November 20, 2011

I Left Chicago But the City Didn’t Leave Me

View of Chicago by Marlene Kelly

I have a very vivid impression of being a little girl playing in the sandbox with my best friend when I looked up at the clouds in the sky and told her that when I grew up, I was going to live in a big city far away from the backyard wonderland of Northeast Ohio. It was as if the impression of that image projected onto the impossibly white clouds pulled me through the twists and turns of my life, until it finally came to be.

Opportunity does present itself in the city, frequently in the form of commerce. Brunch, lunch, dinner, parking, movie, concert, improv show, parking, tea, shopping, cupcake, museum, parking. I couldn’t go anywhere without paying to get there and paying for something once I got there. It’s the price of obligation and the cost of convenience. So much of what I thought my life should look like, should be like, was there. Except it wasn’t.

When you live in a city, you spend a lot of time alone. Working the kind of hours I did, it was easy to justify. I spent so much time around people all day, I needed the quiet to recover at night. I was so exhausted by the weekend, I didn’t want the pressure of feeling like I had to entertain anyone other than myself. For someone so self-satisfied, I was pretty unsatisfied with the way things were.

The decision to leave Chicago wasn’t an easy one to make. I didn’t want to leave this image of what I had always imagined my life to be–living in a eco-friendly, 70-story high rise overlooking Lake Michigan and Millennium Park, fabulous friends at every stage of life, a job that made me feel overworked but self-important, and my hilarious and kind brother who knew just how to keep me grounded when my health failed, or my heart was broken, when the guy we wanted to win actually did, or Steve Martin’s bluegrass band came to town.

So I stalled. I took the summer off. It was the first time since I was thirteen that I didn’t have a job. I went to my brother’s house and he made me waffles. I took early morning walks by the lake with Jenn and her newborn son, Sam. I said goodbye to Caroline before she left on her South Pacific sojourn.I had lunch with Mercedes, brunch with Robyn and Bella, watched the fireworks from the sundeck with Chris. I read under a cabana by the outdoor pool in my building surrounded by skyscrapers. I went to the movies with Angela, reconnected by phone with my cousin, Colleen, and laughed with Jen at IO Chicago.

I discovered the other side of myself on an extended vacation in the home I knew I would be leaving by the fall. Not the part motivated by doing, doing, doing, but the part that flourished by being, being, being. I had forgotten the difference for awhile. I was so wrapped up in what I thought my life was supposed to look like, I forgot exactly how great it could be. That’s the part of Chicago I miss the most. The part that helped me figure this out.

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