As an adolescent, Richmond was some sort of great fantasy to me. It had been home to one of my favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe, & I was obsessed with plenty of gloomy Southern Gothic daydreams. These reveries included ingredients like Old World decadence, the particularly American flavor of Romanticism & the seed of fatalism in every attempt of self-betterment–all things that I had read about or grown up with in a family full of wistful Southern matriarchs. Like all fantasies of my youth, the dream of our capital city was what I wanted mixed with what I knew–only more so.
Even now looking back, the trips I took as a teenager have the feel of a quest to them. To see the Poe Museum & eat black & white cake on his birthday. To buy leather & lace & rosaries from shops in the Fan. To go to the clubs on Goth Night & lead a boy through the Bottom on a leash & collar, to dance in a go-go cage, to look down the dark cobblestone alleyways at night & feel some shivering delight at the crumbling bricks & the shadows. During those years, my list fell short on one item. When I finally got the name of my beloved author permanently inked on my skin, I did it at a tattoo parlor in my hometown, not Richmond. The act was daring enough at that point in my life that I didn’t want to risk getting lost or finding misfortune in the city.
Maybe this is too romantic, but that dream of Richmond still lingers with me. When I went to the Poe Museum’s Hallowe’en party, I still felt some of that shivery delight. I was walking through the old warehouse district, where the structures now housed trendy condos. Despite the new development, there were still historic homes & churches nearby in a mannered state of disrepair. My heels picked carefully over the exposed patches of worn cobblestones. The city was dark, no one there knew me & the inherent risk of that went to my head.
I explore the city now with my husband. We travel from our little house 20 minutes away to eat at restaurants trying to keep the doors open despite less-than-ideal neighborhoods, explore dusty or odd bookstores, browse the museums, go to rock clubs. This method is much safer, more suburban than I once dreamed. But there is still a feeling of curiosity and wanting to belong that flavors these current trips. I’m still looking out for that special moment, that experience that will let me solve something of Richmond’s mystique for myself.