Saying Goodbye Was a Joy and a Heartache

July, 1991. As my husband, David, and I, were packing up our home in Chicago, I grabbed him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. I said, ” You and I are the only people who really know the excitement we are feeling (moving to California). Everyone else among our family and friends just can’t understand.” David looked at me, and replied, “You’re right. I never thought about it that way.”

I will never forget that moment. We were in his study, packing up books. The kids were playing outside with friends, while the White Sox game was on in the background.

I loved my huge family: brothers, sister, their kids, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. There’s nothing like sharing birthdays, holidays, Bulls, Bears and White Sox games. Shopping, cooking, laughing, and watching all the “cousins” growing up together. Shouting over meals and listening to 4 – 5 conversations going on, was par for the course.

And I loved our friends, especially those 6 – 7  families whose kids went to school, played sports, and went to day camp together. Sleepovers, after school snacks and homework at one of our homes, parties, and the usual secrets only close friends will share with each other, exemplified the full circle of relationships, which meant so much to me.

But it was time. Time to move back.

Back to the small university town that somehow we found, through a friend from college. Peter B. told us, as he was leaving Urbana, “if you ever make it to northern California, check out Paradise, CA. Check out Chico, CA. Cause it really is a paradise.”

So we made the jump in 1976 and followed Peter. And we stayed, for 10 years, till Christmas Day, 1985. We made close friends, grew our own veggies and fruits, belonged to a baby-sitting co-op with people like us. Worked, had kids, hiked and camped in the mountains, and watched Chico, CA grow.

But then it was time to come back to Chicago, and have our kids “know” their families while young. My Dad died in 1984 and it was a wake up call for me. What the hell was I doing, being away?

David agreed. We moved back to Chicago 1985,  both got jobs, I worked on my PhD, got season tickets to Bulls games, went to Sox and Bear games, ate pizza, swam in Lake Michigan, shoveled snow, had snowball fights, and dealt with the icy streets, just as I had as a kid.  I grew up on the south side, while David grew up in Bethlehem, PA. My attachment to Chicago ran deeper than it did for David, but he was “all in,” since his own family now lived there. And our kids were the only grandchildren at the time, for his parents.

One night in 1990, I couldn’t bear it anymore: working part time, trying to do research for my dissertation, and raising kids as the mother I had always wanted. I started crying around 2 am, and ran into my bedroom closet. I sat on the floor and just sobbed. I heard David walk in, and he came over to hold me.

“What’s wrong? Tell me,” he pleaded. But all I could do was keep sobbing. I could barely catch my breath. I can’t remember how long this went on, but finally I tearfully spoke, “I can’t do this anymore . It’s too much. This fucking Ph.D program is killing me! I want to go back, and just live a simpler life!”

“Then forget it. Drop out and we’ll move back. It’s not worth it,” he clearly spoke. I never went back to sleep that night.

Why? Because I had already developed a pattern of waking up at 3:00 am on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays, and studying till 5:00 am. Then I’d go back to sleep till 7:00 am, get up with the kids and off to school they’d go.

Then I juggled work  for 20 hrs/ week, school was every Friday and Saturday at Loyola, and still find time for family events. This was my life, and I was fine. Until that night.

But I thought long and hard: if I drop out, I’ll never fulfill this stupid-ass dream of becoming a professor of clinical social work. Do I want to go back to Chico and do a full-time private practice again? Do I want to stay in Chicago and keep working as a clinician?

Done. Finish the damn degree, get it together, go watch the Bulls win their first championship, and be the bullish Taurus woman I am, and push harder than ever.

The pain was so hard, of leaving. My loving sister, who I slept right next to in our trundle bed as kids, with our German Shepherd dog,  guarding these little girls, came over often that last month. We held each other and cried and cried as I was packing up. She’d come over and all we could do was just sob in each other’s arms. She understood, but it didn’t matter.

I loved her kids as my own, and she loved mine. In fact, as I write this now, I’m sobbing – really sobbing hard – because we both knew what it was like to feel such sadness together.

So my friends threw us a goodbye party on the Lake. But there were no parties with family members. Maybe that would have been hard for all of us, just too hard.

I had no idea what was in store for me then, but I knew when talking with David, it was right. Going through all the motions of selling our home, buying one in Chico, packing up, giving away things, and walking away as the first Ph.D. from Loyola in Clinical Social Work; we’d done what we set out to do, 5 years ago.

And we moved back to Chico. And I got the professor job. And the kids went to college. And once they left home, they never looked back. That city life for almost 6 years made them love that life. They got married, live on the east coast, one has two kids, and now it’s my turn to miss them. And cry when they leave after a warm Thanksgiving holiday together.

Funny, but today I met my friend, Stephanie, for coffee. With all the “ins and outs and what-have-you’s,” I shared my sadness of missing family. And thought:  maybe it’s time to “get back to where I once belonged.”  Chicago, my hometown.




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