I was twenty-three when I moved to the city, and it didn’t occur to me to wonder how long I would stay. It was just the next move, a new beginning. Like so many other city transplants, I grew up in the suburbs and went to college downstate, always knowing that I’d work my way there eventually. My roommate somehow convinced the owners of a beautiful two-flat on the north side to give us a break on rent, and that was my point of entry to what would become thirteen years of city living in different neighborhoods and apartments. A lot happened during those years: post-college floundering, a career reset, significant relationships and heartbreaks, new friends, an evolving worldview, marriage, a dog.
Now my husband and I are moving to a house in the suburbs, a plan that has been in the works for over a year, and suddenly I’m scared. It was my idea to move. I said that I couldn’t spend one more year in this cramped apartment, sharing a tiny yard, and competing for street parking. Now I’m behaving like the girl whose wish for Christmas to be every day was granted and feels like throwing up at the sight of another ham.
This is what I wanted, right? Something to call our own. Paint swatches, garden bulbs, linen closets. A bedroom that accommodates more than a gd full bed. His and hers fireplaces. Space out back for a bomb shelter. Spacious blocks so that our dog doesn’t meet a frenemy every five feet. The blissful absence of getaway cars rolling through our alley.
Then again, there will be no corner bar with a gorgeous beer garden. I won’t be able to hop on the L and be downtown in the time it takes me to formulate a quality tweet. I can’t walk out the door and two minutes later be polishing off the best croissant this side of the Atlantic. I’m afraid I’ll become out of touch with important issues now that I no longer teach in a city school. I’m starting to wonder if the only remotely cool thing about me is my current zip code.
So what? Every move comes with trade-offs. We’re trading proximity to all the city has to offer for more space. Maybe it’s pertinent to mention that our new home is located within one mile of the city limits, and it’s not like we’ve been banned. There’s something else about this move that’s making me feel unsettled. It’s not just about what we’re giving up, and it’s not even about the dissatisfaction that plagues some of us when we finally get what we think we wanted. To get to the root of my fears I had to call upon my sixteen-year-old self and the Talking Heads.
One day when I was sixteen, a group of friends and I were wandering aimlessly around our suburb, as we were wont to do. We saw a real estate agent toasting new homeowners with champagne on the front lawn of their house. The whole scene made us cringe — the plush expansiveness of the lawn, the business casual attire, the canned laughter and clinking of glasses. We felt superior to them in all of their bourgeois complacency. We thought, and even said, that someone should please shoot us if that’s us someday. This was generally how we felt about the suburbs and the adult world. It was easy to believe in our youthful, rebellious, hippie hearts that we would be more interesting and our future lives would hold more meaning than those people.
So now I have to reconcile my thirty-six year-old reality with my sixteen-year-old self’s illusions. What happened to that girl? Am I letting her down? I’m now becoming what I professed never to become. Should I be living on a commune in Oregon? I don’t think so. I haven’t done drugs in decades, and I’ve seen Martha Marcy May Marlene. But there is a part of me that feels perturbed by the way we slide through life, one clichéd inevitability after another. Go to college, move downtown, get married, move to the suburbs, have kids, die. All of a sudden, I can identify with the Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime” lyrics, “And you may ask yourself — Well . . . how did I get here?”. Not only how did I get here, but who am I? Was I ever a city person, or just a suburban imposter trying to escape my vanilla roots?
Then I think, screw that. My sixteen-year-old self was pretty all right, if a tad judgmental, but also pretty clueless. Growing up where I did was actually great in many ways. And now that I’m a full-fledged adult, I can say with some confidence that this is the life I want. So what if it’s typical? When I think about it, I’ve done more choosing than sliding. I’ve made conscious if meandering career choices, we chose a dog that we choose to keep in spite of her many issues, and I choose my husband every day because he’s one in a gazillion. And after some debate about whether to pack up and move to Hawaii, we’re choosing to move to a Chicago suburb. So, in about a month, we’re going to be the jerks in versatile cotton blends clinking glasses on our front lawn. Cheers!