Tonight, after eight months of living in Chicago, I have finally realized the unavoidable reality of my new life: This city scares the shit out of me. After pacing around my apartment all afternoon, restless and desperate to be out exploring, or even reading in a coffee shop—ok, fine, Starbucks—as opposed to in my bedroom, I finally did it. I packed my bag with my newest issues of Paste and Bitch magazines, cell phone, wallet, and novel, and stepped out of my apartment.
My filthy Neon Sport was parked right outside, but still far enough away for me to have one nerve wracking encounter: a male neighbor checking his mail. Why is he staring at me? He’s coming out of the gate…He’s coming toward me…oh, he’s walking to his car. I’d already practically leapt into my car as he walked past, looking at me like the lunatic I am. I shook my head at myself in my car mirror, trying to decide at what point I thought all men who made eye contact with me were planning to murder me. Back home—or what had become home after six years, Bloomington, Indiana—when a man stared at me, I thought he was checking me out, not about to rape and pillage me. On the upside, maybe my irrational fears were keeping my ego in check, at least.
So I journeyed to Starbucks, because I’m too nervous to try to find the hip new coffee shop, New Wave, that I heard opened in my neighborhood. (I pass Starbucks almost every day on my way to work, so it’s in my comfort zone.) As soon as I walked in, I was annoyed. It’s the typical Starbucks weekend crowd: yoga moms with their kids, college students on laptops, everyone on cell phones. I ordered my standby, a chai latte, and scampered to the back room, praying for an open table so I wouldn’t end up heading straight back home, defeated and depressed.
I snagged the last open table and finally relaxed, drank my chai, and read my magazines cover to cover. Then, with new bravery brought on by caffeine and finding a parking spot right outside, I decided to find the Borders I knew was on North Avenue. (Fine, first I texted my boyfriend, a lifelong Chicagoan, to double check the spot.)
As I turned onto 90 West, screaming along to the Doors on XRT, I felt great. Empowered. I was exploring the city! On my own! I am an independent, confident young woman! Hoorah!
And then my confidence shattered. As I drove down North Avenue, gaping at the familiar stores that looked so much fancier outside of the College Mall in Bloomington—Express, Gap, Banana Republic, and on and on—I thought, I don’t belong here. The cars zooming around me with Illinois plates were cleaner, fancier than my 98 Dodge. The women walking out of Victoria’s Secret were impossibly trendy. Everyone had shopping bags in hand. I had 134 bucks in my checking account. And where in the fuck am I supposed to park?
After driving around in a circle around the Borders for about ten minutes, I saw a Public Parking sign. Relieved, I made a right and started to pull in the garage. 0-1 hour, $9.00. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” I yelled at the sign, making a young father jump and clutch his kid tighter while walking to his SUV.
So I turned my Indiana car right around and drove home. When I turned on to California, I basked in the glow of the now-familiar Popeyes and IHOP signs. I parked, walked through the gate of my apartment building, clutching my bag and looking around me, and realized how much I miss Bloomington.
But I’m here. And at least I’m trying.
So for now, I’m content to sit in the safety of my kitchen, listening to Fiona Apple and hanging out with the cats. I’ll explore more later.