For the past week-and-a-half I’ve been visiting my mother and sister at their home in the Milwaukee area. This isn’t abnormal at all since I usually visited them during breaks from classes or anytime I needed a break.
What is abnormal is what I keep thinking when it comes to leaving on January 4. I keep thinking that I’ll drive home to the tiny studio apartment I lived in for two years in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. I keep fondly thinking of where everything I own was placed, from the mirror above the tiny, old 13-inch TV, to the two large bookcases sitting side-to-side, to my bed placed up against the large windows that gave me a view of the L tracks that ran behind my building.
There are two problems with this thought, the first being that I never drove to my mother’s house from Chicago. I always either took the Metra train to Kenosha, the Amtrak from Chicago to Milwaukee, or she would pick me up and drive me from Chicago to Milwaukee. The other is that I don’t live in Chicago or go to college in Chicago anymore. I live in a township in Michigan and go to Michigan State University.
Of course, this thought that keeps going through my mind is understandable since that was habit. It is also completely understandable because I have come to accept that I miss Chicago.
I have become homesick.
Homesickness is something that I’ve found is often tossed around to explain any slight sadness a college student might suffer from. Of course, when you are talking to a college student like me who suffers from dysthymia or any other mood disorder, suggesting that the slightest trace of sadness when not near your family or home seems to be ignoring that there is possibly a greater underlying reason for sadness. Then again, it’s reasonable that this is thrown out because that’s probably what is causing that slight sadness.
Not living in on-campus housing at MSU means that I didn’t have an Resident Assistant to tell me that I was homesick. It was something I came to on my own and then had confirmed by a therapist. I came to the realization by noticing that I missed everything about Chicago. It would have been different if I sometimes found that I missed Eleven City Diner or Green Tea or the old Marshall Fields that is now a Macy’s.
I miss the CTA, which I will take any day over the CATA. I miss knowing exactly where to go for what I need and usually not having to go far. I miss not having to drive because I hate driving. I miss living somewhere where there was not only culture, but culture that was unrivaled by most cities. I miss living in a city with good Mexican food. I miss my old apartment, right down to the faucet on the tub that would drip no matter how far I turned the hot and cold water knobs to off. I miss having grocery stores where I could buy lots of food that had no High Fructose Corn Syrup and was actually good. (I do appreciate the grocery stores in Michigan having food that doesn’t have HFCS, but I’m fairly certain that microwavable cheese garlic breads aren’t healthy for me.) I miss aspects of Columbia College Chicago, such as having a great advising office at hand or being able to schedule tutoring appointments online. I even miss how screwed up the City of Chicago is because I love that city even with how screwed up the government is.
This is not an occasional “Wow, I miss this,” but a constant feeling of missing those things. I could probably live with sometimes finding that after a crappy day I could really use the matzo ball soup from Eleven City Diner but can’t have that because it only exists in Chicago. But constantly feeling everything I listed above does start to get to be depressing after a while.
MSU is one of the largest universities in the country. As a result it is very easy to blend into the background, which might be good or bad. The good is that there are less expectations of me, unlike at Columbia. The bad is that it means that I’m just another student in a class who dutifully takes notes. Even at University of Illinois at Chicago this wasn’t the case. When students get to know me it’s very little, which means I’m probably best known as That Student Who is Partially Colorblind, Always is Eating Something Like Granola For Some Reason and Sounds Funny Whenever She Says Words Like “Hospital” or “Jobs.”
I made a huge error by deciding to live off-campus because that would mean that going to MSU would be less than going to Columbia. Had I chosen to live on-campus I would have actually had other students to regularly socialize with, which might have alleviated some of the homesickness. I’ve decided to correct this by living on-campus next year because even if I’m living alone in a dorm room, there are other people to socialize with, which might mean that I will make connections. Also, I won’t have to do any driving which is great for me since I’ve already said that I hate driving. Maybe that way I will be known as more than That Student Who is Partially Colorblind, Always is Eating Something Like Granola For Some Reason and Sounds Funny Whenever She Says Words Like “Hospital” or “Jobs.”
Most of the fiction I’ve been writing recently has been set in Chicago. This is probably the result of it feeling like the city I’m most familiar with as Phoenix has possibly changed a lot since my family left there when I was five and the Los Angeles area has changed quite a bit since we lived there. I might have lived in Iowa for 12 years, but I always felt like a fish out of water there. It might also be because of the various topics I can write about if I set a story in Chicago. For example, I wrote a story examining the gentrification of a Chicago neighborhood through the eyes of a long time resident who is black. I can’t write that same story and set it in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I grew up.
The play I’ve been writing has been loosely based on the last romantic relationship I was in–the guy I dated knows that I’m writing the play. It’s as much a play about two workaholics who can’t make a relationship work as it is about life in Chicago for young professionals at this point in time. This is a play where a character is more afraid of getting hit by a distracted stroller pusher in Roscoe Village than being doored by a car. It’s a play that might resonate more with certain people in Chicago, and I’m well aware of that.
I’ve also been writing a project as a form of therapy. This too is set in Chicago, but unlike the play I doubt that it will ever see a life outside of the hard drive of my MacBook. Every now and then, I wonder if it’s really healthy to keep writing about Chicago. I’ve decided that it is because it helps me remember what all I love about the city. It also makes me feel good for writing a story that has nothing to do with corruption.
The recurring theme in my life has been “Where is my home?” I never felt at home in Iowa because I’m a big-city girl. While I really like Milwaukee and have family there, I feel wrong about calling it home since I don’t physically live there. And I probably won’t call Michigan home since after nearly six months of living there it doesn’t feel like home.
More than two years ago I found a home. Mostly, it was the cozy studio I rented in Uptown, but overall it was the city of Chicago. I can’t even drive through the city now without thinking, “I’m home.”
It is a wonderful to finally have a place to call home.
It ultimately doesn’t surprise me that I would manage to fall in love with a city. So, yes, I will finish out my degree at Michigan State. I’ll try to visit Chicago when I can because I imagine that might help me with my homesickness. Besides, there are a lot of people in Chicago who have told me to not be a stranger.
But my resolution for 2013 currently is to make more connections at MSU and try to reduce my homesickness. If I have only mild homesickness, it’s bearable and that’s my goal.
The good thing is that I have figured out where home is after 20 years. I am Monica Reida and I am from California, but my home is in Chicago.