When we look at the map, we sort of resent Indiana. It’s another state, but like… is it? I mean, to us. We are driving from Michigan to Illinois and there is a stretch of road that is governed by a different body, but it’s all the same green trees, flooded fields, dead deer, and always road signs beckoning us to Starbucks. It begs the question of state borders.
What happens in Indiana is a traffic jam. As soon as we notice we’re there, we are stuck, and suddenly what should have been half an hour in Indiana is drawn out into an exercise in patience I do not have. I get so mad at the people zooming past us on the shoulder and start making fatalistic jokes. This is a coping mechanism that is not cute, and the whole car becomes a vessel for frustration.
So when we are out and racing toward the Chicago skyline, we are free again. Even in the thickening traffic that takes us through the city, we are laughing and singing inane pop lyrics and imitating the breathy vocals. We have both been to Chicago, and it is funny to be back in this new shared context. Chicago is a place I’ve lived before, if only briefly, and I’m taken aback by the feeling of familiarity and the wash of memories that overcome me, in spite of the brevity of my tenancy there. The park where I first got runner’s high. The sidewalk where I would get cat called. The street where I was doused by water as a car rushed by. The place where I got my nose pierced. The train I rode, face flooded with sweat, pressed up against the throngs of commuters. One of the many grocery stores I would go to as a fun activity in a time where I had no social life. All these places I’ve spent time in, or lived in, are riddled with feelings of longing despite, or maybe because of, the recognition of bad memories and faults in place. There was a me in this place that I no longer am. We are still burnt out, filled with the heat of the idling car, and we don’t feel the need to see the city. But this is kind of sad. It’s a beautiful city with a proud history.
We meet up with someone who has always been a bright light, who tells us, in a way, that she has dimmed. She is serious and thoughtful and also very playful. We all pour a little kerosene between us, and rub twigs together, furiously trying to invent fire, to light each other up, to use our breath to fan the flames. By this I mean we sit in a Nepalese restaurant, looking toward the future, looking toward one another. For me, the fire at least temporarily catches. The crackle is inside, and I am excited.
She takes us around the corner to a church that is not for prayer but for circus. A different kind of worship at least as old. Another holy place where people are asked to dress appropriately – either clothes for moving or punk outfits for viewing. The rafters are home to pulleys, the balcony looking down over barefoot and muscular people listening to T.I. and calling out to one another as they become weightless. I want to know how – how to move like this, how to have this strength, how to have a space like this that can be used for many. It is all about relationship to structure. She tells us she likes the lyra because its hoop lends stability, unlike silks. I think about the shape and texture of this trip. I am not sure what it’s made of. We want to stay and talk forever, and soak in the warmth of one another, but we have family that is pulling at our strings and we must go.
In a suburb that we are repeatedly told is within Chicago, not the suburbs, we step into a home frozen 15 years ago. Or it is somehow very distinctly 15 or more years ago, and also very presently now. By this I mean it is flooded with newspapers. Stacks of newspapers sit on every surface – columns proclaiming the state of the world, proclaiming Lori Lightfoot is Mayor, proclaiming politics. These newspapers are precious. They are important. They will be poured over by many, many sets of eyes, and then brought to another family’s home where they will be diligently read.
We stay with a pair of cats my cousin thinks are dying, fresh-baked bread that we are to take across the next border, blueberry muffins and a new back porch that we tour barefoot in the cold rain. We are given two beds, one of which is surrounded by fashion magazine pages and the other of which has a life-size Jeff Goldblum printed on it. We are told about the city’s new mayor and are handed the front page. She is black, she is queer, she is a cause for hope. We talk about politics and sometimes disagree, but mostly we agree that we are worried. Everyone is worried and trying to manage that. This is not new. This is not something we are escaping in the car. We take the bread and a collection of hand pies and we leave with a series of directions that will soon be forgotten and deferred to Google.