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My lust for St. Louis was not learned in school. My education came from experiencing the city with those who loved it most: the writers, the bar owners, the politicians, the urban explorers, the artists, and the entrepreneurs. I had dozens of mentors, most of whom had no idea of their role in feeding my St. Louis addiction.
I took tours (sometimes legally) of abandoned, historic buildings, where we took away nothing but a finer appreciation for the past. I went bar hopping in North City, meeting some of the town’s finest tavern keepers, residents, and dance partners. I played tennis weekly with a former editor of this magazine, had many one-too-manys with poets, was on the field with a fraudulent Fox Sports access pass when the Cardinals won in 2006, biked the city with a brewer from Schlafly, explored the caustic depths of the East Side, and got into it with the city’s tax collector while drinking vodka. A city like St. Louis—where authenticity, wit, and resourcefulness are held in higher regard than style, money, and stature—is dangerous only in its ability to draw you in, to intrigue you, and to never let you go. Because of this inextricable grasp, anyone who knew me assumed I would never leave.
By the spring of 2011, I was teaching language arts to pubescents full-time at my dream school, writing for the local food rags, getting free drinks at most bars around town, and had just been hired at Webster University as an adjunct to teach media writing. And then I fell in love all over again. With someone who lived in Chicago. So that summer I moved to the Windy City with no job, no friends, no connections—just the boyfriend.
In a way I feel like I’m on vacation—a one-and-a-half-year-long vacation, complete with no job—hiding out, unknown, unmotivated, and unwilling to be who I was in St. Louis. I’ve compared it to taking a break from being me: the social misanthrope who went to bars alone but was never lonely, the adventurous scout who could always find something to photograph, the annoying critic who would kindly let people know when they weren’t doing their jobs.
I often blame myself for having such a rotten time here in Chicagoland; it’s as if I’m defensive of my roots and won’t allow myself to make any other connections outside of the ones I already have in another place. But I voluntarily uprooted myself from St. Louis, welcoming the challenge of discovering a new city with new opportunities, new people, and new ideals. However, I’m hoping 1.5 years is long enough to decide definitively that this is not where I want to be.
Sure, I’ve recently discovered a few redeemable aspects of Chicago—like the group of tough ladies within 10 years of my age who hold a weekly knitting night at a dive bar, or the one-cent rides the Chicago Transit Authority offers on New Year’s Eve. But my yearning for home steadily increases when the bar doesn’t serve Busch, the person ahead of me doesn’t roll a stop sign, the ravioli isn’t toasted, and the guy next to me on the bus doesn’t ask where I went to high school.
In the end, maybe my issue is that I’m merely deluded about how much my presence meant to St. Louis. Many like me have come and gone, making an impact before moving on; perhaps I am no different. But many of them eventually returned to settle down, falling into their comfortable groups, routines, and haunts, realizing with pride that this is home.