The Holy City--By Chelsey Stegmaier

Chelsey Stegmaier soon to be Mrs. Luvin is a preschool teacher and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She stays busy by planning her wedding in August, eating ice cream, Face-timing her ten month old nephew, and going on runs along Lake Michigan. She loves the walkability and opportunities available to her by walking a few blocks in any direction out her front door, and not having a need to own a car because of her new city life. However, she dearly misses walks on the beach at dusk, the smell of the marsh, and having to drive 15 minutes to the closest Chipotle. 

I moved to a tourist town five days after graduating college, and I knew everything. I knew there would always be money in my bank account because I had an adult job and a college degree, and everyone who has a college degree has money and doesn’t have problems paying rent. I also knew everyone with a college degree, found a husband, bought a large house in the suburbs and had 2.5 kids by the time they were 27. Because when you are 27 you are old and have your life figured out. Like I said, I knew everything.

This small town, chewed me up, swallowed me, and then spit me back out, and I enjoyed and am grateful for every moment of it. While living there I discovered myself, I found out what it was that I care most about in life- children, because let’s be honest, one day they will run the world. I learned what it was like to be single, so single you don’t take advantage of that plus one at your friend's wedding. So single you eat a pint of ice cream for dinner, stay at work late, go two days too long without showering, and go three weeks too long without changing the sheets on your bed. I learned what it’s like to work 80 hours a week and what it feels like to be burnt out, but seeing the largest paycheck or the largest wad of cash in your life keeps you coming back for more. 

I also learned what it feels like to be responsible for something other than yourself, and then have it taken from you and have to pick up the pieces and continue life, because time doesn’t stop for anyone.

In this town, we drank too much vodka sodas and champagne cocktails that we never had to pay for and we watched the tourist pass us snapping selfies on our palmetto tree lined, cobble-stoned streets. They saw us and envied us, but was it the other way around? We went out during the weekdays because no one had an 8-5 job in a town where tourism in one of the main industries. We turned our friendships into a family like bond, because no one’s family lived in Charleston.

I experienced lust too many times with men I should have never been with because they were married, going through a divorce, were only looking for an answer to a drunk text or were an intern. I woke up in bed where I turned on Google maps, laying next to a half naked man to find out where I was, and I learned quickly that the CVB garage charged a flat rate of $4 for overnight parking if you move your car by 8am the next morning.

I created relationships with affluent families on an island that I’ll never forget. I was a part of their family vacation traditions, and I looked forward to seeing them every year. I was invited into their million dollar vacation homes as a stranger, and left feeling like a family member--being offered the contents of their fridge and pantry because they didn’t want to travel home with the groceries the next day. I watched babies grow to kids, and kids grow into too cool teenagers. I was a part of their vacations, and I loved it.

I worked Easters, Thanksgivings and New Year's Eves and dreamt about the day where I would have a family of my own to celebrate these holidays with, not be working them. One Thanksgiving after I worked, I came home and had Velveeta Mac ‘n’ Cheese for dinner—a true low point.

I met someone who I lived with, that understood (and understands) me on a different level than anyone else I have ever met. We found a shanty of a house on Craigslist, with a sketchy landlord that allowed us to have two large dogs, who then kicked us out and took us to small claims court. He didn’t get any of our money (a perk of being a nanny for lawyer’s children).  Evans, my housemate, and I should have known the day we moved in together and found a stranger on the street to help us lift the heavy objects--who we then paid in pizza and a case of beer--that every day would be an adventure.

Evans and I would stay up late eating ice cream, and binge watching Friends, or the Holiday in the middle of July until we both fell asleep on the sofa. One time we rode our beach cruisers through the drive thru of Taco Bell, while blaring Taylor Swift. We ate our $30 of Taco Bell immediately in the parking lot because we were too hungry to bike the half-mile home before we indulged. We spotted guys from across the dog park or bar and claimed them as our future husbands, even though they didn’t know it yet, and then planned our make believe weddings with them at Lowndes Grove where we would be each other’s bridesmaids. And then in the morning, reality would set in as we woke up sharing the pillow with our dogs.

When Gertrude, my dog, went missing, Evans was the first person I called, she was there for me when I needed her the most and she held me in her arms as I had a panic attack in the middle of the street and couldn’t find the strength to pry myself off the pavement. We learned together that we have a lot of insecurities but knowing we are not alone in them makes everything okay.

I drove by the place I found my best, four legged friend around four times a day. If that doesn’t emotionally challenge you and transform you into a stronger person, I am not sure what will. But, it took a few weeks to realize I never wanted to do it again and I was done with this small, tourist town. I hit the restart button on my life and ran away.

I moved out of this town I owe so much too, but suddenly felt so much hostility towards with a weeks notice.  I sold and donated my furniture and packed up everything else I owned in a 15 foot U-Haul. I moved 900 miles North to Chicago, because this time I actually did find true love, because when you know, you know.

I drove out of that town with it in my rearview mirror and never looked back, I was getting the life I always envied from those tourists walking on the street. I was going to have a fiance, an eight to five job, plans with friends on a Saturday, and I could kiss this flying by the seat of my pants lifestyle away. Sure, I would come back and visit in a few years time and think about the memories, but I didn’t have to worry about that.

And then my parents moved to this tourist town four months after I moved away.

My parents, moved to this town, and built a$500,000 brand new, state of the art five bedroom house in a cookie cutter neighborhood so they could “experience everything this town has to offer.”

I avoided visiting them for 12 months, because I said the flights were too expensive, but in reality I never wanted to come back to this town, and if I did return I didn’t want it to be because I had to come home for the holidays but because it was on my own time. I buried my skeletons in this town and the thought of digging them up with your parent’s hanging over your shoulder isn’t exactly delightful. The memories I have of this town are so sacred because they molded me into who I have become, and the threat of them becoming tarnished by new ones makes me want to cry, sleep for hours on end, or just avoid it all.

Charleston, South Carolina has a small piece of my heart and to my own dismay I owe it everything. I found myself in this town, and because of it I’ll never take for granted the things I have in my life now. Like an 8-5 job working with children, clean bed sheets, always having a date to a friends wedding, my fiance, and the opportunity for new beginnings while never forgetting how you got there.  I’ll never take it for granted because I know the feeling of not having any of it.

This story is part of the Human Becomings Story Series. Please consider sharing your own story of becoming with the wider world. Submissions to this series will be posted as available. Visit "Your Story" for instructions and details.