Trying not to hate Chicago
For a long time, being a Chicagoan was central to my identity. I took inordinate pride in being not just a Chicagoan but a third generation Chicagoan. Chicago wasn’t just the city that I chose to live in. Chicago was in my bones. Chicago was in my blood. Chicago was a part of me. Chicago was my city. I felt a sense of pride and even a sense of ownership in it.
I went away to college in Madison but I couldn’t wait to get back. So I was overjoyed when The A.V Club moved to Chicago and I could continue my dream job in the only city I could ever envision myself living in. Almost seven years ago, with a head swimming with optimism and hope (stupid brain! Never allow yourself even a fleeting moment of either!) I fulfilled another of my life’s dreams by buying a modest condo in the working class Mexican neighborhood of Albany Park with the idea of having children and raising them there.
My love of Chicago always came with caveats. I loved Chicago despite the agonizingly cold weather. And I loved Chicago despite the incredible corruption that famously characterized pretty much every facet of Chicago life, but was particularly toxic and ubiquitous in politics. And I loved Chicago despite its horrific racism, awful schools and horrific segregation, which I would love to call horrifically unAmerican but in Donald Trump’s America the separation of rich and poor, black and white, country and city, seems all too American.
I loved Chicago despite how violent it was. More than that, I loved Chicago despite the fact that Chicago really didn’t seem to like me at all, let alone feel the same sense of loyalty to me that I did to it. Whether it was the permanent judgmental frowns of the assholes I had the misfortune to share a condo association board with, or the the frigid glares of coworkers or bus drivers or just people on the street, I increasingly had a difficult time holding onto my conception of my hometown as a friendly place full of warmhearted people.
And that was when things were good. The last few months in Chicago things took a turn towards the brutal and unbearable even before I got fired from The Dissolve and quickly found myself unable to afford to continue living in the city.
When I was a huge Chicago booster, I would have gotten really irritated by someone feeling as negatively towards the city as I do now. I identified so strongly with Chicago that when someone attacked it, I felt personally attacked so I was endlessly protective and defensive about the city, until it became all but impossible to hold onto my delusions about Chicago.
I hoped that time would take the pain away. Nothing heals quite like time and distance. While my anger towards Chicago isn’t as strong as it was two years ago when I fled my hometown to live in my in-laws’ basement in suburban Atlanta, it’s still there. I used to love Chicago, so perhaps it’s fitting that what I feel towards it now is not indifference, the antithesis of hate, but rather a still-simmering frustration and disappointment that is, in many ways, the inevitable flip side of the way I used to romanticize Chicago.
Now I romanticize Decatur and Atlanta the way I used to romanticize the city I grew up in. Is it inevitable that some day I’ll be disillusioned and disappointed with Decatur the way I am with Chicago? Perhaps. That’s the nature of love when it comes to people and cities. It burns bright at first, during the white-hot honeymoon stage, and then life happens and fantasies crash into reality.
So I’m trying to be realistic about my new home. I know it’s imperfect but right now I love being in love with Decatur, and I’m going to hold onto that feeling as long as I can.
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