This past May, I bought this beautiful old house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio!! I move there for good next weekend, when my Chicago lease is up.
The Chicago flag has four red stars on it. I love that Chicago is a place with the balls to give itself its own flag. (But I get it. Even earlier today I accidentally typed, “The state of Chicago is…”) These four stars represent pivotal events that forged Chicago as we know it, for better or worse. The Great Chicago Fire is one star, for example. The World’s Fair is another.
When I moved here, I was only a few weeks sober. In hindsight, that seems v stupid and dangerous. They say not to make any big life decisions in early sobriety, but I think moving to Chicago is what made it possible for me. I had a completely clean slate. I was open and raw as hell and the city rewarded me in kind.
People who don’t know Chicago can jump to the conclusion that it is a violent place, but I healed here. I came alive to myself here. This city’s indifference and challenges and charm were exactly what I needed. It was hard but it was not cruel.
I had a few months of overlap owning my new house in Cleveland Heights and renting my apartment in Chicago. I made a list of Chicago things I still wanted to do before I moved. (My friends and I called this the Last Dance Summer bucket list. If you know you know. ) As I made my list, I realized I didn’t have much to put on it. I’d done so much already. Even with a year spent doing nothing during a pandemic.
My favorite thing about Chicago has always been the physical experience of it. I love riding the L like a puppy loves riding in a car. I feel no shame when people visit and I’m like, “LET’S RIDE THE TRAIN!!!” My love for it is so pure. I mean, there’s nothing better than seeing the city unfold before you, the built neighborhoods like petals of a beefy flower. Yes, even if the train car you’re on smells like smoke and piss and there’s a shifty woman wearing head-to-toe gold sequins at 2 pm. (*Especially* if there’s a shifty woman wearing head-to-toe gold sequins at 2 pm.)
I also love that in Chicago you can walk. Everywhere. That sounds so simple, but this was new to me. Walking was something I used to do to *get* somewhere. In Chicago, I walked to *see* somewhere.
My first apartment here was a shitty little studio in Lakeview and I would walk the Lakeshore every morning. One, two hours of just walking around, soaking in my new life. During my divorce, the thing that kept me sane was walking the Old Irving Park neighborhood at night. Three, four hours of just walking around, releasing my rage.
But rage is not what I’ll remember about Chicago. It’s love.
I love the skyline and the Bulls and Dennis Rodman. I love Chicago hot dogs with the sport peppers and Pequod’s pepperoni. I love the miniature rooms decorated for the holidays at the Art Institute. I love the bridges and the boats. All that corny ass out of towner shit, I LOVE IT. I also love the things and people and best friends you only get to know if you live here.
And while love brought me to Chicago, sustained me in Chicago, love has now called me away. My heart is in Ohio. I am SO excited to be closer to my family again and Doug. I am excited to own my first home and I genuinely can’t wait to root myself down after decades of spiriting around to wherever, whenever. My definition of freedom has taken a new form.
I have this certainty I’m on the right track. Like I’m exactly where I need to be and heading exactly where I need to go. Even as I leave it behind, Chicago enabled a path for me that led to a remarkable degree of self-faith.
This city is a star on the flag of my heart.