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Westward Ho!

I am sure many people who have left their hometowns can relate to one of the best parts about moving away: going home from time to time to see the family, cuddle with the dog, and have a drink with old friends. Also vital for the wayward Chicagoan: eating Vienna beef hot dogs, getting stuffed with stuffed pizza, and drinking copious amounts of Leinenkugel's.

I just celebrated/lamented my first anniversary of living in Seattle. In the course of the year gone by, I went home three times. And my fourth trip is just around the corner. I haven't exactly been shy about staying at my mom's when I come back to visit, begging the inevitable question: "How can we miss you if you don't stay gone?"

Two months after I arrived in Seattle, I had the excuse to return to Chicago for my sister's June wedding reception. During this trip, I had the immense pleasure of experiencing the 17-year-awaited return of the dive-bombing cicadas, as well as the disgustingly thick and humid heat that I find so hard to miss now that I am out here. I do not know to what extent this has to do with the air quality in Washington, but after a decade of asthma in Chicago, I have not once needed my inhaler in the past year.

This first trip home was sensational. My departure was still fresh on the minds of my forlorn acquaintances, who all seemed to clear their schedules for my arrival. Aside from having open access to everyone I initially wanted to visit, my sister's reception brought together people I didn't even realize I wanted to see. The party was full of familiar faces, and we joked and jested and toasted as though time and distance never separated us in the first place. Everyone I encountered was remarkable and radiant just for the fact that I knew them and, just as notably, they knew me!

Being only two months gone, life was relatively unchanged at home. I walked right back into the same dramas in the lives of my friends, and my mom was still flustered about the condition of the basement - just like I never left. My room, however, was already a thing of the past - my mom must have waited all of the three days it took me to drive to my destination before she repainted, rearranged, and refurnished my former room to more suit her tastes. Nothing wrong with that; she made it a lot nicer than I ever had. Still faintly unsettling to walk into my former space, completely remodeled, without the slightest trace of my influence or history there.

My first trip home was everything I worked it up to be, and surprisingly a little more stupendous than that. I was six years old the last time the cicadas swarmed Chicagoland, so it was a great thrill to experience walking through the yards and streets being pelted by the incorrigible fornicators, having to pry their sticky suction feet off of my clothing or from my hair. Oddly enough, it brought back childhood memories to hear their encompassing whirr. It was difficult returning to Seattle in June.

And then came my second trip home. This one had no rhyme or reason other than good old-fashioned homesickness and despair. It was October, my favorite month in Chicago, and I took an impromptu long weekend trip home. Naturally, I over-hyped the trip since June went so well and I was far sadder and in need going into the October visit. I even took an extra day off of work since my only complaint about the first trip was a lack of time. How could it be anything short of wonderful and rejuvenating? I thought.

Well, let me tell you how. Since June taught me how tough it is to stick to all pre-made plans in a short period of time, I decided (partly due to its last-minuteness) not to make many definitive plans. I wanted to leave the weekend open to spontaneity. I tentatively laid out with whom I would be spending certain chunks of the days - but even that was not solidified by the time I landed at O'Hare.

I did get to spend time with several lovely people, but the absence of some major players weighed heavily over the weekend and I ended up with a lot of free time alone, making phone calls, wondering where everyone was. My best friend moved to Colorado to pursue graduate school in July, so she was not around to welcome me home. My most ideal and convenient calendar weekend to go home fell on a weekend when my mom was out of town. She was expected back Sunday afternoon and I would get to spend Sunday night with her, and I expected Monday too.

My mom's flight was delayed Sunday, so our evening together turned into a late-night airport pick-up and about an hour of time at home before her jet-lagged ass went to bed. I did not know that she had to get up and go to work on Monday. Less importantly, though also upsetting by then, my Sunday night plans got canceled in light of the flight delay.

My dad was also out of town and returned Saturday, but had an obligation Sunday and couldn't see me. He was not as concerned with this trip of mine, since his own to Seattle was only a couple weeks away. He figured he would see me then.

A couple of other circumstantial cancellations - a friend's grandmother was taken to the hospital; another non-local friend got so lost on her way to my house that her chauffeuring boyfriend did not want to waste any more time searching, especially since the Bears game was well underway, and went home. Like I said before, I spent a lot of time alone that trip sadly wanting to just go back to Seattle. I envisioned my cat, Monster, who was probably pouncing around the back-yard ravine, chasing bees and tormenting mice, loving his Washington life at the same time Chicago was giving me the cold shoulder.

I was extremely lucky that my dear sister and a couple of friends were devoted to my visit and, in the loss of the others, entertained me multiple times over the four days I was home. It may qualify me as selfish or childish to find disappointment in a trip home, but I couldn't help it. A lot of what I love about Chicago was not present, including baseball in October (ha!). Six months was now past and I suppose people just thought it was time to finally move on from me. I am hoping to get my head around that someday soon (ha again).

My third trip home was in March. There was a purpose: Shawn Phillips was returning to Fitzgerald's for his 65th birthday tour and I was not intending to miss it.

I won't go into details of the trip, but suffice to say it was absolutely charming. I got to spend some quality time with some quality Chicago folk - all the ones I missed in October and more. And I got to see Shawn perform and personally hand him an autographed copy of my writing about him, which he loved, which then swelled my ego just a hint. And even better, I got to subject my boyfriend to my life and family, which was a great learning experience for him.

So what have I learned from my trips so far? First of all, I should always have a reason behind my visit - an occasion or purpose. Secondly, deep-dish pizza and Leinie's should not be considered as an occasion or purpose. Thirdly, I've noticed that life keeps spinning on without you. Those people who used to love you so tend to find solace in befriending others and taking up new hobbies when you leave (though you know it's only to distract from their grief of not having you around).

And moreso, I learned that maybe it was time to head back West and be appreciative for some of my friends out there. The realization struck that those are the people around me now in my day-to-day mire. That is probably the best place for me to be expending my allotted energy for sociality. I don't love anyone or anything about Chicago less, I just can't live in denial that I now have to call Seattle home, and live among its residents, whether they understand me or not. It's a consequence of the decision I made to leave. But I still intend to be myself until that special friend comes along and gets it. I have a couple prospects now.

So despite the troubling trip, one of my favorite things about leaving is still going home. Like I said, my next Chicago adventure is already in the works, and has a purpose! I get to meet my soon-to-be baby niece, who is going to be named after her aunt. I've got some work to do in terms of instilling a sense of coolness in the babe while she is still young and malleable. I'll have her reciting George Carlin by age six, if all goes well.


* Part One: Departure
* Part Two: Rebuff
* Part Three: MySpace
* Part Four: Peninsula


Posted on April 16, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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