there were still very much against cohabitating out of wedlock so when they learned I had moved to Charleston with my boyfriend and we were not yet married, they pitied me, “Oh, don’t your parents care that you aren’t married?” “My niece just moved in with her boyfriend and her dad hasn’t talked to her in weeks, such a shame that she couldn’t have waited.” And my favorite, “Oh, honey, he’ll propose to you soon and make an honest woman out of you yet!” Keep in mind these things were said with smiles on their faces while laughing amongst each other. I always felt less than while serving them coffee, which was a feeling I had never felt before. I hated it.
My husband and I grew up in a pretty diverse town, classrooms growing up were a fairly equal mix of races and everyone was friends with everyone. It was a shock to my system to live somewhere where the norm was to be very segregated still. I’m thankful to have had that experience so that I can hold on to some of those shitty feelings and hopefully be more empathetic to people from all walks of life.
But, enough negative about the Palmetto State. I will always be grateful for the warm Atlantic Ocean, the incredible architecture, and the city skyline being low and beautiful by law to ensure that the view of the low country stayed unobstructed. I’ll be grateful to look back and remember that that is the place where my husband proposed to me on our first Christmas alone. It’ll always be the place in my heart that reminds me of how special what I’ve got going on with my husband is, to have moved with him for no reason other than to this together and have thrived at it three thousand miles from anyone we knew is something I can always be proud of and blown away by.
Our vacation lifestyle in Charleston was incredible, but after three years it was time for a change. We needed a bit of city scenery and a faster paced lifestyle.