People ask me if I’m glad to be back in Chicago, and the answer is always the same—I’m happy to see the people, but I don’t like this place—with always the same befuddled reaction, as though no one can ever imagine how a person could enjoy seeing the inhabitants of a space while disliking that space they inhabit.
Some people—many, in fact—argue I haven’t given Chicago a fair chance. I lived here (or in its immediate environs) for 30 of my first 38 years. Seventy-three percent of my life to date. No one questions my opinion that Texas isn’t the place I want to be, and I only spent eight (formative) years there, a mere 19.5% of my lifetime. But somehow it isn’t enough that I profusely compliment the people here (which are, indeed, the sole reason I return, save for business appointment that also, I should point out, involve people I enjoy seeing); it’s still—2.5 years after leaving—a sore spot that I rejected Chicago itself for New York City.
Never mind that I’m happier (albeit still broke and struggling with a lot of issues). Never mind that I’m healthier, having both lost 60 pounds and managed to stumble into an environment in which my fibromyalgia is quite manageable. Yes, there are migraines, and they are a real pain (literally), but I’ve even got ways to cope with those. And never mind, even, that I’ve been able to build a completely new life from the ground up—literally from nothing!—since moving to New York… all anyone wants to know is why I don’t like Chicago.
(And also about how skinny I am, which itself is another point of annoyance, since only in the Midwest would I be considered skinny… in New York I’m average at best, in reality still in need of losing 20-30 pounds. And in any case, I’d rather talk about 1,000 other things than my distaste for Chicago and my weight.)
Which leads me to something that happened today that (a) made me feel like a real New York asshole and (b) had me missing NYC like nobody’s business and (c) led me to realize that five days is way too long for me to be in Chicago in one stretch.
I was out to lunch today, and the waiter came over to describe this Latin version of eggs benedict. In it, one of the ingredients is pupusas. Now, a pupusa isn’t something (in my experience, anyhow) that one encounters all that frequently in Mexican restaurants in Chicago… but they are ubiquitous in Latin American restaurants in New York. I know what a pupusa is. But rather than let this poor waiter explain (which I’m sure he does, since I’m sure a lot of people don’t know what this is), I cut him off and said something like, “I live in New York. I know what a pupusa is.”
Now, in my defense, what I meant when I said this was something along the lines of “I live in New York, where pupusas are prevalent, so I know what they are.” How it came out was more like, “I live in the center of the universe, where everyone knows what everything is, and you are a moron for thinking that I don’t know what a pupusa is.” However, not in my defense, it took me several hours to realize what an asshole I must have sounded like.
But then I also realized that had I been in New York, other New Yorkers totally would have understood what I meant. It reminded me of this Deborah Tannen essay about the ways in which New Yorkers communicate differently (this essay made me realize I’d been communicating this way long before I ever moved to New York, possibly one reason I’ve long been considered brusque and outspoken by Midwestern standards). I like being in a city where my methods of communication are implicitly understood, and the things I mean as matter-of-fact are interpreted that way (rather than as my being a jerk, which is almost never my intention; if I want to be mean, you will know it).
This just isn’t my town anymore. It hasn’t been for a very long time; in fact, I probably overstayed my welcome. Five days in one trip is overstaying my welcome even further. And there isn’t anything in particular I can point to; yes, there are bad memories, and I think the CTA sucks, and the weather is so miserable (how can it be humid and clammy and cold all at the same time?), and everyone is so slow… but it’s also just not my speed or style or vibe or whatever anymore. It’s been 2.5 years, and soon it will be three and before I know it, it will be five or ten or whatever, and my time in Chicago will be quite distant.
I had many, many good years here. This city was at least decent to me during the time I was here, and very good to me at key points in my life. It just isn’t my place anymore. And that’s what I tell people when they ask me why I left, even though no one understands, except for those people who have also left a place because it was no longer theirs. I’d like to think we all become those people at some point in our lives, but Facebook is enough evidence for me that there are plenty of people I know who are happy living their entire lives in the same place in which they are born. Believe it or not, part of me is jealous of such people. That being said, I still know I’ll never be one of them, and I’m okay with that. At least we all know where we belong, right?