My decision to leave my hometown of Chicago came without lengthy contemplation. After three unemployments in six years during my budding advertising career post college and eighteen months working in corporate banking, the city turned its back by not bestowing its wealth. My weary footsteps had marked every city corner, intersection, advertising and employment agency during my interviews and job searches. I acknowledged I had a bad attitude; I blamed the city for my inability to be happy with a job and myself. But I loved Chicago, too. I grew up in one of its suburbs; it was my home, where I came from. My love-hate relationship with my city was the catalyst to a change in my life.
While I lived in the city in my twenties I never ceased to see a cityscape coming alive. Dots of light blinked and shadows shifted against tall buildings. Blocks of darkness interspersed with occasional sun were dabbed among the streets bisecting city blocks. Lake Michigan’s water lapped the shoreline rocks, never reaching close enough to touch as if to pull me back into a night’s trance of the city mood. I would walk to Wrigley Field and buy a Cubs T-shirt and a Bears sweatshirt along the way too. I walked downtown, to my neighborhoods in Old Town, through Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville and then Lake View. The panoramic Chicago skyline wallpapered my thoughts. But soon my vision became worn and tired as I acknowledged an underlying conflict with a place that was my home.
Though I mingled with creative and motivating coworkers in advertising, my inability to get to the next job level, to connect with friends, to find a boyfriend left me questioning my place in the world. So I reinvented myself, capping my head with a new hat, and went to work for an international bank hoping my career change would give me new personal and professional opportunities. But it didn’t. After 18 months, I couldn’t make connections with my physical home in Chicago and personal place with others. My city could no longer calm my unsettledness. The streets of the North side buckled in their attempts to provide footing, telling me to move.
I headed west in August to San Francisco, the bank’s corporate headquarters, a month after I turned thirty, to a city known for its beauty, a place I had never been. I was destined to walk through this open door of timely opportunity, a voluntary retreat. Self-confidence empowered me to be courageous and move away from all that was my familiar. I was grateful for the opportunity and my gratitude carried me.
I settled into my airplane seat and buckled up, a definitive statement where I would no longer look back. I was moving forward.
“Hi. Been this route before?” my seatmate asked.
“No . . . actually . . . first time. I’m on a one-way ticket moving to San Francisco.”
I was excited to hear my words of declaration. “One-way” uttered the unusual, when round-trips were routine. I was on an adventure, to the unknown.
We spoke intermittently. He gave me his phone number telling me he lived in the city and he’d be glad to show me around. He was a messenger telling me everything would be okay.
I chuckled when thinking that the answer to my unsettledness was moving away from home to San Francisco. I had direction, exploring farther from my apartment, hiking in the Presidio in quiet solitude while absorbing the clean scents of the eucalyptus. Exploration among the giant redwoods made me giddy with freedom, getting lost in their shadows along narrow paths. Connections were made as I grounded to a new home with every step. However, a contrasting world was outside the gates. The glaring sun spotlighted zooming cars and groups of young people shouted and laughed while walking in animation. I connected the dots from the Palace of Fine Arts to the Marina Green and then to the Bay to create a picture of my new home, never talking my eye off the cityscape and ocean’s horizon while trekking the Golden Gate Bridge. My footprints were established, marking my spaces and unearthing my place to be.
This was my new life where I was cleansed of past struggles and black clouds that traveled overhead with me, starting over with new people who would never know my discontented past. My inner strength was learned in gracious ways with a renewed carefree spirit.
By October the following year, the Bus Stop, a local bar, became my social gathering place.
“Your Bears aren’t doing well in this game,” uttered a deep voice.
George, the bouncer was standing near the door while watching the football game on the overhead television screen.
“You’re for the Bears?” said a thin-framed man sitting by the window. I noticed his thick, chestnut brown eyebrows almost meeting in the middle.
“I am, and I’m from Chicago with good teams. Which game are you following?” I asked as I pointed to each of the four television screens stuck to the walls.
“The Detroit game,” he declared.
“Are you from there?”
“You’re not from here, are you?”
“Okay, then, so where are you from?”
I had to look hard to see his blue eyes set under those caterpillars nestled above and behind oversized glasses.
I never thought Mike was from California because his non-conformance to the fashion statement of the San Francisco preppy male told me so. His jeans and flannel shirt looked shrunk to his frame and were more in style of the North Woods than Union Street. But then I didn’t look like I was from there either; I was out of the uniform of khakis, white button-down shirts and chunky sandals with my Midwestern Levi’s, hard-soled shoes and a sweatshirt.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I work here,” he said.
“And what do you do?”
“I work for a bank.”
“I work for a bank too, but I’m not a banker,” I declared to him.
For the first time I was okay with not having career but a job because I had a life outside of work, one that included connections to new friends and to a new home.
My newfound settledness offered a respite for me to learn life lessons. Passing years were required for evolution, to be massaged, to be absorbed into the stream of life and wisdom where each lesson was built upon learning from its predecessor. I would always get a job and there would always be a place for me to be. Hope kept my faith.
My decision changed me and how I looked at my place in the world. I could not have left Chicago, my home, until time granted me the ability to be comfortable in my own skin and to risk leaving the familiar. I made room for present moments and to trust that life is good. I had to move away from the only home I knew to find a larger encompassing home with connections that mirrored their reach like the redwoods to the sky in the Presidio. Moving away was a gift to me and validation that I had made the right decision. And when I learned and understood my lessons, I met Mike.
I was thirty-five when I married Mike and I could never have been more ready.
My move from Chicago to San Francisco changed my life.