I still cry every time I leave home, whether I’ve been there for a weekend or a summer. I’m still the awkward girl with no sense of decorum who cries on the Megabus. I still feel worse and worse as I get closer and closer to my hateful destination. Every lonely Indiana mile hurts as I pass it by.
There’s no redeeming Chicago in my eyes. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember it as the first place where I ever consciously wanted to die. It was the first place I have ever felt truly alone–the first place where I understood, after my luggage has been carried up the stairs and the door has slammed shut, that nobody will come and save me now.
All the negative superlatives of my life so far have happened here. Coldest, loneliest, saddest, angriest. Most betrayed, most apathetic, most afraid.
Some days I feel like hate is the only response I can give to this city. I like to imagine that it will somehow be hurt by the blunt force of my hate, which burns on and on even after my wounds have all healed. But of course, cities don’t ache. People do.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was in high school, before I could imagine any sort of life outside of the Midwest, Chicago shone in my eyes like a lighthouse by the lake. It was an oasis among the decaying farms and factories and cookie-cutter suburbs that I drove through to get here. I dreamed of coming here for good.
Now I remember that and I’m filled with guilt for hating it without even being able to fault it. On one hand, this could all have happened anywhere else. Any city, any college, any lifetime. But it happened here. To me. And “it” includes too many interacting and inseparable events and incidents and feelings to plausibly explain to anybody but myself. But it happened here, to me.
There were the little daily indignities that piled up, and the larger heartbreaks and nasty surprises, too. And there were the “real” traumas, the ones that would make it into the story I would come to tell about my life.
There were times that made me smile, too. There have been moments when I have loved Chicago–for instance, when taking the purple line downtown above ground and watching the entire city skyline unfurl in front of me as the train rounded a corner. But a pretty skyline (and a few good friends, and a few fun trips) will never erase those superlatives.
This city has beat me down, and I’m just now starting to stand up again. I wish that I could keep living here without a heavy heart. But I can’t. So now, full of guilt, a hopeful voice in the back of my head counts down the months until graduation, until I can leave.
When I walk down the streets, I see yellow cabs and delis in my mind instead. I pretend that Evanston is Queens, that Lakeview is Greenwich Village, that Michigan Avenue is really Fifth. They are poor substitutions. But I remember the way the setting sun shines down the numbered avenues and I feel better.
It could’ve happened anywhere else, but it didn’t. It happened here.