Monday, October 29, 2012

Dear Chicago: A Love Letter

It's been raining a lot here lately. Not that I mind. I love the way my neighborhood looks when the street, made wet and shiny by the most recent downpour, reflects the yellow glow of the streetlamps that line it. It looks warm - not in the sense of temperature. It feels warm. I cozy up on my couch and gaze out the window, surprising myself with just how long I can be hypnotized by the sight. Stunning. I'm not a photographer though. I'm a writer so this is how I bring these very special, particular images back to life.

I have lived here for five years now. What started as the home of my college of choice, however, has since transformed to my home as well. It has wrapped me in its wind and cold, its old-fashioned city romance, its stories and secrets. The misty grey-green song of my hometown back in Oregon still bursts from my heart but ever since the day I watched the Cellular Field fireworks from my freshman dorm, Eugene has had to make a little room. 

My first place in Chicago was on the tenth floor of Gunsaulus Hall. Gunsaulus is a big old box of a building on the far end of Illinois Tech's campus. Shimer College, my sweet sweet Alma mater, has been located on the grounds for many years now, and was housing their students in Gunsaulus my freshman year. I had a two-bedroom apartment style dorm that I was supposed to share with three other girls. Two of us per room, giggling on bunk beds and trying to share a single space like grown ups. It was tough, but we survived. One of our first nights we cooked chicken and rice and sat around the table marveling at our own independence. Our view of the lake was incredible and the late-summer sun illuminated our meal. Chicago changed me that year. The shy, apologetic girl from South Eugene High School became a force to be reckoned with. I struggled with boys and friends and homework because that's just what transitioning into college is like, but the good never stopped outweighing the bad. I will never forget the way tears poured from my eyes my first time at the Art Institute when I stood face to face with The Eruption of Vesuvius. I will never forget the night we ran onto the beach after hours and dared each other to jump into the the icy waters of Lake Michigan. I will never forget sneaking on the the roof of Gunsaulus and staring at the big, bold, sparkling skyline and thinking "This is it. This is where I belong."

Sophomore year brought my first apartment and my very own room once more. It was a year of heartbreak and struggle but the seasons were my strength. Chicago scorches in the summer and loves us in the fall and freezes us in the winter and grows tulips in the spring. These changes each year are so romantic, so strong, that the restlessness in my heart was gently soothed by the peculiar natural life of the city. While I searched for a solid relationship, platonic or otherwise, the sidewalk and skyscrapers embraced me and inspired me. When someone broke my heart, I took the el home and found something new and beautiful to see in every passing building. When my roommates grew angry after a careless Wednesday night of loud, boisterous guests, the nighttime sidewalks drew out my thoughts and helped me realize how little a fight matters in the grand scheme of things. I found a confidant and teacher and muse in Chicago that year.

Two (and then some) years later, Chicago still hasn't let me down. I love the restaurants with their honest, irreverent waiters and hospitable chefs who walk to your table to pour you some of their homemade limoncello. I love that even on a Monday at 9 a.m, the doorman at my office has the energy to grin and wave and wish me a good morning. I love that sudden, brief bond that is struck between everyone waiting for the el when the loudspeaker announces that the brown line is delayed indefinitely. We all exchange glances and sigh heavily, punctuating the frustration with shy, conspiratorial smiles.I love climbing into a cab at the end of the night with my Sean and falling asleep on his shoulder as the little yellow car zooms along lake shore drive.I love sipping on coffees and window shopping on Michigan Avenue with Maura in bright wool coats, feeling grown-up and established, glamorous and worldly. Sometimes the snow kills me, and sometimes I see anger and hurt on the trains and in the street, but Chicago still manages to love its people, to treat them to surprises and memories and adventure.

One night over the summer, a bunch of us were sitting on a friend's roof. He lives all the way in Humboldt Park, but we could still see the skyline from where we were. Icy beers in hand, we told stories and reminisced and laughed and teased. I had to take a step back and look at the scene. This was all so beautiful. The people I was with. The place I sat. And all of them things Chicago gave me, down to my Goose Island 312. Oregon is where my family is. It's where my childhood is and where I first viewed the world. I love it and it is one of the single most important parts of me. I share it with my family and my oldest friends. It is my history and my foundation. But Chicago is all mine and all present, shaped according only to my impressions and experiences. 

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