as a kid, i thought chicago had to be the biggest city on earth. and i used to love that it touched my lake ... the lake i swam in every day, back in my little town. i remember holding my breathe as we drove through gary, thinking that it was some kind of moat, some protection for this beautiful city, so that only the people who really wanted to be in chicago could get there.
when i was in college, just a few hours east on I-94, chicago became something of a center for self-realization. it was staring down a terminal in o'hare as my high school boyfriend walked away that i knew that relationship was over. and where, a year later, i boarded my first (ok, only) flight to europe. it was after a daytrip to chicago, as a college boyfriend slept and i drove us back to kalamazoo in my crappy cavalier, that i looked over at him and thought, what the hell am i doing with this chump? and not just because he basically made me pay for everything all day. there were a lot of little things wrong with him, all of which added up to him just not being a man.
and then there was that perfect june afternoon in chicago, six years ago, sitting by the chicago river in the few hours between being dropped off after a long drive back from a two week music festival and catching a train back to kalamazoo, my instrument and luggage stuffed into a locker at the train station. in my mind, i remember this day like one of those pictures where one person is standing still and the whole world around her is buzzing by. having the hurt still fresh from being stood up (again) and left sitting on the steps in front of the building where i was staying until 2am waiting (again), ashamed (again) to return to my room and my roommate, i finally got it. sometimes no matter how much shit you put up with or how badly you want a relationship to work, it can't. or maybe even if it could, it isn't worth it. i realized i didn't want to spend my whole life standing still, waiting, while everyone around me ... lived their lives. a girl has to stand up for herself, and that guy wasn't a man either. more importantly, even if i bought his excuses (again) and somehow it worked out, i didn't really want to live the life i'd have with him anyway. i wanted to fall in line with the suited, happy chicagoans bustling between their highrise office buildings, follow them back to their jobs where they got to think and work hard and laugh with their smart coworkers - and i wanted to leave that instrument in the train station locker, along with everyone's goals and expectations for my music career. i wanted to tell someone that i wanted out, but i had no one (yet). i knew, or at least in hindsight i'd like to think i knew, that i'd find my place and it wouldn't have anything to do with that expensive hunk of wood back at the train station.
i haven't been to chicago since that afternoon. until last weekend.
leaving chicago this time was not on an amtrak back to kalamazoo with my instrument, but asking the bellhop for my luxury hotel to please whistle me a cab to o'hare ... sleeping on the sticky leather bench seat in the back through traffic, and asking the driver for a receipt (so someone else could pay for it) ... watching the skyline disappear under me as my lake glimmered in the evening sun under the plane.
it was like leaving home, and it hurt like hell.
i've had a crush on chicago for a long, long time... and that weekend was the first time i really thought i had a chance with her. she's not out of my league. we are so in the same league. i could get a job, and we'd have enough money to see the lake from our condo, we could spend a random saturday on the michigan avenue side of my lake, gazing out on that big old childhood friend, whose gravity is tangible, like a lasso around my gut. walking through the gold coast neighborhood, i could see us there, with a dog and a newspaper tucked under an arm, looking for a restaurant to sit in front of all afternoon. those were our people - the smart young smiley ones enjoying the big city but (more likely than not) still close enough to home home to visit on weekends. to be a part of both worlds - city and home home.
but b's career path, as unclear and windy as i'm sure it will be, will by my estimates be long confined to the beltway. i like it here, and we can find a neighborhood in this city where we'll be content, where we'll find restaurants to sit in front of and drink away a saturday afternoon (evidence: yesterday). sure, we won't be near my lake, but luckily b is more magnetic. his lasso around my gut has a much, much stronger pull.