After a several-hour flight delay leaving O’Hare last night, I finally left Chicago. I won’t be back until September, the longest period of time I’ll have been gone since I moved (back) to Illinois in 1990. More significantly, it will be 3-1/2 weeks until I see my kids again, the longest time to be apart since they’ve been born. They’ll be with me for almost three weeks in August (in NYC), which is the ostensible reason for the extra time apart, but it doesn’t make it easier.
I don’t mean to imply that I spend my days here moping about the distance. Mostly it’s the same as it’s been for years, regret and sadness in the background that perks up when I see children with their mothers or think too deeply about memories of times with the boys. It’s just happening several hundred miles farther than it was happening before. I suppose the generally accepted tropes about motherhood would have me heartbroken and sobbing daily. Life just doesn’t work that way, even — as I’ve learned — when the love of your life dies.
Almost 20 years ago, I made a decision — what it was doesn’t matter here — to go down one path rather than another. Someone I cared about at the time made me promise that I’d take all of the energy I could have expended on Path A and use it on Path B (which was a less treacherous path in many ways). I don’t know that did that entirely (I’m fairly certain I didn’t) but that advice/promise has stuck with me. If nothing else, it reminds me that I can — if I choose to do so — bring a level of intensity and dedication to my choices regardless of how “difficult” (or not) they may seem.
This has been on my mind lately, more in the form of not wanting my decision to move to NYC — and, away from my kids — to leave me in the same place I was in Chicago. I feel the need to work harder, to write more, to be more closely aligned to “the person” I know I can be. In practice, this means being conscientious and not cutting corners. But it also means standing up tall, speaking loudly, and not shrinking into the background because I’m scared of being noticed beyond my comfort level. The truth is that there are moments — and we all have them, or should — when we feel 100% authentically ourselves. I used to have to drink to find them; now they come when I stop feeling sorry for myself or worrying and the future and reside thoroughly in the moment.
It was nice — though “nice” is too plain a word — to see my Chicago friends on Sunday. It had been a little over a month since the last time. Just being able to settle into that old “routine” of conversation with people who, more or less, know me (foibles and all) was a relief. You don’t realize how hard it is to tell your story and introduce yourself a thousand times over until you’re having to do it. Like a thousand first dates, except it’s your life and social network you’re building up instead of a romantic or sex life. And for the latter, there’s at least masturbation if you get too tired of the rat race. What replaces the former? Not much. Reality tv and take-away dinners.
In any case, I’m on my path here in NYC. In some ways it’s easier than life was in Chicago; in others, it’s much more difficult. I’m trying to make my decision to come here end up to mean something more than just a random decision. I know there’s a job out there for me, probably also a lover and an apartment and a handful of friends as well. I wish I didn’t have to go this far to find any of those things, but they just weren’t happening in Chicago. (I’ve had three job interviews here in six weeks, the same number I had in Chicago in an entire year, with no difference in the number of applications thrown into the universe.)
Ultimately, I get up every day whether I’m on Path A or Path B, whether my kids live two miles away or halfway across the country, whether I visit Chicago every other week or only twice a year (or never). The external things can change quite a bit, but the internal ones won’t change unless I do the work, some of which I love and some of which I abhor. At some point, it’s all just life. I’ve lived through a lot of that. I’ll be damned if this time isn’t any difference, give or take a few zeros in my bank balance.