I’ve had a draft of a post about Caldwell and going home last month for a while now, but I’m kind of glad I waited on it because I feel like I’ve got more recent perspective to add.
The other day I used a Groupon for Cafepress. I didn’t really know what I wanted but I ended up getting these two T-shirts:
It seemed fitting to get one of each, and represent my old home as well as my new one. Some days I feel like I’ve got one foot planted in Ohio and the other one here.
Regular blurkers know I’ve spent the last several months adjusting to living in Chicago. Getting a job at the tail end of winter made a huge difference, but it wasn’t until around Memorial Day weekend that I started to realize I could get comfortable with this new life, and everything that has come along with it — just in time for what’s turned out to be one of the best summers I can remember. I started hanging out with people at work more and made more of an effort to get to know them, rather than constantly worry what they thought of me and feel afraid to say much. It’s kind of crazy to me now how self-conscious I was because my friends at work are so much more like me than I would have ever expected. We’re at similar places in our lives, doing the same things and just trying to make sense of our surroundings. We’re living in an exciting time, together.
That said, life in Chicago is different from everything I’ve known up until this point. I’m really glad I spent three years in Columbus because I think that time prepared me well for the culture shock I inevitably would have been faced with in coming here.
I went back to Caldwell in June for my niece’s birthday. I got to see my best friends from high school and catch up, and spend a valuable Fathers’ Day with just my dad. It was a short visit, but well worth it.
I’ve been home three times now since I left; In December I went home to break up with someone who was just about to break up with me. In February I trudged back in bad weather to celebrate getting a job offer, only to find my friends were far busier than I was and doing shockingly fine without me around. Last month’s visit was the first time I wasn’t desperate to get home, but simply glad for the opportunity. Going back there now feels so comforting and familiar, and yet so distant, like visiting a past life.
I ramble along in the dark on dirt and gravel roads, leaving my car filthy and choking. It will later wear the layer of dust like a badge of honor, pulling onto my Chicago street as the neighbors gape.
I sit with my friends as we talk about people we went to high school with — who knocked up who, who has a drug problem now, who got fat — as I struggle to match maiden names to the misremembered blurry faces that emerge from the back of my mind.
I go home to find people thrilled to see me, which feels nice, albeit a little bit like a cheap laugh. I spend the next few days adopting and perfecting a slight twang and dropping my G’s. My friends ask me questions and marvel, as they did when I lived in Columbus, at what I’m willing to pay in rent as they prepare to make mortgage payments at one-third the cost. They raise children on southeastern Ohio hourly wages, while I struggle to bolster my savings account despite only having myself and a Target habit to support.
My friends in Ohio are so much more selfless than I am. They are willing to give of themselves in order to better and more fairly reach goals they set in place with another person, knowing there will be sacrifices made all along the way. They can step outside of themselves and their wants and needs and problems in a way that I am not yet capable of. I am too self involved, too unsure of my own interests and too quick to resent anyone else’s attempts to sway my choices.
Brandon’s only real indictment of me after our relationship’s demise was that I was immature, and at the time this seemed laughable to me. I can now see that this reaction only confirms his choice of words, and believe me, he could have chosen far worse. I thought I was the grown up in our relationship, and I hated feeling saddled with that role. But maybe I was wrong the whole time. He was the one who was willing to compromise and make life-changing decisions to keep us going, and I was not. My friends understand this balance like he did; I do not. At least not yet.
The other night I went out with my friends to a co-worker’s new apartment. She’s one of the few of us who’s married but her husband fits right in with us, so their marriage never seems like that different of a dynamic. They recently moved to a place with a stunning rooftop view, and we checked it out late on Friday night in the midst of some pretty intense heat lightning. We all just kind of stood there and stared. I loved the softly murmured reverence we all felt for the Chicago skyline and the awe it still manages to inspire in us after living here for months, some of us years. It’s not a feeling of self-importance, it’s more like a community pride for this amazing thing we all share – it’s beautiful and striking, and it’s ours if we want it.
I am so glad I chose it, and so thankful it welcomed me with open arms.
I love my friends, and I miss my family. Going home keeps me grounded and helps me remember where I came from. I’m grateful to have grown up there and couldn’t have been blessed with more ferociously loyal friends who truly want me to succeed and find whatever the hell it is I came out here looking for.
I remember feeling anxious that night last summer when I told them I was leaving for sure. Those I’d been most concerned about arguing with me just looked at me and smiled.
“It’s crazy. You’re crazy, but you’re going to be fine,” I was told.
So far that sounds about right. It would’ve been harder to take this step without their support, and I’m grateful for it.
Now: who’s comin’ to visit from back home? It’ll be worth it.