Updated: Jun 19
“Got any drink specials?” I asked halfheartedly optimistic after walking up to the long airport bar in the terminal. I leaned on the counter, alleviating the weight of my large pack, and shifting from one foot to another. On either side of me the tired eyes of travelers gave me the once over.
The bartender, Sharon, chuckled, “Well this is the airport...so no. But if you order a double it only costs three dollars more! At least that’s something.”
I considered the weight of the stack of money in my pocket. This small wad of cash was all that was left to represent the year and a half I had spent creating a life I thought I was going to share forever with the man I loved. My stomach turned with the stress of thinking about all of that loss and made me twice as excited for the possibility of getting intoxicated.
I settled down onto one of the fifteen black high-backed bar stools that lined the dark wooden glossy bar. As Sharon began to pour my drink, my phone began to ring loudly from a pocket in my backpack perched on the stool to my left.
After a sheepish look around, I reached into the bag, unsure of who I was hoping for it to be, and saw, the title “My Amazing Mother” appearing across the screen.
I sighed in frustration wondering if I might have left something her car when she dropped me off. Or perhaps she was having trouble getting the last remaining items out of my apartment before midnight. She had taken on responsibility for everything I couldn’t finish in time, organizing the pickup of furniture and cleaning the place until it was spotless.
I answered the phone quietly, “Hello. What’s wrong?”
I held my breath. It seemed as if I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought for sure someone would call and tell me that everything was going to fall apart. That my half-developed plan that had only been in the works for a week wasn’t going to happen.
I could hear my mother sniffle as she lamented, “I just don’t want you to go to Chicago! Why can’t you stay here? I just got here!” she cried helplessly. Her words held such anguish, I nearly turned around right then and there.
Gathering strength from the most selfish parts of myself, I attempted to quiet her concerns but I didn’t have any reassuring answers. In reality, I had only booked an Airbnb in Chicago for my first two nights because I couldn’t afford to book an entire week all at once.
I talked her through the fact that I would be staying in Pilsen, even though I had little idea what that meant. I had gone onto Reddit to find unfiltered information about my new town.
The general consensus was that Pilsen would not be the place to enjoy a romantic evening stroll down the lane, but if you just need a place to crash it would be alright.
The great thing about the internet is that you can get hundreds of opinions all at once on any subject imaginable. Usually, I don’t want to read other people’s reviews of places, thinking instead that every experience is subjective. But, in this case, I had no way of gathering alternative information. The only real advice I got about my new city was words of encouragement on my Facebook post declaring the move one week earlier.
After convincing my mother, and parts of myself, that it was all going to be okay, I rushed her off the phone.
Sharon smirked at me from across the bar having heard some of my conversation. “I bet you’re glad you ordered the double.”
I smiled back and leaned against the cold metal of my stool and closed my eyes for a minute of relief.
When they reopened, there was a woman arriving and settling into the barstool to my right. She had short blonde hair and stood about five and a half feet tall. Her warm demeanor told me she had to be somebody’s mother. That, and the fact that she was on the phone speaking to someone encouragingly. When she finished her call I decided to start a conversation with her. The last thing I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts, lest I find a string hanging that pulls all my dreams loose.
I turned to her casually and asked her if she was flying to Chicago.
She replied, “Yes I am from there actually, just headed home, I came down here to meet my granddaughter.” She reached into her purse to retrieve her phone and proceeded to show me photos of her beautiful family as she glowed with pride. Then she turned her attention to me, “So, what brings you to Chicago?”
She was not the first to ask me that question, and far from the last. I had come up with a few witty answers. But, in reality, I didn’t have anything bringing me to Chicago. I wasn’t coming for a job, I didn’t know anyone there, hell, I hadn’t ever even been there on vacation! I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wanting to give this woman the most honest answer I could find to see if a complete stranger could make sense of the actions I seemed to be taking on autopilot.
I decided to answer her question with all the facts I knew. “Well, I have been in a couple of car accidents recently and live every day in pain. The anxiety of getting behind the wheel keeps me from leaving my house sometimes. I wanted to move somewhere that had public transportation. Plus, I have been meeting people from Chicago my entire life. Some of the friends I have held dearest in my life have hailed from the Windy City, and I figured if the concentration of good people is half as high as the representative sample I have already met, then I would find the source and a waterfall of friends.”
I hadn’t ever told anyone those were the only reasons before. I made up other things to make it sound more rational. I am always doing that, coming up with logical explanations for my seemingly random actions. But sitting here in this airport, I needed true acceptance. I thought to myself, well this woman is from Chicago, she can be my first test. I could find out right then if I would meet someone who could appreciate my perspective without judging it.
Once I had finished my simplistic explanation for my move, the look on her face was priceless. It was as if I had told her the best reasons for moving that she had ever heard. She started telling me stories about her life and how she wished she had made changes like I was making. In fact, she was the first of many people to tell me that I was living the life they were too scared to.
I smiled sheepishly but I didn’t know how to accept her compliment. For years, I had been trying to break free of my hometown and establish roots elsewhere. I made so many complex plans and ironed out tons of financial details. This time nothing had been planned. I didn’t tell anyone much of anything, and in reality, the only plan was time.
I had learned something through all of the failures I went through and the common denominator was that I stopped trying. I knew that if I could find a way to continuously earn more time, I would eventually find the right rental situation in Chicago and make my way into the world.