I made it to Chicago in record time.
Just six and a half hours, door to door, from my parents’ house in Shoreview, Minnesota to my new, albeit temporary, apartment in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. It is a drive that took me nearly eight hours going the other direction back in August 2011, just days before I boarded a flight to Helsinki, Finland to start my thirteen month career break.
I was weighted down with emotions during that last drive, full of fear and uncertainty. I wasn’t excited about my impending departure; I was nervous and anxious, wondering if I was making the right decision. I made the drive slowly, not entirely sure I wanted to make it to my next destination.
This time around, I soared with excitement as I drove through Wisconsin and approached the Illinois border. After three months of staying with my parents, flying back and forth for interviews and crashing with friends as necessary, I was finally heading back to Chicago for good.
I’m not yet back in my beloved condo in Ravenswood. That will happen in the fall, after my current tenant’s lease runs out. For now, home will be a tiny studio apartment in Wrigleyville, ironically just two buildings down from the first place I owned in the city – a place I bought almost a decade ago and then sold when I decided to leave my life as a lawyer. I’ve walked by that building a dozen times now, gawking at the new back porches and wondering if my old neighbors are still there. And wondering if the cute guy who bought my place might walk out the front door at any minute. Around every corner is another memory.
The neighborhood itself brings back bittersweet memories: stumbling home after dancing the night away at John Barleycorn, stalking Kyle Farnsworth at Tai’s Til Four, drowning our disappointment after the Cubs choked away the 2003 playoffs, singing along with Jimmy Buffet at Wrigley Field. And the dates at the pizza joint, the tapas place and the sports bar with the various guys that got away.
I drove down on a Monday, giving myself a week to get settled before I started my new job. While most people might tackle things slowly, unpacking and getting organized over the course of a month or more, I felt an urgency to get it all done before I started work. Not having a home of my own for over seventeen months left me with a desperate need to get it done before I tackled any other aspect of my new life in Chicago.
As soon as I unloaded the car, I headed to Target. I bought a new TV (my first flat screen) and an area rug and bath towels and bed linens for the bed I didn’t yet have. Soon I went back for garbage cans and an ironing board and a jewelry holder and cereal bowls. The next day I returned to pick up a new DVD player, drawer organizers, a step stool, dish soap, closet organizers, an iron and a broom. By the end of the week, I had added some storage cubes, a small desk, a shoe organizer and some cheap, put-it-together yourself drawers.
I kept wondering why I got rid of so much before I left. Why didn’t I hold on to my awesome jewelry holder, my iron and my cereal bowls? What did I do with my electric drill and my tool set and my alpaca slippers from Peru? I felt like I was wasting so much time and money on stuff I should never have sold or thrown away. What was I thinking?
By Friday night, I was satisfied. I had cable TV, a brand new bed, an almost fully stocked refrigerator and an apartment where almost everything was in its place. I celebrated with takeout from Tac Quick, the Thai place down the street, for the third time in a week.
And then I spent the weekend lying low. An Australian friend was in town and we met up at a Bulls game, but otherwise I didn’t venture very far. As excited as I was to be back in my adopted hometown, I wasn’t quite ready to put myself out there yet. I still needed time to myself, to write, to reflect, to enjoy the silence of living on my own again and the freedom of doing whatever the heck I wanted without having to explain it to anyone.
And I needed time to mentally prepare myself for the next major step in my return: my first day of work.