Saturday night, in the middle of a rather raucous evening, I had a small, quiet conversation about place. About the love of place and knowing that it is where you need to be. And knowing that you can’t be there yet until you complete certain mundane tasks. And the challenge of finding the motivation to finish those tasks that stand between you and the place. I have had three such places. Argentina, Chicago and Israel.
Argentina was the easiest, but hardest, to recover from. Hardest, because it was my first love. Sure, I had crushes on San Francisco and Ames, Iowa, but Argentina… oh, how I fell in love with Argentina. I pined when I got home. I struggled with my last semester in college, because I definitely didn’t want to be in Illinois. But I knew that Argentina and I would never make it.
I dealt with losing Argentina by drinking a lot of mate (the tea), ordering pizza in the style I got it there (onion and cheese, no sauce), getting a tattoo and going back on vacation within a year. I went back to Argentina during rainy season. Found out the man I’d endured unrequited love for, had unrequited love of a friend of mine. Ouch. I sat in a hostel in Monte Video and read Danielle Steele books. Sat in a hotel in Mar del Plata and stared at a TV. Rainy season in Argentina is not the time to go.
I still love Argentina, but I let her go. I got over her. I softened. I only remember the good things. I’ve forgotten the fights with my host. I’ve forgotten the sting of being called fat, when I was wearing my skinny clothes. I’ve forgotten lonely dinners alone at restaurants. I’ve traded it in for memories of the good times and the acceptance that Argentina and I were never going to be together.
Then there was Chicago. In between Argentina and Chicago, there was Durango, Colorado. Durango and I were never a great fit for each other. Durango is outdoorsey and I am indoorsey. I never went skiing. I never went mountainbiking. I did go white water rafting once. I think I went on a hike or two. But Durango… those were some of my worst years. I worked in education and non-profits. Check to check, a year without health insurance. I gained a lot of weight. No, Durango and I never really fell in love. I made life-long friends there, most of whom have also left.
My last year in Durango, I came home to the midwest three times. Once for my sister’s wedding (September 1, 2001), two weeks later for my Grandfather’s funeral (September 14, 2001) and again in December for a weekend in Chicago. Do the math on the first two trips–either side of September 11, 2001. I was supposed to fly on the 12th and got trapped in Southwest Colorado, with no way to get home to my family. That was when I knew I couldn’t be so far away anymore, I had to get home.
My sister, brother-in-law and parents had tickets to a Bears game in early December. Since they were all going to Chicago, I went to. I sat in a restaurant (Andies or Rezas) and laughed with two of my girlfriends from my semester in Argentina. I walked into her apartment with hardwood floors, I walked down Clark St, I took the Metra from St. Charles to the city and I fell in love with Chicago. I even met with a landlord to see about renting a place on January 1, 2002.
I needed to get to Chicago. Suddenly, despite my three jobs and many friends, Durango couldn’t hold onto me. I. Had. To. Leave.
But I didn’t. I stayed for 5 more months. I finished my work. I found replacements. I finished my lease. I researched neighborhoods. I saved money. I gave away my TV and plants, but not my cinder blocks. (Don’t ask.) And then a few days after my roommate got her degree, I loaded up my Jeep Comanche and my UHaul trailer and moved home.
I drove cross country stopping in Greeley, Colorado to see Adam and in Decatur to pick up my sister. I almost lost Spidey when he jumped out of the truck at a truck stop somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t make it up and over Wolf Creek Pass, so I did a U-turn, drove down the mountain and cut through New Mexico. I moved into an apartment that I’d never seen and moved in with a roommate I’d never met.
Chicago cured my wanderlust.
Sort of. London cured it. Those five months I lived in London, where this blog started, those five months cured my wanderlust. I learned that Chicago is my city. And I stopped moving. I even bought a condo, three and half years ago, and got a real job. I joined a synagogue, I made friends, I bought a couch and put down roots.
And then I went to Israel for the first time and thought, “This is nice.” And then I went to Israel a second time and thought, “No, this is really nice. I’d like to come every year.” And then I went to Israel a third time and came back to Chicago and thought, “How will I move there and when?”
I decided to move to Israel. Tel Aviv, in particular, but Israel in general. That was in the middle of the summer. I thought it would be so easy to sell my condo that I told people here and in Israel that I was moving. “I’m not making Aliyah, just coming for a couple years to see how it goes.”
And then the reality of the housing market set in. And then the rumored recession turned into the stock market crashing. Now reality is kicking me in the ass. As much as I want to be in Tel Aviv, I have responsibilities here. I have a house, I have a career, I have my family and my cat. I’m still going to live in Israel one of these days, but I don’t think it will be within the next year or two. I can no longer taste it, as I could this summer. I can’t smell the stones from the old city under my feet or feel the sun peeking around the brim of my hat.
I’ve started to think that my love of place is connected somewhat to being single. In the last few months, I’ve had some run-ins with this heart of mine. Nothing like last winters heart break, just run-ins. Every single one made me stop and say, “He is not what I’m looking for, but we can compromise, this could work.”
I’m finding that I’m more flexible in what I think my partner should be… observant, not observant, Jewish, not Jewish, geek, luddite, artist, buttoned up, tall… well, tall keeps winning more and more. I like the place where I fit in a tall man’s arms.
Back to place. Always back to place.