Most of the time, it doesn’t hurt.
It’s been four years, and the life we have here now is good. Like, we are right where we are supposed to be, and knowing that and feeling that is so reassuring.
But this week, four years after we drove away, leaving still hurts.
This week, texting my best buddy from Chicago just doesn’t feel like enough.
This week, after the Cubs’ World Series win, I think about taking Hazel to her first ball game at Wrigley Field.
This week, wearing my I ❤ Chicago shirt, I noticed that I’ve washed it so many times that the heart has worn partially off, so it looks like a broken heart.
This week, as I made pizza for my kids to eat, I could almost smell the pizza place on our block where Kullervo and I ate so many dinners. But I can’t quite remember it anymore.
Don’t get me wrong–Chicago wasn’t perfect. Finding a parking spot on (or near) our street was sometimes impossible and digging out of the snow in the winter was an enormous effort.
I became a stay at home mom in Chicago, and the transition from working to being home was really difficult. Figuring out how to make friends when I didn’t have the daily convenience of adult conversation across the desk from me was like moving across the country partway through my freshman year of high school. All the awkward. All the insecurity. And no idea how to start over. Figuring out how to be at home with my kids and actually feel like I’d accomplished anything and also not resent my children was also difficult.
But I made friends. It was actually the first time in my life that I had adult friends who were not my coworkers—they were my friends because they wanted to be, not because they were stuck looking at my face all day. We also learned how to be neighbors—what that could look like. My kids would play outside in the afternoon, and eventually all the kids on the block would join. It was the magical age before we were beholden to sports and activities every day, so our only constraints in the afternoons were dinner and bedtime. And my neighbors were awesome. There was so much laughter, so much annoyance, so much living life together while our kids grew up. I was sure that we would all grow old and move to an old folks’ community where we’d sit out on our porches in the evening, drinking and complaining about our good-fer-nothin’ children who don’t come visit.
And then, in what seemed like it should be the middle of all the magic of living in Chicago, it ended. Kullervo got a job offer in Baltimore. We packed the house. We said goodbye. We drove away. Kullervo drove our moving truck; I drove the minivan with the kids. I am fairly certain I cried the entire drive. We left on November 3; we arrived at our apartment November 5.
Oliver started school, but I had to push him onto the school bus every day; Hazel stayed home and fell into a deep depression (which is super sad on four year old Hazel). I wasn’t much help for her—I was too busy being sad all the time myself. We cried together. We watched a lot of My Little Pony, and when I would turn it off, she would just sit on a chair and stare at the blank television. I tried to unpack into our apartment, but I didn’t have the strength to tough it out. We had no drawers in our tiny kitchen, which only showed how awful this new place was going to be, forever.
At the time, the only saving grace for Hazel and me were the deer. Our apartment complex faced into the woods, and we had huge windows to look out and see all kinds of nature. It was beautiful. She was certain that they were actually reindeer, and not just any old reindeer, but Santa’s reindeer.
I couldn’t eat—my go-to unhealthy coping mechanism. I joined a gym and made tentative steps towards familiarity and friendship. We found a gymnastics place for Hazel to take a class. We looked at every house on the market in our price range and out of it and fired multiple real estate agents for either insulting us or not getting us, until we found a woman who guided us to our neighborhood because we were looking to recreate that neighborhoody feel we were missing so much. We bought a house, and then found out that we were pregnant (so maybe the three-bedroom was too small… too late.)
Nowadays, I know that we are right where we need to be, and my life here has become so full—of good times, good memories, good people. This is home, and I don’t want to leave—I cannot imagine starting over all over again, again. We have a new magical existence we get to live in, and I would not change it or go back.
But this week… this week, I’m missing Chicago fiercely, and being here in Baltimore hurts like I left yesterday.