whole again

Today was a great day. Slept in until eleven, which I desperately needed. Straightened up a bit then headed to the lake. I'll get to what it was like to set eyes on Lake Michigan for the first time in thirty-six years in a moment. But let me set the moment up, because it was a big one. 

I've been talking to Costa a lot the past few days; he lived in Chicago for a while so he's got plenty of tips for me, plus he's getting a fat dose of nostalgia living vicariously through my discoveries. All my friends are happy for me, but right now Costa is the go to, because he gets it better than anyone. We lived very close to one another in LA, worked together for a couple of years, and spent a lot of time hanging out around LA. He gets my LA hate, even though I don't think he quite hates it himself. He's an entertainer at heart, so LA will always hold charm for him.

But he knows its ugliness, and he knows what an entirely different world Southern California is from the Midwest. So right now he's kind of inexhaustible when it comes to my excitement. As I walked through downtown today on the way to the water, I kept waiting for the penny to drop. I kept waiting to come into the uglier parts. The dirtier areas, where there would be trash and filth like in LA. I kept texting Costa in amazement. "This place is just so beautiful. So grand." "It's a Chicago thing," he said. "The trash is kept in the alleys. People complain about it," he said. Well, I walked by a lot of alleys. I saw dumpsters, sure, but nothing around them. 

On the one hand, I don't want to be unfairly negative about LA. I don't want to paint an unrealistic or exaggerated picture of what it's like there. On the other hand, I feel that after the eleven years I lived there, I've earned the right to speak about it however I want. For now I'll just say that I truly feel like I escaped. Especially DTLA, which is now unrecognizable after the pandemic. That place was decimated, and even now that it's starting to come back, it's trash. The community is trash, the physical environment is trash, the people are trash. It's unsafe and utterly disgusting. I was embarrassed to live there. 

So just imagine what it's like for me to come here and see what I'm seeing. The cleanliness. The clear, clean, wide streets lined with trees wound in twinkling lights. Doors trimmed with boughs for the holidays. The old fashioned street lamps alone are killing me. I get to walk around under old fashioned street lamps, glowing gold in the winter night. It's like I walked onto a movie set. When I walked back in from the lake and came to Michigan Avenue, I almost lost it. It's like New York, to which I've been more recently--but obviously, much more affordable. Bustling and beautiful, a mixture of old buildings and new, crowds of bundled up shoppers and tourists and locals out for their evening walks. And it's on a damn lake. Anytime I want to, I can just walk out to the water and run or just amble along the trail. Far removed from cars. Nothing but the lapping waves on one side and the skyline running beside me. And it's just right there. 

Today my GPS kept confusing me when I was trying to get to the lake. I kept missing the turn it wanted me to take, because the turn was actually into the park. I had been looking for a street, but no. Chicago has, like, parks. And paths. And so when I realized Ohhhh, I have to cut through the park to get to the lake, my head about exploded. I then was guided through the trails and tunnels and grass on the east side of Michigan Avenue, because that's what exists here. Walking trails. Grass. Green space. And it's clean. It's so fucking clean and pretty. It is fucking amazing.

And because I lived in LA for so long, I'm coming to all of it with so much gratitude and wonder. And I love that for me.

Anyway, I finally made it to Lake Michigan.

So, you have to understand why this was such a powerful moment for me. This is gonna get heavy.

In my mind, my parents ripped my brother and I out of Michigan, to move to Arizona. It's not a word I use lightly. That's what it felt like. Small town Michigan. Right on the lake. Grew up playing on dunes, running around in the wooded area behind our house. Trees and green space and nature. Snow and seasons and the smell of dry smoke on Halloween. Wagons full of cherries and plums, picked from our own front yard. Piles of leaves to play in. Sledding. Lightning bugs and outdoor barbecues in summer, the sound of frogs and owls at dusk. A wonderland for a sensitive, imaginative child.

But for whatever reasons, my parents decided Scottsdale, Arizona was the move. We moved to a new community, still largely under construction. Stucco and adobe houses on confusing, curving suburban streets, interrupted by ugly, dusty vacant lots not yet purchased. Arid. Unbearably, soul-crushingly hot for a child having to walk home in every day. No trees. No forest to explore. No green spaces, other than the patchy playgrounds at school that were closed at 4pm anyway. No sand dunes, no waterfront. And no seasons. Nothing to mark fall other than a slight drop in temperature. No falling leaves, no chill in the air. No snowmen, no snowball fights. Just strip malls and air conditioning. 

I wouldn't have been ready to come back here any earlier, that's the thing. Even just six months earlier would have been too soon. For one thing, it was only getting laid off and having the nudge to move out of the food service industry that made this possible. But much more to the point, all the growth that I have been going through the past two years, sped up especially this year, and exponentially the past six months--the person I am now is the person who is ready to receive and appreciate the blessing that is this change. The person walking the waterfront today in amazement at her new life knows she deserves this

When I got to the lake today, it was like a very big, very painful, very unnecessary wrong being made right. I have been returned to the place I never should have left. I am a Midwesterner at heart. At the very least, I am a cold weather person. I am a seasons person. So walking up to Lake Michigan, looking out directly east where if I had superpower vision, I could literally see the beach I grew up playing on--just imagine what that was like for me. I'm back, and I'm back on my terms. I made it happen for myself. I hated Arizona. I hated it with every fiber of my being, but I never found a way to leave. I never made that happen for myself. And while California gave me so much to be grateful for in my friendships, it was never the place for me, either. I was always a fish out of water there, and with climate change, it became scarier and more desperate feeling every year. 

Then there is the matter of coming back to my homeland, when I very much do come from a home of trauma. Things didn't get bad until we left Michigan, but if you know my story, you know I come from a severely dysfunctional family. Addiction, anger, abuse. They're all gone. All of them. I am free, and I have been free for a long time. Still, there is something deeply healing about coming back to where it all started--and being healthy. Being okay. It's like picking up something precious that fell off the mantel and shattered, and setting it down gently back in its place, miraculously fixed. It's fixed. You still have to be careful with it. It's still fragile and you can see the seams where it broke into a thousand pieces--but it's whole again, and back in its place.