Chicago is like a spider web that sticks to you when you’re walking through the forest. It sticks to you and it doesn’t let go. It keeps bringing you back.
I’ve left, but I’ve also come back. And I’d be perfectly happy to die here in this city when the time comes. This city with its art, with its architecture, with its gritty strength—iron and steel, muscles and sweat, but also intellect, also joy, also beauty.
I first experienced Chicago as a young dancer in the 1990s, dancing my way through the Chicago Theatre, the Atheneaum, the Civic Opera House, the Riviera, even on a rickety stage at Taste of Chicago. Then as a student—undergrad, then grad—then as a dancer again before moving on and exploring its human side, being a medical student in its hospitals. Some on the North Side, some on the South, with their patient populations so different—like traversing between the first world on the North with its lack of preventable diseases in its mostly white population, and the third world with an overwhelming amount of preventable diseases in the black and brown populations on the South Side.
I was born just south of Chicago, grew up in southern suburban steel. Like the butchers inhaling the fetid smells of the Chicago stockyards, my lungs have been blackened by the soot of the steel mills that produced the steel that literally supports this city.
The dream. To return. From the Netherworld of the placid, vapid, downright boring suburbs to the life that goes on all around in the city. To return to the lake. Lake Michigan whence, it often seems, my lifeblood springs eternal. The sound of the waves lapping at the beaches on the east side of Lake Shore Drive provide a soothing escape, an antidote to the busy-ness, should it ever become too much.
But it’s not too much. It’s not New York. It’s not the city that never sleeps. No. Chicago sleeps. Chicago is a well-rested city.
As the breeze blows in from the lake and people walk by, I am reminded of my past, my days as a young adult finding—not finding, but slogging—my way through that difficult time. Moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, trying to figure out where I fit in. Boystown? Hyde Park? Edgewater? Lincoln Park? Lincoln Square? Ravenswood? Maybe that’s who I am, or who I long to be again. Someone who goes from place to place, an inchoate form molding myself to fit that place.
But wherever I am, whatever version of Chicago I see, I experience, I become, the spider web of the city won’t let me go. The spider web becomes a safety net cushioning each blow, bouncing me back to where I belong, so that I can go exploring again.
Filed under: Chicago