Chicago was never my first love. I was too young, and too blind too naive to fall in love when I grew up with her. She was an older gal, her experiences and stories were intimidating to me. Nevertheless, I can’t help but share my heart with her. Chicago, then, is the childhood friend that you never realized how much you missed. Then one day you come back to her, realize that she’s maybe looking a bit more ragged than you remember, but she’s so much more mature and beautiful now that you can realize it.
She’s simply incredible. I remember the nights alone with her, my young self at the window, the sound of cars passing through the lamp lit streets. Those were the streets that came alive during the day–children walked to school through the colors of Autumn, and through the blizzards of Winter. The season’s moods changed and seemed to grow with her. With the variety of color she laid upon me, she laid a variety of culture with it as well. I have no doubts that had I grown up somewhere else I wouldn’t have half the history or diversity that I have today.
Cicero, Belmont, and the rest of those enumerable places I’ve lived: they were my Mango Street. They were where I wrote my coming of age story, where I cried to myself and hid from the world in worlds scratched down in the marks beneath my pen. The same fictions that would one day become my saving grace, as I discovered the joy that they brought others. Here, in the city where Hispanic men sold corn and ice cream on each school street corner, where a single block contained shops where three different ethnic groups coexisted, I penned fantasies and withdrew into myself.
Chicago withdrew with me, however. I breathed her in, and as I did she became part of my identity. As I grew and reconciled the many identities that I created for myself, the identities and cultures that she exposed me to grew with me as well. Our travels have pulled us apart, however. Today I live a train ride away, and only have a chance to visit her for a few nights out of the year. I breathe her in each time, take my time to lay my eyes on the bittersweet beauty of her ever changing landscape. Even through all the change, I still see the place that more than anywhere else, raised me, hurt me, and grew in my heart as I continued to realize and become my true self.
Chicago, I love you.