Here, I am dreary and sleepy, quiet, yet thoughtful. Here, I skip out on large gatherings with uncreative excuses like “oh, but I’ve got to study!” and “gosh, I’d love to, but I’ve got to catch up on laundry.” Not that there are people dying to see me and begging for my time. There are just polite invitations from my mom’s relatives who, only out of their respect for my mother and the kindness of their hearts, say “come over sometime!” Followed by a polite declination, not even the slightest resistance from either party, and a whole lot of awkwardness until someone has the courage to retreat.
The weird part? Most days I don’t mind at all. Most days I am perfectly content with being a faux local, scoffing at people who stop sidewalk traffic to take photos with buildings (and that too, with their selfie sticks). I enjoy giving strangers directions in a city I don’t even properly know yet. I like walking to the Bean at lunchtime, frequenting new coffee shops, and the work at my internship. It also helps that my 9-5 life is pretty fun, too: my office and everyone in it just ooze lightheartedness and laughter. From weekly dartboard competitions, roadshows to different cities and states where I would likely NEVER end up, random “family lunch” trips to the Poke bowl shop nearby... my time at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! So far has been such a dream. At work, I see glimpses of the person I was in college: loud, outspoken, spontaneous. And then I wonder if she was ever real at all.
Once I clock out and hop on a bus to resume my suburban life, there’s little room for spontaneous...anything. At home with my aunt and uncle, my existence becomes quiet again. Although I joke around with them, there is a little movement for me in our home or our suburb, rather. After a long day of work, I usually retreat to my bedroom (their guestroom), an old fashioned yet homey mix of mahogany furniture, zebra print bedsheets, and gold wallpaper. In this cold city, it became my refuge.
Some nights we all gather in the living room and watch Bollywood movies, other nights we delight in the presence of my cousin’s ten-month-old daughter, who is seldom up to good. On my long days, she is the light at the end of the tunnel: her toothless smile melts a part of my cold, dead heart.
I take Chicago day by day, week by week. I try to plan at least 1-2 fun things to look forward to the week, and before I know it, the time has passed. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Texas, my home. But at the same time, I recognize that each city has something unique to offer. It’s me at fault: I’ve just got to dig deeper.
Soon, news comes that I have to leave Chicago for a new opportunity in South Carolina.
Suddenly, even the small things I used to dread become things I am sure I will miss, like taking the bus. On one of my last nights in Chicago, my cousin and her husband take around town, and we end the night by visiting the Hancock Center to see the skyline and city lights. Midst touring the venue with big placards stating the city’s history and plastic maps outlining the city’s districts, a wave of regret washes over me. I think about how I didn’t love the city enough. I didn’t take it in enough. I never --- not once --- drove to the water or dug my toes in the sand. I simply moped around and looking back, I can easily say that my time my Chicago was monumental.
From being able to spend quality time with my uncle and his family, interning at such a unique company and show, finally getting the guts to sign up for a standup comedy class and meeting the most BRILLIANT people along the way, getting the opportunity to visit cool places like Newark and Salt Lake City (and having the MOST delicious pear and fig tart there that I STILL think about), and just witnessing such beautiful sights in the city, Chicago was a fantastic getaway.
Looking back, it’s like Allah wanted to give me a breath of fresh air and the opportunity to really explore the country and myself before jumping into my next role. While I was in Chicago, I wasn’t able to really soak it all in and really missed my family and friends. Although I still miss them, I feel like in the few months I’ve been away, I’ve grown so much.
I can’t believe that in March of this year I was afraid to fly on an airplane alone, and now I have my own apartment and grocery shop and pay bills and have my own parking spot. Adulthood isn’t everything I imagined it to be, especially with a situation like mine, but I’m managing. Okayishly, too.