My hope was that Pittsburgh would be my forever home. Alas, life did not work out that way. That’s why, early this autumn, I swallowed my Steelers fan pride and made the move to a rival city, saying to Pittsburgh: Nevermore.

I grew up in Delaware, then moved to Erie at age 31. I came south to Pittsburgh eight years ago, seeking good medical care, serviceable transit and affordable living.

The first thing I did was look for housing.

The key to feeling safe in a rental property is great management. When people care about your living experience, and environment, it contributes to good mental health, emotional health and even physical health.

You also have to be able to afford it — and I’m on disability.

Upon moving to Pittsburgh, I discovered that the rents were high – even four years pre-Covid. I transferred my Section 8 voucher from Erie to Pittsburgh, but ended up seeing the same damaged properties over and over again. The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh’s properties looked much more promising, and I ended up in the authority’s tower on Pressley Street.

Aim Comperatore in their apartment on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in East Allegheny. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/Rtvsrece)

I had PTSD from more than 30 years of recovery from domestic violence. And here it was, again, in this entire building, an overwhelming tornado of domestic violence on 16 floors. I held onto my emotional recovery for dear life. Many in my neighborhood wondered how I managed to stay recovered there.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one needs to feel safe and secure in order to climb up the triangle, eventually to self-actualization. No growth can happen if you don’t feel safe. I don’t know at what point it happened, but at some time I no longer felt safe in my neighborhood, my apartment building or even my apartment. What happened growing up, was now happening here — times 16 floors, instead of in one house.

I kept to myself, locking myself in my apartment for as long as I could.

The Tell-Tale Heart

You’re asking: “Why didn’t you move?” I thought about it. But all the so-called “safe” places are $1,400 a month, or worse … with three months down up front. It seems Pittsburgh is trying to become the next New York City.

So I became an advocate for security in the building. I always felt that the Housing Authority looked at me as if I was like the detested old man’s eye in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

It took a grave toll on my mental health. Two years after my mother passed, with no more paperwork to do, feelings rose to the surface (finally!) and I could ignore them no more. I knew I needed help. I called grief counselors and therapists to no avail.

Eventually I decided to 302 myself into UPMC Western Psychiatric. I went there one day, and was told: “You’re too well-adjusted to be here.” WHAT?!? Lady, I just 302’d myself. Nope, she wasn’t kidding. She told me to go home and keep looking for therapists.

That search took years. Almost no one wanted to accept Medicare clients.

Following my mad muse

There are those few who edge between madness and genius, eccentric enough to bypass societal mores and norms and yet still make a difference in the world. Labeled eccentrics, some become the authors and artists of the world. I wanted to know how Edgar Allan Poe, one of my great literary heroes, did that. I was introduced to his works in seventh grade and was enthralled with him.

Poe was born poor, but raised (though never formally adopted) by an upper-class family. He had financial problems, but supportive relatives. Suffice it to say, our situations weren’t entirely parallel.

Somewhere there had to be a place that cared equally about affordable housing and mental health. Surely that is not Western Pennsylvania. I could go to Eastern Pennsylvania, but nah; 17 years in the state took its toll on me. I needed a change.

I had to get my ravens in a row.

Preparing to fly

A friend of mine told me about a place in Maryland where there were many hospitals and people cared about mental health. This got my attention. I did my research and got the impression that I was already wanted by the psychiatric community down there

It struck me: If Poe could make it in Baltimore, then surely there might be a solution there.

Aim Comperatore wearing glasses and a backpack sitting next to the gravestone at the original burial place of Edgar Allan Poe.
Aim T. Comperatore at Edgar Allan Poe's original grave in Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of Aim T. Comperatore)

Baltimore is Poe’s city. There is a speakeasy named after him, many businesses bear the names of his poems or short stories, and of course the NFL team is named for his poem “The Raven.” Many nights I looked at the map and wished to be near the site of his original grave, just so I could visit.

I researched hospitals, doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies, transit lines and walkability. Since I’m LGBTQ+, I learned about the laws that can often make the difference between a place to thrive, and a place to die. Everything checked out.

Upon getting to Baltimore, I did three things:

  • Ate a Maryland crab cake and Maryland crab soup for lunch at Faidley’s Seafood
  • Visited Poe’s grave and left a poem (for I had no rose or penny)
  • Surrendered myself to Sheppard Pratt, a private, nonprofit behavioral health provider, for mental health care.

Because I certainly wasn’t getting mental health care in Pittsburgh. I had called Sheppard Pratt on four different occasions while still in Pittsburgh; each time, their answer was the same: “Yes, we accept Medicare. C’mon over.” It was hard to realize that I was worthy of a “yes.”

I was scared. I hadn’t been in a psych ward in over 20 years. I wondered if Poe had ever been in an asylum.

Normal has never been in my vocabulary. I just wanted to be able to manage my madness, so I could go back to my life as I once knew it. Sheppard Pratt’s partial hospitalization program [PHP] was perfect for me because I’m an academic at heart, and its classroom-style groups worked well for me.

I had severe flashbacks while in PHP, though, as therapeutic conversations revived painful memories. I had to be admitted to the inpatient trauma disorders unit – which felt like an elite-psych-ward-meets-correctional institution – for an intensive 13 1/2-hour session, followed by an additional 3 weeks as an inpatient.

I was an insomniac before coming in. Now, I was ready to live among the day people again.

Before moving out, I researched everything. Zillow, Rents.com — if there was an app for housing, I downloaded it. I came across an interesting prospect called Vivo Living, which rents regular apartments, converted from old hotels, beginning at $940. They worked with me while I was in Sheppard Pratt, and gave me a queen-sized bed, lamp and nightstand, for I had none.

A gravestone for Edgar Allan Poe.
The original burial place of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of Aim T. Comperatore)

I pay 60% of my income — twice the portion the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh demanded. It is tough, especially financially, but more importantly, I can get the help I need. I can only have faith that my finances will eventually sort themselves out. I am determined to make this work, even if it means that I am taking on more debt than I am used to handling.

Even my physical health has improved! Two weeks into Baltimore, I had bloodwork done. My glomerular filtration rate, a measure of kidney effectiveness, went up by 40 points — a huge improvement. I could only attribute it to the move.

And I’m about four blocks away from the final resting place of my deceased muse.

You couldn’t pay me to return to Pittsburgh.

Aim T. Comperatore is an e-published freelance writer who loves writing about a good cause. In addition to being a writer, Aim does poetry, and can be reached at atcomperatore@gmail.com.

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