Chicago isn’t an entirely new city; I went to college in Wheaton for a couple of years in the mid-to-late 90s. But although I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty during that period I might as well have been twelve, thirteen, fourteen in terms of emotional maturity, life skills, and interests. My primary memory of Chicago is of taking the train into town on Saturdays, having plotted my route on a foldout map after poring over a Yellow Pages (O, ancient of days!) and rooting through the back-issue bins in comic book stores. (Not the good ones, either; I beat a hasty retreat from Quimby’s because it wasn’t superhero-y enough.) I made my first serious errors of money and preparation there; I will always remember the shamefaced hour I spent going from person to person in a waiting room in Union Station begging for the couple of dollars in change that would get me back to campus.
So by contrast, armed with an iPhone and a checking account and more white hairs on my chin than brown, I now feel like some kind of master of the universe. I have an apartment, which just this past hour gained a table (a card table, but a table), a closet full of clothes, a bath which draws hot, a working wifi connection, more podcasts and television shows and audiobooks than I have time in the day to take in, and enough money to last me for a few more weeks at least. Next stop: temping.
I’ve also been thrilled to meet (or re-meet) a handful of Tumblr people (Blanca, Ian, Amy) who got me out of the house and investigating various neighborhoods and scenes — I saw a Mykki Blanco show! and a comics reading! and was gifted practically the entire content of my kitchen cabinets and drawers! — and I need to email several more back.
But those are all necessities of getting established. In terms of sheer sensuous enjoyment, yes! oh yes. Today was the first day that it snowed even moderately while I was here, and (I’m sorry, lifelong Midwesterners and Northeasterners) I was a little giddy when I looked out the window and saw white covering the ground below and gathered in whiteout stripes along the branches of the trees. I’ve lived in snow before, and I retain the memory of being exhausted and annoyed with it, especially as winter lingers into April and everything remains dull and gray and wet and gross, but at heart I am a Southwesterner, and the deepest part of me is as excited by snow as a child who sees it not as another chore or an obstacle to getting stuff done but a magical substance of infinitely malleable properties and so satisfying to crunch around in.
I’m walking with a cane these days; twisted my right knee something fierce the day I moved into my apartment, and was nearly hobbled before I bought an orthopedic cane at the pharmacy down the street and started taking some of the weight off of it. I’m walking at least two miles a day and the knee’s gotten a lot better (regular hot baths help too, relaxing the muscles), but it still twinges if I stand for too long or have to carry anything with any weight. Anyway, walking today I kept wanting to look behind me and see my tracks accompanied by the dot of the cane, but I never did because I’m self-conscious about taking too much enjoyment from the snow.
I looked up around three or four in the afternoon, walking up Sheridan, and the sky was a gorgeous dove-gray, glowing golden in the west, the kind of sky you never get in the Southwest, where even if the sky is covered with clouds they’re so high up and distinct that you can count their ribs, as it were. The pearly fogbanks, only slightly lighter than the yellow brick and concrete buildings that stood up against it, seemed to stoop low and almost cozy, if I could ignore the wind stealing in from the lakefront.
Whenever I start to get anxious about finding work or worrying that my leg will get worse and I’ll have to end up with unpaid thousands in medical bills, I look out the window at the row houses and the El tracks and the tree branches that will show green in a few months and the colorful mural beneath the El tracks and the white breath from vents and chimneys for miles and miles around, and I smile. This — density, history, vibrancy, even cold — was what I wanted, was what I left Phoenix to find. And I look ahead three months from now, six months from now, a year from now, and I know I’ll find it hard to even remember the long, empty days of January and the mindset that couldn’t see past its shallow present.
All things considered, I am of good cheer.