Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago

I've been back in Chicago almost a whole week after spending the previous one in Michigan with my parents. I have been done riding for 15 days. People keep asking me if it feels strange to be done with the trip. I've been hesitant to reply because I didn't know the answer. I would say, "well, it hasn't really sunk in yet", or "the trip won't really be over until I have an apartment and a job".

To repeat, I have been back in Chicago almost a whole week now, and I guess I can answer, that yes, it does feel strange; it feels disassociating and it feels uncomfortable, on many different levels.

Ira and I are both bone tired of the nomadic life. We want a home, an apartment, a safe place which is totally ours. Upon coming back to the city, Ira started back at his old job, doing tech support for a small computer company. He is temporarily staying with our friend Andy. I, however, am staying just a mile south with my Aunt Dottie. While I love Andy, I cannot live at his place. It is the ultimate bachelor pad. Now, when I say "bachelor pad", I don't refer to leopard print throw rugs, Martini shakers on a tiki style bar and light switches programed to throw on records of sultry french jazz while turning couches into beds. I mean bachelor pad as in a stinky bathroom with 2 years of scum in the tub, dirty dishes in the sink which will be cleaned with towels so crusty they stand on their own and a bike shop with random greasy components littering the floor where the non-existent dining room table should be. I've spent nights there, but I always end up waking up and feeling an utter sense of depression at how pointless life seems.

I know this seems extreme, but it is true. Its not just Andy's apartment which makes me feel this way. I find no fault in the way Andy lives. Its his life, and he can set up his apartment in any way he chooses. The way he chooses just isn't a way which makes me comfortable. When you don't have any place of your own, no safe haven to be yourself, you end up staying at someone Else's home and entering into their own version of what a safe haven is. You start living their life and it can be incredibly disassociating and hard.

When I was on the road, I experienced this sensation many times. It was both wonderful and hard. I enjoyed traveling around different regions of our country and experiencing first hand how differently people live their lives but, always only for short periods of time. Ira and I made a rule (which we only broke twice), that we would not stay with one host for longer then five days. We discovered five days was around the period of time where we went from just experiencing someones life in a periferal way, to starting to live their life. When this happened it got both oppressive for us, and annoying to our hosts.

On my return to Chicago, I knew before it would be easiest for me to cope with the reintegration to normal life by placing myself in a more safe and comfortable place. My Aunts house, besides being having family ties where I can count on a little coddling, is also located in my old neighborhood not to far away from where Ira is staying. I felt would be the best place for me. So, Ira and I are temporarily living separately.

While Ira and I are both incredibly appreciative of the hospitality shown to us by our hosts, we are both crying to get a place of our own. I long to be surrounded by my stuff; I want to have all of clothing to wear again; I want to see my pictures hanging on the wall; I want to cook a real meal and leave the dirty dishes in the sink if I want. The apartment hunt must begin immediately. We both decided, since Ira is already back working full time, and I am still gainfully unemployed, I will use my time to hunt through every corner of the appropriate neighborhoods for a place to hang our hat and hearts.

I have been looking for the past three days. My experiences with that is a blog post in its own right. To be brief, our neighborhood has changed in the past year or so we have been gone. We can't find anything near our old apartment and have been shoved, most indelicately west. All the apartments I have been looking at are small, cramped, and tacky. The buildings are gross or the amenities aren't to suit. One way or the other, after inquiring about 31 places and viewing 15 I've only found two so far which at best are on the maybe list.

Its hard because after a year on the road, having 8 hours a day to sit around and think, Ira and I both have a pretty clear and defined idea of what we want in our new apartment. As trite as this sounds, if I had a nickel for every time one of us said, "when we get back, I want.... in our new place", I would be rich. We spent so much time thinking of this dream place, it is making it hard for me to compromise with something lesser. Not that I had any grand or unrealistic tastes, it was just based on a city which existed 2 years ago.

The city is a fickle mistress; she never stays the same. You may come back to her and remember all the subtle details of her style and appearance, but she may not remember you at all. You may come running back with open arms to the places you once felt so attached to and which are intimately part of your memories, but the city has no arms to hug. It only has a stiff nod to give you as its 12 lanes of traffic speed on by without so much as a hello. Upon first getting into the city, (I came by train) I felt I was on the final home stretch of my trip. As I passed buildings, streets and landmarks so familiar to myself, I was overcome with emotion as if all the landscape in its familiarity was welcoming me home.

As I have been back for a handful of days now, I don't feel the same way. I feel how the city has changed on me, subtly, yet in so much a real way. Of the community of friends with whom we were so tightly knit, most still live here, but scattered about. I am mourning the loss of my comfort zone, my community and my home as I knew them to be.

I feel adrift and alienated. It is hard having to feel as though you are starting new in a place which is so familiar. I feel lost and pointless, being unemployed and homeless. I know, all of you pull out your fiddles. Play me your sympathetic songs. I can hear you crying "get over it!!! Did you think it was going to be easy? Just do the work, and you'll get re acclimated; you'll get your community back". I know it; I hear the wisdom in this. So everyday I've been getting out of bed and spending all day scouring the apartment listings, calling and recalling numbers, taking notes, hiking and biking all over town to view units and find signs advertising new leads. But its not fun!!!(especially in this 90 degree weather).

So, is it strange to be back? Yes it is totally, totally weird. Every time I get down, I keep thinking of how positive I felt when I first got back. I know I feel lost and alone because I have re-entered a city which has changed and I am searching for my friends whom have also changed. But I must not let it get me down. I have also changed. I need to just let go of the past Chicago and become part of the New City.

On the train, as we were pulling into Chicago, I quickly penned a couple of lines I was going to use as the finale to a sentimental post of being back. When things weren't going as smooth as I had hoped, I was planning on using them in a sarcastic way. However, upon rereading them, I feel they stand on their own. While sentimental, the words are essentially true, so I will leave them as is, and you can make of them, and the rest of this post, as you will.

"feels strange riding into Chicago. Not coming for a visit-but coming back...HOME. Home, the concept I've questioned 1000 times over this trip. Whatever the future holds and however many times the definition of the word changes, I know I've done the right thing coming back here. As I watch the familiar buildings and landscape file by I feel as if the city itself is welcoming me home. I feel the end of this journey. And the beginning of another."


Janice said...

Andrea-Please tell Dottie hello from me, give Ira a big hug and good luck apartment hunting! I have really enjoyed reading your blog!

brent said...

dude, why rent, you guys should buy an apartment building and live on the third floor and rent the other two. that would cover your mortgage. thank me later.

Andrea said...

Thanks Brent. Do you have an extra 400,000 you can lend us?

Anonymous said...

I'm leaving for a year, and read this post with much interest. It will be very odd to return after so long, I wonder how much things will change.