I find comfort in people noticing my Chicago accent these days, in knowing that some physical part of me still belongs to my hometown. It's funny, but even though I spent the first eighteen years of my life there, born and raised, I'd never thought about what it meant to be a Chicagoan until I left.
It's the leaving part that leaves a mark, I think.
I've said goodbye to Chicago twice now — first, for college, and second, for love. That first time I didn't really know any better. It was the only home I'd ever known, the only place I'd ever left, and there was the promise of returning. The second time, though, that goodbye felt raw. I was fresh out of grad school, newly engaged, and ready to head back to California. It was two years ago, a Saturday, and there was a whole lot of hope, but no promise of a return. My feet felt heavier.
The longer I'm away from Chicago, the bigger its mark seems to grow. It's hard sometimes, missing a place, praying that you don't forget the little things. More and more I find myself trying to hold on to the details I can remember — how our first apartment smelled like pine, even in the summertime, and how the cashier at the corner market emphasized the syllables of my name in reverse: Lau-ra!. I remember how the light seemed brighter, crisper, in the cold, I think about the way the ice stretched itself across the sidewalk in January, how the chill seemed to freeze you from the inside out in February, how March felt like the city came out of its shell. That's how I remember it all, month by month, in tiny wisps of memory linked mostly to my senses.
During our visit this past Thanksgiving, we walked through our old neighborhood, grabbing sandwiches at the local Potbelly. I was struck, as always, by how quickly your mind can place itself, how easily the past can feel familiar again. And then, of course, Radley snapped this random picture, and when I looked at it later on, I thought how childish I looked, how hopeful. A whole lot of hope, maybe because there is always the promise of returning. Even just for a short while.