Hello again! This post is one-half of a pair of tandem posts that my word-loving friend a and I are writing. Our theme this week is “things we take for granted.” a’s post is here; I’m impatiently waiting until I’m done with my post to read what she has to say. (I always wait until after my post is published to read her tandem posts.)
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Sometimes it is good to leave home, but it is always nice to come back.
Texas is home now. When did that happen? Officially, I suppose it became home on October 2, 2009 when I opened the door to my new apartment. But it didn’t feel like home, especially with no furniture and an empty kitchen in which I couldn’t even make a pot of soup. Even after the movers brought my stuff and I had a couch again, it still didn’t feel like home. It was too hot, and I had few friends. There was no el rumbling along its tracks in the background or upstairs neighbor playing the bass. There was no leafy tree outside my window to make me feel like I was living in a treehouse. Without the familiar comforts and annoyances of my old home, I felt lost and sad, like I had given up something of great importance and it was too late to say, “Stop! I can’t do this! Take me home!”
On my second weekend in Texas, Matt came to visit me. His visit went a long way toward calming my fears about moving. I remember lying on the couch with him and closing my eyes. With him next to me, it was easy to forget about the stacks of boxes scattered throughout the apartment. Those boxes are gone now; everything has been unpacked. I’m here to stay for the indefinite future.
For me, home is something that is created over time. It isn’t really about an apartment, or a couch, or where you sleep. It’s about a rhythm and a routine, the act of returning to a place again and again. Before I moved to Texas, I took it for granted that home was a physical place, a shelter with your bed under it. But now, I think that home is a more complicated idea. It’s about familiarity and exploration, a place whose charms and quirks you come to know deeply because you spend so much time in that place. Home is also about connections, the people with whom you spend your time and where you hang out together. In this way, home is my lab, my colleagues, the coffee shop on University Drive where I like to buy my coffee beans and drink coffee milkshakes.
On Monday, right before our journal club meeting started, my boss smiled at me and asked me how my trip was.
“It was wonderful,” I said.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“Chicago,” I answered.
“Home,” he said knowingly.
I smiled. “It’s good to be back. This is home now.”
That last line surprised me when it slipped out of my mouth. This is home now. Although it’s true, in some way, Evanston and Chicago will always be home to me. Evanston was the first city I chose because I loved the city, not because of a career opportunity. Evanston is charming and beautiful, filled with great food, a dreamy library, cozy coffee shops, and inviting sidewalks. It nestles right up to Lake Michigan, and I spent many hours running up and down those lakefront paths. I lived in Evanston for the better part of my tumultuous twenties. I fell in love twice and earned one PhD, and I learned more about myself than I ever imagined I would. My experiences while living in that town changed me, and those transformations will tie me to that place for the rest of my life. I may have arrived in Evanston when I was 21, but in a way I feel like it’s not crazy to say that I grew up there. That innocent 21-year-old grew into a wiser, happier, more confident 27-year-old who was smart enough to recognize a lucky break when it offered her a job, even if that job would require abandoning the town she loved dearly.
You can imagine, then, that being in Evanston last week was both wonderful and heart-breaking. I loved seeing my beloved town again—its farmers’ market, tree-lined streets, its jewel-toned lake, its university, and its lovely residents. I hated thinking about how I no longer had a kitchen or a bed of my own in Evanston—it only reminded me of how, in a crucial way, I don’t belong in this town any more, at least in the same way that a local does. But knowing my time was limited and that I had a return ticket waiting for me, I soaked up all the beauty and happiness I could. I even took some pictures, which I wanted to share with you tonight, especially because I missed my chance to share any photos in my last post. Here, then, is a tiny photo tour of my Evanston, with a few words to orient you around town.
There were lilacs blooming everywhere. I stopped to sniff all of them.
I found these lilacs on my way down to the lake. I loved living just blocks from Lake Michigan, especially in the summer.
Good thing I had my walking shoes on that day! I had places to go and things to see.
It’s important to look up because the view is stunning.
After visiting the lake, I spent the afternoon wandering around Northwestern University and downtown Evanston. I lost track of time, but the clock tower set me straight.
And these signs reminded me where all the good stuff is.
These fine folks gave me a PhD. I still feel all shiny and happy when I think about my degree!
It was such a beautiful day. Even the shadows were dancing.
After all that walking, it was important to stretch.
Then you should take a moment to just watch the world in all its crazy happy beauty.
Evanston and Chicago, you have the best people. Thanks for a great week—I miss you already. But I’ll be back sooner or later, I promise.
*Special thanks to David Gray for the song that loaned its name to this post’s title.