The Last Time
Sometime later this month my family and myself will be moving out of our current apartment in Decatur, Georgia to a new condo in a new neighborhood. We really did not want to leave Decatur. I fell in love with the place at first sight. That love has only deepened over the past year and a half as I explored seemingly every restaurant, coffee shop and business in the neighborhood in my never-ending quest for the perfect place to write.
Decatur suited me so much better than Marietta, where my family lived in my in-laws’ basement for a thirteen month stretch after we fled Chicago in shame. Marietta was too rich, too Conservative, too uptight, too goddamn boring. I stood out like a sore thumb there. Christ, most days I didn’t encounter even a single fellow Juggalo done up in full make-up.
Decatur was another story altogether. I loved how diverse it was. I loved the people, and the businesses and the glorious, glorious places to eat and work, like SideChick, which has, low-key, maybe the best chicken in the entire world, and yes, I’ve had both the KFC Famous Bowl and the Double Down.
We’ve got a cozy little apartment next to a wonderful playground where I’ve enjoyed countless hours of carefree enjoyment with Declan. Alas, Decatur might just be too good of a neighborhood, because when my wife delivers our second son, we’ll need a place with more room to house our growing family and, alas, we cannot afford to stay in Decatur anymore.
Our impending departure lends an element of melancholy to just about everything that I do in Decatur. Every time I go to the Mellow Mushroom in Decatur Square, for example, where I’ve written a lot of the first year of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, I get borderline weepy wondering if that will mark the final time I’ll be eating there as a Decatur resident.
There’s something about the very concept of “The Last Time” that is inherently bittersweet, particularly when you connect emotionally to a place the way that I have with Decatur. “The Last Time” is inherently bittersweet because endings are almost invariably bittersweet, unless, I suppose, they’re fucking god-awful.
By the time I left Chicago in August 2015, for example, I was so fucking ready to be done with the Windy City. Like all love affairs, the bitterness and profound sadness that I felt at the end was a product of the love and belief I experienced at the beginning. I loved Chicago. That’s a sentiment that only makes sense to me now in the past tense. Chicago was more than just my hometown. It was a part of me. It was in my blood. It was essential to my identity and to my sense of self.
And then there came a time when it was just too goddamn painful for me to live there one day longer. There was too much pain. Too much rejection. Too much loneliness. Too many ghosts and disappointments. So I had to leave and when I left I felt like Lot and his wife fleeing Sodom & Gomorrah, with the notable exception that I was never tempted to look back.
Maybe it’s good that I did not live in Decatur long enough to grow disillusioned with it. Love never curdled and devolved into something much darker, the way it did with Chicago. I’m leaving Decatur feeling the same sense of infatuation I felt at the beginning.
So, as my wife has pointed out, it’s probably good that our new neighborhood isn’t too far from Decatur, so when I’m feeling nostalgic or hungering for the homemade sausage at Pastry A Go Go, I can visit my old neighborhood pretty much any time I’d like.
It won’t be the same, of course. I won’t be a resident anymore. I’ll be a visitor. That’ll be bittersweet, of course, but at least there will be some sweetness to undercut the bitterness, which is more than I was able to say about my exodus from Chicago.
Join a nice community (not unlike the kind you’d find in a sweet-ass neighborhood like Decatur), get access to patron-only content and be a good neighbor over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace