When I moved to Chicago, I thought I’d leave before college graduation.
I wanted to be a teacher and it made sense to my seventeen year old self to only go to an out of state college for three years then come back to CT or NY to get certified within that state. But when I changed my major three days into my freshman year, that plan went out the window.
I was supposed to move back to the East Coast after college graduation. Actually, I did move back to the East Coast. Well, kinda. I did not renew my lease in Chicago. I packed up and planned to move home but was called in for a job interview. The day before going home, I put all of my stuff in storage then went on the interview. I figured that if I didn’t get the job, I could come back and get my stuff. Then I packed all my clothes and headed home. We immediately went on vacation for a week where I found out that I was being called in for a second interview. After vacation, I headed back to Chicago and took the job. So essentially, I just over packed for vacation
When I started working in Chicago, I had no immediate plans to leave. I always knew I would eventually end up on the East Coast, but I never had a definite time frame. My standard answer was that I would be in Chicago for two more years, which turned into three, which turned into four. Two years ago, I was ready to pack up everything and move to Los Angeles but breaking my knee put those plans on hold. I wasn’t too upset about that though because Chicago always pulled me back.
I’m nine and a half years into my extended stay in Chicago. I love this city with my entire heart. I love the people I met and the strangers who greet me with the kindness and optimism that can only be traced back to the Midwest. I love taking an hour long walk after work along the lake and finding myself still in awe of our skyline. I love the neighborhoods I lived in – Lincoln Park, the Southport Corridor of Lakeview and now Uptown. I love that I always find something new in the city like how expansive Montrose Park is or where to order the best Chicken Shawarma plate. I love when I find myself back on DePaul’s campus and replay the memories: the quad where I used to run through the sprinklers after a night of drinking, the dorm where I met my best friends, the hall where I was initiated into Chi Omega. I feel the pit in my stomach churning when I find myself by my old place on Cornelia, wishing I had enough money to buy the townhouse that I loved so much. I like the way we all gather inside for long nights of beers and Christmas lights in the winter and eat outside every night in the summer. I love Eagles games at Mad River, our annual Christmas Trolley and late nights after comedy shows at Old Town Alehouse. I love how it’s in the middle of the country so flying to either coast is not a hassle. In college I cried on every ride to the airport down Lake Shore Drive. I knew I would be back soon, but I never wanted to leave. I would strain my neck looking back at the skyline on the way to Midway until it was completely out of view.
I never wanted to permanently live in Chicago. I stand by that. For every reason I have for loving Chicago, I have another reason I want to be home. The thought of raising children so far away from my family is worse than leaving Chicago. I don’t want to be a long distance aunt anymore. I missed a lot of my nephew and cousins growing up and while I don’t regret my time here, it’s bittersweet to see all the time lost whenever I realize how old they are. While I pride myself in being a lot more present these days because I’m more financially stable, I want to be able to join in on all the little things the next generation of my family will bring. I want to be at sports games and school plays and whenever I have my own kids, I want sleepovers with cousins and dinners with grandma. Beyond family, I miss New England. I miss having four seasons instead of two and being so close to so many major cities. I don’t like that each time I come home it’s an event. I want to be able to visit with friends without feeling like I’m stiffing my family. I’d like to be able to relax instead of making sure I got to see everyone while home. And I miss New England falls. GOD how I miss New England falls. I miss the hills and the trees and the mountains. I miss the foliage and the scent of October. I miss being able to hike up real trails instead of city paths.
But each time I think I’m ready to leave, something pulls me back. It’s not easy being in love with a city so far from home. I wish New York or Philadelphia had the same vibe as Chicago.
I know that in the next few years I’ll be leaving this city. Where I’m going next I’m not too sure of. I don’t know if I want to spend a year in LA living in warm weather for once before returning to the East Coast, or if I just want to head straight home. I’m not even sure of where on the East Coast I want to live. While I’m 90% sure I’ll end up in New York City, which would split the difference between my extended family in New Jersey and my immediate family in Connecticut, I’m not positive. I may jet out to California in a year then head over to New York City a year or two later. But whatever way I split it, I have two years max left in Chicago.
I’ve set dates on moves before, so I know things can change. But the problem is that I keep on delaying my departure which makes it more difficult to leave. I fall more in love with this city with each passing year. There are some good reasons why I haven’t left Chicago, like breaking my knee and wanting to stay with my medical team until completely recovered, but the truth is that I’m also terrified. I wasn’t scared of going to college. Everyone made some sort of leap that year. And while I was constantly scared after college, it was also a normal transitional period. But here I am, in my late twenties, and there are no external forces like going to college or joining the workforce to push me out. This decision is completely self-motivated and I’m the only one that can execute it. I’m scared that I won’t find the same support group I have here. I’m worried that moving closer to my family will keep me from hustling in comedy. I’m concerned that my constant indecisiveness on where to live will be what keeps relationships from forming.
My friends in Connecticut and Los Angeles will all confirm that I’m not a great long distance friend. I miss and love them but get distracted when I’m in a different city. I push away from the ones I’m really close to because it hurts to know we no longer live close enough to be dependent on each other. I try to separate myself so I’m not disappointed when their life eventually goes on and they find someone to fill my void in their new city. I want to change these things about myself, but I know that it’s something I struggle with.
I know that Chicago will always be here to visit. But I loved being a resident. I know my close friends will remain my close friends and I’ll probably come back as often as I jet to the East Coast right now. And I know that if I ever find that I made the wrong decision, there’s a three story walkup on Cornelia Ave. that I’m more than happy to put a down payment on.
I chose the perfect city to become an adult in, both legally and mentally. Any pain or hurt is almost always the result of loving something, so I’m thankful that I found myself in a city that I loved so hard.
After almost 10 years, I’ll finally answer the most frequently asked question of an East Coast transplant: Chicago is WAY better than New York*. But sometimes the thing we love most isn’t what fits best.
*(Except for the pizza. NYC thin crust over Chicago any day.)