I never thought I would leave Chicago. It’s the only home I’ve ever known, through and through, and know it well I do. Before going home for the first time a few months after moving to Boston, I was warned by a fellow Chicagoan who moved away several years ago, “It’s going to feel different.” At the time, I had no clue what she was talking about. Robert and I were still getting settled and I hadn’t felt homesick. Since not much time had passed, during my inaugural visit “back home” everything seemed just as I left it.
I didn’t really understand what she meant until my most recent visit (i.e. part of the reason for my five week hiatus). Everywhere I looked, my city had changed. A new restaurant, shifting demographics, awkward family dynamics. “So yeah, I don’t know how I feel about Chicago,” I bemoaned to Robert, “Shit is weird, like, is Lincoln Park going to encapsulate the whole city?” To which I was informed I was only noticing this about Chicago because I don’t live there. Wait, I don’t live in Chicago?
He was right, I don’t live in Chicago, and the weirdness I was experiencing was the direct result of being a visitor in a place I’ve always called home. It had nothing to do with the changing landscape of the city, and everything to do with my changing perspective. I have spent the entire year acclimating myself to another city, trying to establish a life outside of my home. And with these words I had to stop and reflect on the difference between having a home and living somewhere, two very unique concepts.
Chicago is home. It is where I’m from, where my parents are from, and where my grandparents chose to seek opportunity in the early 20th century. Chicago is responsible for forming a significant part of my identity, decades long friendships, and developing a deep understanding of sociological ideologies live and in living color. It is the only place I’ll get my hair cut because nobody can be trusted to cut my layers like Rose. Chicago is the fabric of my being. My allegiance is, and always will be, to Chicago sports teams and ketchup-free hot dogs.
Boston is where I live. I receive mail at the apartment in which I pay rent. I have accounts with the local utility companies. I play a role in multiple communities, such as the school community where I work, and the HBS community where I’m Robert’s-girlfriend-who-hasn’t-visited-class-because-she-has-a-real-job. I’ve checked in at Boston Logan in the last year quite possibly more than an entire lifetime at O’Hare (seriously, since when do I spend so much time on airplanes?). And when I leave Boston to go anywhere else, I have to worry about things like how many personal days I have left and which days I should ask the cat sitter to come look after Meow Meow. I have routines, a yoga studio, running routes for every distance in my training plan, and a partner with whom I experience it all (with the exception of this summer).
Meanwhile, life in Chicago isn’t cryogenically frozen waiting for me to return. The people I love and care about live there, just like I live in Boston. They go about their daily lives, participate in their communities, and develop relationships with other people. I know, how dare they, right? Babies will be born, nieces and nephews will get taller, weddings will be had, and everyone will continue to blame the mayor for everything wrong with the city. All of these things are just facts of life. I have come to accept this as reality.
After getting over my initial awkwardness, I was able to see Chicago with a clearer lens. Walking around the city on a sunny day, taking the CTA like a boss (and noticing the same guy still driving the Fullerton bus in the morning), I still felt at home. Little pieces of familiarity crept in as I wound up on the same Brown Line train as my sister after having brunch in Roscoe Village with my mom, and effortlessly placed myself back in my natural habitat. I walked with purpose through the brilliant grid of downtown, taking in the subtleties of various interactions (or lack thereof) between human-to-human, human-to-environment, human-to-the legal system (shout out to the lively man on Randolph who beat his case Monday morning!).There’s something to be said about the realness and grit of Chicagoans, and I am grateful to carry that with me everywhere I go.
So it’s okay I don’t live in Chicago. It will always be home, and I will always fit in. And I already have my next hair appointment scheduled.