In one of the final moments my Chicago community gathered together, I knelt on a swiveling armchair and squeezed my shoulders in next to Caitlyn and Ben’s. We peered out the window in the boys’ Logan Square apartment; its angle pointed to the intersection of Kedzie and Schubert Ave where rain fell on the aftermath of a car crash.
As sirens bent around buildings toward the scene, the sky opened to sheets of water and timpani thunder. Spectators hurried inside, looking back over their shoulders, hoping to catch a last glimpse of the action. Maybe like me, they found it easier to look on the wreckage of someone else’s life than to face their own.
Lord, I don’t want to be alone in the city again.
There were eight of us, expatriates of our college suburb in some stopgap time between college and the rest of life: six boys who lived together in Logan Square, their around the block neighbor Caitlyn, and myself.
My first year in Chicago, I fell into the trap of urban loneliness; it is easy to remain anonymous in a city—wake up, go to work, return to your little compartment, and shut the door behind you, waiting for an invitation to join the bustle. I was a first year teacher, falling asleep to episodes of “Mad Men” at 7:30 p.m., clinging to perceptions that I could not “fit in” with the cool kids.
By my second year in the city, my unhappiness persuaded me to try something different; I resolved to fashion Chicago into a home. I began to invite people over, rationalizing that perhaps others wanted someone to organize togetherness as much as I did.
With fluttering heart beats and shallow breath, I pushed all the chairs in my apartment into the living room and rigged up a digital antenna to broadcast the 2012 summer Olympics. Amidst my good intentions were less noble feelings of desperation: “like me,” “love me,” “stay with me.”
Talking myself into courage, I clung to a Field Of Dreams like promise that if I built the parties, meals, and traditions, the community would gather. And it did.
In summer, friends propped themselves on pillows that leaned against the rails of the back porch. We watched movies on a wobbly projector screen, and I served bowls filled with stove-popped popcorn drizzled with browned butter and rosemary. The boys came over to my apartment with ravenous appetites and cases of PBR. They recited compliments and “mmmms” around the table, sons of polite mothers.
We lived a sitcom city life, but I soon realized I had built a foundation of cement for a shantytown. The others talked about leaving, about futures beyond the walls of the city. I began to panic. What was wrong with Chicago? What was wrong with me?
On one afternoon, we draped a picnic blanket over the boys’ front steps. I sliced Brie and apples, arranging them on a plate to eat with a baguette and glasses of red wine. The conversation drifted towards careers and futures. Tim mentioned moving to Denver and my heart lurched.
Caitlyn suggested an exodus to her home state of California. Ben proposed working in his cousin’s bookstore in Portland. I tried not to scream, “Why not here?” Instead, I cried on the car ride home.
I felt like a little girl begging her parents not to leave her with a babysitter; if I could have clung to their legs as they tried to drag their feet out of the city, I would have.
At one of our three 1920s parties, I hung my head back, warm with gin, and listened to the lullaby of our conversation. Marty argued with another friend about the Meyers Briggs of Jesus, and Caitlyn and Andrew made the floor moan and creak with their dancing. I knew that we had become something together. With such bounty, maybe no one would ever leave.
Please God, let no one ever leave.
But tonight with the news that Tim had an interview in Washington D.C., I finally gave myself permission to take inventory of our dwindling social circle. Tonight we were together for Caitlyn’s farewell. Andrew left in May for another continent, and Ben would leave by the end of the month for Grand Rapids. Others cast their lines towards new horizons, waiting for any tug towards something different. Already there had been garage sales and exchanges of items that couldn’t fit in moving trucks.
I strung my problems together, making them into one giant demon that tormented me with questions and fears. Suddenly the boys leaving meant I shouldn’t take risks, that all my prospects for marriage would be over, that I could not discern the whispers of God’s will, that I had proved unworthy of love and ended up a failure. I grafted each of these things to the paths my friends took away from the city, away from me.
Daniel played Beethoven’s seventh symphony as two tow trucks pulled the wreckage of the crash away in different directions. The thunderstorm, the car crash, and then a silent ride home with Tim—signs and wonders denoting the end. I wanted the city to swallow me into its dark belly.
I forgot how lonely the city could feel at night.
“Alone in the City Again” was written by Meredith Bazzoli. Meredith has spent her whole life orbiting around Chicago and its suburbs. She currently resides just west of the city with her husband Drew, who grew up a hoosier. She never thought she could marry one of those. Meredith writes, performs improv comedy, and teaches in West Garfield Park (all stories for another day). She seeks to start conversations about the life we stuff under the bed and keep off our Instagram feeds.
You can connect with her at www.veryrevealing.com
Black and white photos from the night in the essay by Daniel Saunders.