I have to be honest, I was worried about meeting you. Before I left I wondered who I had become, how I could agree to spend so much time with you before I even knew you. I’d had bad experiences with cities before and didn’t think I could grow to be that kind of girl. I’ll admit it, I used to discriminate against cities; I talked shit about y’all all the time.
And then I met you…and for the first two weeks or so, I hated you. I was scared and I was lonely and I thought all my stereotypes about places like you were coming true. Then I stopped being a little bitch and decided to get out of my comfort zone of home and work, even if that meant exploring by myself, which was a RADICAL concept at the time.
And a few weeks later, you had totally and completely enchanted me. Suddenly I was using Google Maps to take a series of trains and buses like you were my turf, exploring your countless festivals and street fairs and museums on free days. I went to your parks and swam in your lake–which, btw, totally revolutionized everything I thought of lakes as being–and made a bucket list I didn’t come close to finishing. You gave me friendships like I’d never had before, showed me what happens when you play along with random somewhat sketchy guys you meet in public places, taught me to be entirely comfortable with public transportation (who knew you could like standing on the subway? It reminds me of what I imagine surfing would feel like…), gave me my first club experience, got me to experience art, and taught me to be less afraid of the dark. KO told me once about his “DC-face,” a serious look he had to put on to ride the train to work in that city, and I guess you inspired something similar in me, Chicago: you taught me to look uncertainty in the face bravely. You taught me to make short-term plans and act on them. You taught me how not to look lost and how to understand North, South, East, and West finally. You taught me to be okay doing things by myself, which is invaluable. You also gave me the second experience of my life in which I was surrounded entirely by strangers and had to make friends. You introduced me to artisan jewelers, Arts Districts, FARMERS MARKETS, and taught me to make earrings and bracelets and to belly dance and to salsa and opened me to the fact that naturals had a real-world community off the internet. You gave me free concerts and strange pizza and Greek, Indian, and African foods for the first time. Oh and brie! You gave me a rich mentor who had a part-time apartment bigger than my house in NJ, along with my first country club experience and a VIP pass to visit the Natural History museum after-hours. You made me stop giving a shit about rain. You introduced me to BLACK schools with black teachers and staff, a concept that blew my mind. You got me to talk to high school kids without feeling totally awkward. You gave me my first real-world work experiences. For the first time in my life, I felt totally independent, and I will always treasure you for that. You made me feel GROWN.
I can’t wait to see you again, Chicago. I was so jealous when KO got to visit you. Perks of living in corn-country, I suppose. We will meet again. Maybe for grad school if I can build up a tolerance for snow…
PS: Don’t tell New Brunswick, but it just can’t compare to you.
PPS: Oh, how I wish I had been 21 when we were together…