I remember driving into the city five and a half years ago and thinking to myself, ‘Shit, this city has a skyline. It’s, like, a legit city.’ Now as I sit here typing this post on my plane ride out of Chicago, I can confirm that Chicago is not only like a legit city; it is a legit city brimming with solid public transportation, great theater, delicious food, fantastic cultural institutions and, most importantly, wonderfully beautiful people that are the reason I was that person awkwardly crying while boarding my flight.
As much as I grew up anywhere, I grew up in Chicago. I arrived in May 2013 as an optimistic 20-year old. I had just finished my unplanned gap year working as a Field Organizer on the Obama Campaign in Las Vegas and then as an intern in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Office in DC. I didn’t know anyone before I moved, but that quickly changed as I forced AJ and Catherine to become my first Chicago friends while interning at 270 Strategies. (To be clear, the “forcing” really only applied to AJ; Catherine was a willing friend.)
My first summer in Chicago I set off to explore the city. Each weekend, I selected an unknown neighborhood café on google maps and then walked across the city—sometimes in a rather circuitous path—until I hit my destination. I’d then take the bus and/or train back to my apartment. I drew my own map of Chicago in my head this way, and it only grew larger and more detailed the following five years.
The end of summer meant the beginning of a new school; I had completed my first year of college at Georgetown and now I’d be finishing up my final three years at the University of Chicago. I immersed myself that first year at the University’s new Institute of Politics (IOP). Although my immersion was eventually too much (one big life lesson that year: there is such a thing as overextending oneself) and led to me retreating from the IOP my final two years at school, I’m grateful for the opportunities and community it provided me. But what I am most grateful for that first year at UChicago are my amazing roommates- ATM, Krahn and Ryan. I definitely rode an emotional roller-coaster that year and having three amazing guys do everything from teach me calculus I never cared to learn to sit by my side as I very unattractively sobbed after silly boy problems is what I will remember most fondly that year.
Summer number two in Chicago meant another internship at 270 Strategies and finally turning 21. No more staying behind when friends and colleagues went out! Catherine convinced me (not that it took much convincing) to live up in Lakeview with her and we definitely lived a pretty fantastic Chicago summer life—think lots of brunches,an intro to rock climbing class, Fourth of July at the lake, evening summer walks, etc. We capped off the summer with my first (but not last!) Minnesota State Fair experience and a road trip down to Houston where she was moving to work on Wendy Davis’ campaign for Governor.
Less than a week after my return to Chicago I met Dom on our first date, when he brandished his Labour Party Membership Card and claimed that Christmas in the UK wasn’t a religious thing. While he didn’t convince me of this fact until much later, he did convince me rather quickly that he was an adorable, sweet, interesting, smart and kind guy—one that I wouldn’t want to shake off all too soon.
I moved into my first studio apartment in September 2014, and I still owe Jason and AJ many drinks for persisting in wedging my all-too-large couch up five flights of stairs even when it seemed we’d never make it. The 2014-2015 school year went by rather smoothly. I was that crazy kid who commuted from Lakeview to Hyde Park for school, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, I think it was exactly what I needed (thank you, Lucy, for telling me it was okay to be different). Dom and I began to explore the city together and saw dozens of great small theater productions, mostly thanks to Common Room.
Summer 2015 I interned at State Representative Will Guzzardi’s office and had my first real introduction into just how fucked up Illinois politics is. During my six months interning at the office (and for nearly two years total), Illinois did not have a state budget. Yes, that is ridiculous. Yes, that disproportionately hurts non-white and lower-income residents. And no, it is not surprising that this happened in Illinois. As my then-boss Luis instructed me to do, please read Boss by Mike Royko. It will equal parts educate you and enrage you, and hopefully that knowledge and rage will then turn into action.
My final year of school was fantastic, if only because it was my final year. I moved into a three-bedroom apartment right off the Damen Blue Line in Wicker Park and once again commuted to school three days a week. The other two days I interned in the Loop at CCS Fundraising, my first (and so far only) more formal workplace experience. While not the most accomplished piece of academic work, I did complete a senior year thesis exploring how Chicago could more pointedly use public transportation as a tool for racial equality. I graduated in June 2016 with a degree in Public Policy, and while I have yet to work explicitly in the field, I’m looking forward to incorporating my degree into my next job (whatever that may be).
To continue my moving spree, Dom and I moved in together in August 2016 to a two-bedroom duplex—probably our nicest accommodations for quite some time. The best thing that came out of that move (other than living together and still loving each other) was finding our amazing roommate, Amanda,who managed to only roll her eyes half of the times she wanted to. We had many Dominion nights the three of us and Gilmore Girls and sushi nights the two of us (and yes, we did manage to finish all seven seasons, viewing the last episode just two nights ago). This anecdote should be some indication of just how much Amanda means to me—when Dom and I agreed to tell Amanda we were leaving, I curled up in the fetal position on my bed and cried, too scared to help break the news. I told you Amanda is pretty great.
Shortly after moving in to our new apartment (and after applying to more than 30 jobs in one month), I landed what many would call a dream first job. Working as the Communications and Development Coordinator at One Million Degrees (OMD), a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to supporting low-income community college students, taught me so much—not just about work,but more importantly about life, privilege and the fight for social justice. I also was lucky enough to have Allison as my boss—most likely the best boss I will ever have. Allison opened up her family to me and produced my first steady gig as a babysitter—saying goodbye to Max (2) and Sam (5) was one of my hardest goodbyes. I am 100% going to be that annoying person who sees them when they’re teenagers and goes “I knew you when you were just an itty bitty thing”. I apologize in advance, Max and Sam. But now I get it.
Leaving OMD in October 2017 was difficult, but the opportunity of working in the philanthropic and political world as a jack of all trades (or officially titled “Associate”) for Vicki and Bruce Heyman (technically “Uncharted”) exposed me to a world I never knew existed. I’ve learned so much over the past year and once again had to say goodbye to two people who I’ve come to think of as family.
And I suppose that finally leads me back here to today—on this plane flying west, away from the Windy City and everything that has come to mean home over the past 5+ years. Next stop: California for Thanksgiving before meeting back up with Dom in Lima, Peru on December 3 to begin ~5 months of travel across South America and Southeast Asia before moving to London to create a new home. While I already miss Chicago and all of its wonderful people, I know I will carry all of my memories with me as we move forward and I cannot wait to create new friendships and memories across the pond.
Goodbye, Chicago. You’ve been good to me. Thank you.