Oh, Chicago. Even though you can no longer claim me as a resident, you are still the same dreamy, exhilarating, challenging city that you were when I first arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a shiny new college degree. Seven years ago, you held such promise for me. You delivered on your promises, and then some. And even though you are cold and grey more often than not, I’m still drawn back to you like a magnet is attracted to the fridge door. I adore you, but I am grateful to have made my home in a sunnier, warmer place where life seems a bit easier. Our love has become a long-distance relationship.
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My week in rainy, springtime Chicago was bittersweet. It was brimming with friends and new babies, and yet there were moments when I felt almost sick with loneliness. There were train rides between Evanston and Chicago, but I missed my bike and the feeling of wheels flying over concrete and a Texas wind whipping through my hair. Mornings usually consisted of bowls of hot oatmeal, topped with my usual peanut butter, sliced almonds, chocolate chips, and dried cherries, but I would long for a view of the Texas skyline outside of my patio door.
If I had to give my feelings a label, I’d say I had an acute case of homesickness. I had thought that my trip to Chicago would feel like coming home, and in some ways it did, but without my home waiting for me at 534 Hinman Avenue, I was at a loss. While I was busy setting up a new home in Texas, things changed back in Evanston. My sweet friends Daphna and Ian finally got to bring their twin baby boys home from the hospital. As we might expect, their lives have been changed forever by these two little bundles of joy. Joy is the right word for these babies who were born way too early and whose arrival was filled with fear and sadness, not happiness and delight. I got to visit them once in the hospital, just a few weeks before I moved to Texas, and my God there are no words for the sight of babies that small and fragile. I remember being overwhelmed by the fear of what their futures might hold, the potential handicaps and developmental challenges that loomed like monsters crouched under the bed in the middle of the night. Our grief was immense. At some point during those first terrifying weeks after their birth, I just decided that I was going to believe that the twins would be okay. I didn’t know what else to do. So I believed, and then I left to start my new life in Texas. Before I left, though, I promised Daphna and Ian that I’d be back.
Last week I made good on my promise, and I think the twins made good on my hope for them. For one thing, they made it out of the hospital. They came home. Now they are five times heavier than they were at birth, and when they aren’t sleeping or eating, they’re busy being smiley, curious, playful babies. Of course they have their moments when they’d rather howl than coo, and they keep the worst hours, determined to deprive everyone of sleep. Daphna and Ian are exhausted, still wading through uncertainty and fear in their new role as parents, but seeing the boys last week has renewed my hope for their family. Who knew that hope wears a dirty diaper and can’t sleep through the night?
I’m still not sure if my presence in Daphna and Ian’s home was more helpful or annoying. I had the nagging sense that I was in the way, another adult upsetting the delicate balance in a household that has been turned upside-down by babies. Before my arrival, I had made lots of plans with my Chicago friends and colleagues, and I worried that Daphna and Ian would see my coming and going as a sign that I was just using them as a free hotel. That was never my intention—I was there first and foremost to visit their family—but after seeing how crowded and tense the house was with babies, parents, and grandparents all struggling to be noticed, I quickly decided that it would do all of us some good if I slipped away to do my own thing for a few hours each day.
With time on my hands and a credit card in my wallet, I made the most of my urban playground. I visited my old haunts in downtown Evanston: Borders, Panera, the library, Whole Foods. I browsed the cookbooks, ate soup, tried a new granola (with vanilla and dried strawberries—holy moly that stuff is good!). I walked and walked and walked, feeling drenched in the green beauty of Evanston in May. I sipped iced green tea at Panera, enjoying the solitude of that warm, cozy space after an afternoon of shopping and walking.
There were evenings out in Chicago. My friend Ammie and I made dinner out of lemony braised fennel and turnips stewed with tomatoes and white beans. For dessert, we made ice cream sandwiches with oatmeal cookies and rum raisin ice cream. They were so good that we moaned with pleasure—loud, theatrical moans that made us giggle and slurp ice cream out the sides of our sandwiches. Oatmeal cookies and rum raisin ice cream are an inspired combination, the soft chewiness of the cookies giving way to the boozy sweetness of cold ice cream. I met Ammie’s two significant others, and I was surprised to find myself a little nervous to meet these two people who had only recently assumed such important roles in her life. But they were delightful and funny, and we had such a good time together that Ammie had to kick them out so we could go to bed before midnight. We shared her futon that night, and when we awoke, her two cats were cuddled around us. It was like waking up in a sea of cats—soft and warm and lovely.
That morning, after Ammie headed off to work, I wandered around Andersonville, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. Andersonville holds a special place in my heart as Matt’s old neighborhood, where we first started a friendship that would later grow into so much more. I ate an early lunch at A Taste of Heaven, an omelet stuffed with spinach and cheese, with crisp potatoes cozied up alongside it. In my past, I’d always felt shy about eating alone at places other than Panera or Noodles and Company, but sittting there, forking my eggs and watching the street traffic pass me by, I took deep breaths and felt myself settle into this trip to a place that was both home and not home. The loneliness dissipated, and I felt full with the company of the city. My displaced sense of belonging melted into a hunger to find my new home in this city laced with clouds and adventure.
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Dear reader, stay tuned for part two of my Chicago trip! Part two will be posted tomorrow, May 24, with pictures and thoughts on homes near and far. And speaking of home, it’s good to come back to my beloved blog and kind readers. I missed you!