If life is, in fact, what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, then feeling at home in Chicago is what happened to me while I was trying to move to New York.
In truth, I have always been from Chicago, and I have always been moving to New York. For this, as with most things in life, I blame my parents.
For many years, my mother has told the story of a former coworker who explained how he ended up with an Israeli first name and a Palestinian last name by claiming his parents met at a border skirmish. Having myself grown up the child of a New Yorker and a Chicagoan, I have to say that—minus the generations of violence and actual life-altering/ending strife–I can relate. More than three decades after moving here, and having lived here longer than anywhere else in her life, my mother still refers to herself as a “New Yorker in exile,” and my father still refuses to entertain the idea of living anywhere else.
When, on the second day of kindergarten I returned home having learned my vowel sounds, and announced that my name was pronounced “K-aya-thryn” and that I had a new friend named “Maya-thew,” my mom began exploring summer camps in Brooklyn–but I was way ahead of her, and made my Midwestern exit as soon as possible.
After four years at an east coast university and brief stints living/working/studying in the UK and Switzerland, I came back to suburban Chicago, where I happened to be in my parents’ garage unpacking boxes of horrifying things I wore and ate off of (respectively) in college when what had been the American economy was replaced by a smouldering crater, and I began not so much to rethink my plans as to embrace whatever plans would have me.
This is how I ended up living on the north side of Chicago and working four blocks from the Hyde Park apartment where my parents brought me home from the hospital. I have a CTA map shower curtain; I know that in Chicago, a “trip on LSD” involves vehicular traffic near the Dan Ryan and has nothing to do with drugs; and I met Rahm Emanuel at a party this winter–he was just as rude as everyone says he is, and it was amazing.
In a way I never could have anticipated, I have found myself at home in Chicago. It’s very “Circle of Life,” with fewer lions but just as much singing.
I knew my transformation was complete this summer the week my beloved New York Magazine featured an item about Chicago that read to me as so oddly charming, and yet condescending. Oh really? Chicagoans love The Girl and the Goat? There’s a beach right here in the city?! Thanks for the headsup, New York Magazine!
Like reading peer reviews in a writing workshop or unexpectedly seeing your cousin in the background of an episode of “The Good Wife” (Note: I have actually had both of these experiences) the article showed me something with which I was very familiar, but in a way that just seemed weird.
When I related the article–and my assessments– to my mom, she uttered eight words that sent a chill down my spine:
“Oh Kathryn–you sound like such a Midwesterner.”
Even worse, I had to admit she was right.
I will always be trying to move to New York. But in the meantime, it seems I’ve accidentally become a Chicagoan.