I’ve often thought that I’m pretty skilled at goodbyes, mostly because they involve locating words for descriptions of emotions and those are kinda my thing as a writer, as far as what tends to interest me most. I’m also not one to shy away from positive encouraging phrases and stories, especially ones that land a right note of sweetness but not cloying, without too much self-help lingo. But what I’ve learned in the past month is that my goodbye expertise is solely within the realm of the one staying behind. I’m quite good at sending someone off and letting them go with complete love and encouragement, but I don’t know what the hell to do when I’m the one leaving. I’m the one who’s stayed behind and held down the fort. I have changed apartments over a dozen times, but as far as dropping anchor in a community, a city, a regional life, I’ve been steady in the same port since 1995. That suddenly is a long time ago. How did that happen? 17 years? And yet I’ve found that once you open certain doors, it’s possible to remember every single one of them, every day, every adventure, all simultaneously sitting in your heart. All those emotions get you dizzy, drunk to the point of full and worrying that I might need to empty, I can’t hold them all, where is the closest toilet and how terrible would it be to kneel in front of it for a moment? (Luckily that hasn’t happened yet, the worst is only a mildly dry heaving cough that doesn’t leave any damage.)
I have loved Chicago for a long time. A long, long time. Longer than anything or anyone else (save for biological family/childhood friends). I didn’t expect to stay this long exactly, though I did want to stay long enough to really know Chicago, I remember that. I thought it would be a few years. I thought a lot of things at the age of 22 when I was graduating college and presented with the first option to head out of town. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. That was the answer to the question every time it came up, in conversation or in my head. Not yet. I’d go to other places, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, I’d stay a week, 10 days, 2 weeks. I loved it. Arriving back at Chicago always felt like coming home. “I wasn’t ready,” I’d answer.
Then things ended, lots of things – job, relationship, a dog’s life – and suddenly the option was there again, should I plan an exit? Not yet, I replied. Hm. So now I was ready, I just needed more time to consider how I wanted to proceed. And then things started. A relationship, a new career, a new life plan. And a new city, a new region, a new way of living is a better fit. This is what I’ve been planning and schooling for. Many changes in life happen without warning, those related to health, accidents, failures, dying, and much like my goodbye expertise, I’m pretty accustomed to processing and digesting those types of experiences, but when it comes to life changes that are planned months in advance and will be happening in precise times, those are strange to me. They certainly have their advantages, the to-do lists and planning can be a framework to hang onto when feeling overwhelmed, they offer concrete and discrete tasks to manage, but at some point there’s nothing to-do until the clock strikes a certain hour, and what to do in the those hours (or days) before? Well, you go for long drives from one corner of the city, you eat lots of burgers and pancakes (not together), you get involved in a trashy show on streaming and stay up late playing next episode.
This was supposed to be a love song to Chicago, and gah, I’m talking all about myself. But this is why I hate knowing a goodbye date lingers ahead because it pressures my brain into making every situation, every “this is my last ____” moment to feel a certain way. Oh sure, sometimes I do sit and open up and feel tender and powerful moments of remembering, but sometimes I want to just play my phone game and not look out the window of the train. Sometimes my brain needs to solve a puzzle, I can’t brood all day. Well, I can, actually, I have, but I’m trying to trim that down.
One week from today we will building a fire in the evening and having a drink on the deck and hiking in woods everyday and we’ll finally get to start cashing in on all the work we’ve done this year, it’s so close that I’ve forgotten what it looks like and what I wanted in the first place, what started it all. And that is why saying goodbye to Chicago is hard, I’m not being thrown out, I’m not being left, I’m leaving, it’s my choice, and I didn’t realize the extent that making that choice would be so fully versed in the excitement of the new and the sadness of the left behind, I thought the former would be statistically much larger, the brightness would so much outshine the latter. Is this how it was for others who left before me? Does it matter? We all leave in our own ways, at the right time, no matter what time it is.