Chicago Was Always Home
A year ago I wrote about leaving New York
We left Brooklyn three hours late.
The movers had come the day before, and only a few odds and ends remained: some bottles of liquor, a couple of pillows and blankets, the cats’ litter boxes. As it turns out, the Subaru we’d purchased specifically with this trip in mind didn’t fit as much of our junk as we’d hoped. For three hours I shuttled tote bags and cardboard boxes down the stairs to the car, and Kaitlyn played an extremely stressful game of Tetris with them in the trunk, and all the while our cats stood in our empty apartment, certainly confused about where everything had gone.
We moved because Chicago was always home.
Kaitlyn and I met during our freshman year of college outside the city. It took longer for us to fall in love with each other than with Chicago, a brilliant, bright place we’d only visited as teens before, a place we both instantly identified as our home. After graduation I moved to New York for work, and she followed shortly after. We stayed for almost a decade, until the pandemic that forced us all indoors taught us that what we really wanted was to be home.
We gave our best friends more than a year’s notice that we would be leaving New York City, the place we all called home at the time, though not for any real reason except for convenience and circumstance. On our last night in Brooklyn, we went out to dinner and then out for drinks and then stood on the corner hugging and crying for a few minutes or for forever.
Home can be a person and home can be a place. How do you know which is which?
Our best friends visited once, not long after we moved. I stood at the window like a child on Christmas Eve, waiting for their cab to pull up. We brought them to our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood and had an absolutely perfect meal, lots of whiskey, laughter spilling out of us. They told us they were moving to the Midwest too, and we celebrated, all of us, that we were finally getting out of the New York hustle and back somewhere we could slow down. Back home.
That was when we thought home would come with us, that no place could truly feel like home unless we were surrounded by the people who made it that way.
We showed them a good time, I think. We were devastated when they left, because it felt like a piece of us was going away. But we made plans to visit once they had moved, a kind of easy back-and-forth we could continue in the years to come, and that made it hurt less.
I love hosting friends, have I mentioned that? I love showing people I love around places I love, setting out clean towels on a freshly-made bed, setting the coffee pot to start before I’ll even wake up. When we moved to Chicago I was eager for visitors, telling everyone we knew in New York to come visit, to stay in our guest room, because we will have so much space now! Can you even believe it? Are you so excited to visit? Chicago dogs! Deep-dish pizza!
But I am also working on being more present, more in the moment. My idea of a good time is planning a good time in the future, a habit I am struggling to shake. I’ve found that being present is easier in Chicago than anywhere else I’ve lived, thank goodness, but it’s still taking some practice. I can’t always be living for something uncertain, after all. I can’t always be waiting for joy.
I grew up in Florida. Hot and humid, sweaty and sticky. I hated the weather. I hated the politics. Chicago was farther than I’d ever been on my own, but I believed in the adventure of it, the big-city feel with Midwestern heart. Truth be told, I didn’t really want to move to New York; I loved Chicago and wanted to stay after graduation. But I was 22 and needed a job, and so I went to the first place that offered me one, and for eight long years I was a New Yorker.
Here I should make one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with New York, per se. I loved Brooklyn in particular. I made good friends and ate good food and made good memories. We’re visiting soon, and I’m looking forward to going back.
But it was fundamentally different from life in Chicago, where I feel weightless during the first snow and infinite in the summer sun, where friendship comes easily and strangers are kind, where I don’t have to walk five blocks to do my laundry. Chicagoland and the living is easy.
I need things to be easy where I live because my other home — the inside of my brain — is not an easy place to live. For example, I am writing to you from the deepest depression I have experienced in a while, my brain a foggy mess of self-loathing and melancholy. For example, I am writing to you under the influence of a double dose of anxiety medication, because one’s not doing it anymore. For example, I am writing to you from a coffee shop near my wife’s pottery studio because I didn’t feel safe at home by myself today.
I’m fine, really. I will be fine. What I’m trying to say is that when you’re going through a dark period of your life, it’s important to be somewhere you feel has your back. It’s important to be home.
I have bad news: our best friends aren’t our best friends anymore. Something happened, and then something else happened, and then things were weird, and last week I got an email telling me they’re better off without me.
Home can change. Home can move.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had my heart broken in such a direct and visceral way. You were in my life and now you’re not. You were supposed to be my friends forever and now you’re not. You were supposed to be my kids’ aunt and uncle and now you’re not.
You were home.
Sometimes you can do everything you think you’re supposed to and the foundation still shifts and cracks, or a natural disaster swings through, a fire, a flood.
Sometimes that’s how it’s supposed to be and sometimes you have no way of knowing if anything was supposed to be, anything ever at all.
Here are some things I love about Chicago:
The people: tattoo artists, writers, runners, musicians, potters, librarians, chefs, students, elders, bartenders, drinkers, smokers, stoners, parents with babies, people with dogs. The cats in the neighborhood who are as much our neighbors as the people who feed them. The cute server at Wyler Road. The sarcastic hostess at the Boiler Room. Every single person at the dispensary. The energy in Wrigleyville on game day, a sea of blue. The farmers market in Logan Square. Craft fairs. Yard sales. Community bookstores. Avoiding the city during Lollapalooza. A can of Old Style for $3. Looking at the skyline from the platform of the El. The Bean, and I’m not sorry. The smell of chocolate in the air at Clark and Lake. Any rooftop in the summer. Anywhere at all in the summer, really. Sunflowers. Seeing my alma mater’s logo on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The Chicago flag. Ironically taking a shot of malort on a special occasion and loving the taste of gasoline down your throat because god damn, it tastes like home.
I may not be happy but I’m happy here. Does that make sense? I may not be okay but I’m okay here. Does that make sense?
A year ago we moved away from our life in Brooklyn and made a new one in Chicago. It has been a tough year, but we are home. We are home we are home we are home.
Read the first installment of this series here.