Stop in Nevada

It’s looking more and more like I will be taking a trip to Chicago in September. There’s a wedding on Tim’s side, and this will probably be my only excuse to go to the Midwest for many years.

I am conflicted about going. I won’t be attending the wedding, as it will be attended by most of Tim’s family, and right now, that’s a bunch of people with whom I’d rather not spend my time. I considered not going on the trip at all, because why spend money to fly to the Midwest only to sit in a hotel room while Tim goes to a party, but there are other reasons to go.

My sister lives there. And her kids. Well, the ones who haven’t grown up and moved out. I want to see her. I want to measure how I’ve changed in the two years since I left. We talk every couple of days on the phone, but it’s different to see someone in person, someone with whom I am so strongly bonded.

There are friends in Chicagoland too, women who stayed in my life despite the fact that we had no day-to-day reason to be in contact. It’s easy to maintain friendships when you see each other every day in the school lobby, but it’s harder to do when you have to work at it. I have friends like that in St. Charles, and I would like to see them. Bring them something from my new home, something to maintain that connection.

Chicago is an incredible city, one I will always consider the best city on earth–because it’s *my* city (unlike the equally incredible but mystifying New York), it’s my family’s heritage, it’s part of my childhood, it’s a player in my life story.

So I will go. And I’ll visit my sister. And I’ll visit the city. I may even drive around the town I grew up in, and visit my old garden. Walk the paths in the woods where I fell in love with nature, where I discovered my need to be alone.

But I know it’s going to hurt. I know that going back and seeing a place that I left in such a rush of emotion is going to feel like probing scar tissue. The pavilion where Tim and I got married, the neighborhood I grew up in, the places I lived; they’re all part of a fingerprint that marks me, a unique pattern that left a permanent impression. I have changed since I left, in ways I can see very clearly. But there will also be changes I can’t see as well, things I won’t see until I measure myself against the perspective of where I used to be, of who I used to be, and that promises a whole different set of thoughts.

In between my childhood in Chicagoland and my adulthood in the same suburb, I lived in southern Illinois for 12 years. I became an adult there, created my life with my children there. But I knew I wouldn’t stay there forever. I planned to leave and create my own life as soon as I could put the money together to do it. Oddly enough, one of the places I researched for creating that life was right where I am now: Portland. I had a folder full of materials to peruse when the time came. Life interfered, took me back to Chicagoland, to another 13 years in the suburbs.

I visited southern Illinois after leaving. The changes that occurred since I had left made the place nearly unrecognizable, and my memories were washed away. The physical sense of having been in a place was destroyed, and I strained for glimpses of my former life.

I expect this visit will be different. I haven’t been gone that long, and from what I can tell, not much has changed. That’s part of why I needed to leave: nothing ever changes there. The sameness — which is not the same thing as stability and comfort — was stultifying. Sameness from one person to the next, from one building to the next, cars and scenery and thoughts and jobs; sameness from year to year.

So I expect that this visit will cause some thoughts. Probably some feelings. Tim and I have been working together on handling feelings, because we finally have time and bandwidth to address such things. Feelings tell us something, they give us information, and I know I’ll be given a whole bunch of information when I see that place again.

This is one of my longtime favorites, early Billy Joel. Keeps going through my head as I think about this trip.

“And she doesn’t know what’s comin’
But she sure knows what she’s leavin’ behind”

Faire son Calimero

I lied.

Months ago, when my husband was in Europe with his male family members, I lied about being okay with it.

Maybe I didn’t come out and say I was okay with it, but I tried to give the impression that I was okay with it.

And of course, now that the trip is over, I’m okay with it. Because what can I do about it now? Nothing. But the fact of the injustice of him getting to go and me not still sticks in my craw.

Maybe I need to rethink what it means to “be okay” with it.

He brought me some beautiful gifts. Pearl and sapphire earrings from the Louvre and a pashmina in hues of blue, which he knew I’d love. And I do. When my son went to Paris years ago with a high school group, he brought me a scarf in blue too, which I also love. I wore it this morning.
Pearls and sapphires

I treasure the Paris swag that’s been selected for me so lovingly. I love knowing that somewhere on the Pont des Arts, there is a photo of Tim and me at our wedding, a picture affixed to a lock. The lock has probably been removed now, as the city has had to cut down the weight the bridges were supporting. But for a number of years, it was there. A part of me has been in Paris.

But *I* have never been there. I have pieces of Paris that I can touch, jewelry talismans that connect me to the city.
Tour d'eiffel from my friend who visited Paris I have a memory chock full of study of the city from French class in high school and college, the map of the city we had to learn for tests, the arrondissements whose names evoke images of cobbled streets and revolution, of fin du siecle philosophers and writers lounging in cafes, so fed up with the world they can’t fake it anymore.

Now, suddenly, I long to go there. Whereas before, I could convincingly say I didn’t care one way or the other, somehow the fact that my husband has been without me, and numerous friends have gone in the last few months, and I’ve been treated to a parade of photos about all of their adventures, I am awash in longing for the city of light. I’m tired of hearing about it, of looking at it through glass, of never being able to taste or smell or feel the air. I get lost in thoughts of wandering the glossy streets washed by rain, smelling fresh bread and feeling adrift, as I am sure I will, in the unrequited energy. I’m stuck with recordings of Jacques Brel and Nina Simone, French curling sadly around their melodies. Flimsy approximations of being there.

Like many of you, I have the itch to travel. Since I moved to Portland, my desire to escape my life has dissipated, but I still want to see the world, all of it that I can manage, and Paris has risen to the top of my pile of wishes. The frequent reminders of what waits there for me have rushed into my consciousness and created a nagging ache that nothing will quell.

Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec,_At_the_Moulin_Rouge

It’s a shame that it would be so inappropriate to make a crowd-funding account just so I can go to Paris. If I could, though, I’d definitely call it “GoFundMeg.” I’m hoarding pennies and dimes (and centimes, when I can rescue them from Tim’s Paris leftovers). And fantasizing about flying to Paris all by myself, hours upon hours available for me to just wander and absorb and reflect the shimmering city.

I’ll bring an empty suitcase for the books I’ll buy in that tiny little shop along the Seine. I’ll stuff sentimental souvenirs (which translates literally to “in place of going”, how fitting!) for the people I’ve left behind. I’ll buy Tim a beret he’ll never wear, and maybe a cravat, but certainly not earrings.

And I’ll only return when I’m good and ready, when I’ve learned to speak French confidently, without the fearful, stammering Midwest failings that pepper my current attempts. When I’ve finished with my tour of the countryside, when I’ve walked the Tuileries enough times to know the paths by heart.

When I have left part of myself in Paris, then I think this ache will subside.