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”