A rip in the space-time continuum / over I-90 Skyway / why is it that Chicago 2-flats all smell the same? / I’m both then // and now / here // and there / the El rose up / from the tunnel of my dark past // crowded with shadows / my face turned down // snaps back / no eyes in sockets // this is not your stop / doors closing / keep riding //
Flying down 88-West / how many times did I walk these streets in my dreams? // turn left / right / left again // this is the road where Joe died / here is where Granddad got his new heart / this is the house we snuck to during 2nd period / this is the trail I learned to ride my bike / here is where I smoked my first cigarette // you are too young to know any of this // mine // shhh / no more questions //
why did I leave // why // didn’t I leave sooner / opened and unstacked / like a Russian doll / only the smallest one / is whole / all the rest // are cut in two
This past weekend we took our little family on a mini-vacation to visit Chicago — see the sights, ride the train, show the kids the ‘Big City.’
I moved away from Chicagoland about 6 years ago, after spending years of my adult life and much of my childhood there. We moved to the western suburbs (the quaint and quirky little town of West Chicago, to be exact) from Ohio when I was 7, and I grew up, learned to drive its crazy streets, and graduated high school in Chicagoland. I discovered myself (and eventually lost myself) there.
My parents continued to stay in my childhood home, and I eventually returned at age 30 to live downtown and teach high school. I left after high school to attend college; ending up in Kansas City for my first job, got married and divorced, changed careers multiple times, and struggled to hang on to my sense of self and worthiness.
When I moved back to Chicago, I was ready to regain my personal power. I had come out the other side of my divorce, scarred and wobbly, but still standing. I knew I needed to be closer to home.
I got a job teaching science at a brand new charter school on the West Side, and found a room in a two-flat apartment in Wrigleyville that I shared with two other women, who were basically strangers to me. I was “Single Woman in the City.” I rode the bus to work, walked my dog along the lake, and stayed out late at clubs with my gay best friend.
(And I drank too much. Every day.)
I don’t even know where to begin writing about how it all went south from there. This is the part of my life that still holds a lot of shame for me.
Don’t get me wrong — from the outside looking in, it wasn’t SO bad: my career was blossoming (I became the Science Department Chair at a great school and did some really cool things with my students); I managed to travel to some exotic places on science teacher grants; I was always out and about in the city with my group of ‘young professional’ friends.
But I wound up in this relationship with a guy who literally sucked the life the out of me. He was a narcissist and an unemployed mooch, and I gave over my self-worth (and so much of my hard-earned money) to be with him. For years.
Why? you may be asking. Why on earth would you do that after you just recovered from divorce and started this new life for yourself?
Yeah, I ask myself that all the time.
My alcohol addiction and willingness to stay in this soul-sucking relationship were inextricably linked. He was my drinking partner, my enabler, and my co-dependent shackle. He kept me small and stuck. And I allowed it.
I am deeply ashamed of this aspect of my life. My parents tried in vain to get me to see what I was doing to myself. My friends (some of them, anyway) tried to wake me from my delusions. I didn’t (couldn’t?) listen.
I was afraid, I suppose. Of something… not sure what though: becoming my true self? Admitting I was wrong? Being alone?
This is one aspect of my life that I struggle with releasing even now. It’s so hard to face the shame I have around allowing myself to be taken advantage of for so long. It’s hard to admit that I was so weak and fearful.
I am still working on forgiveness.
It’s funny how even the angle of the sun and its effect on internal circadian rhythms can wriggle awake old feelings of nostalgia. There is a different light in Chicago than there is in southern Indiana, where we live now. Being in this city, I am reminded both of the feelings of freedom and despair.
I look at my young children, coming to this place full of wonder and empty of expectations. Seeing through their eyes, I can remain present.
This city has so much history, but a fraction of it is mine alone: Mine to hold close and rub for its smooth familiarity; or to lift up so that it may flutter away in the wind.
©Skye Nicholson 2021