I’ll be up front. It’s been a painful year. No big surprise—residency has a tendency to suck, intern year especially. No one who goes into this enterprise is unaware of this. Coping mechanisms are essential—hobbies, friends, family. Alcohol’s in there somewhere, too. Social media tends to be a double-edged sword — I would feel on some superficial level connected to the family and friends I’ve left behind, but my conclusion after checking my Facebook or Instagram feed for the twentieth time that day was that everyone is spending all their time vacationing in exotic locales and eating exquisite food. (That’s an exaggeration, of course, because no resident has time to putter around on the Internet that frequently. But the end result is the same.)
Since moving back to Chicago, on nearly every Sunday, I take the CTA to the old neighborhood to see my parents for Mass and lunch. I ride rails and buses that I’ve known since childhood. I pass both tourist landmarks and landmarks of my life. I remark at the changes that have taken place since I was away and embrace the reassuring constancy of what has remained. But most of all, there’s a part of me that’s still in a measure of disbelief that I’m actually home again. The excuse of my birthday got me to reflect (more so than usual) on just where I’ve been in these few decades and wonder just what I thought, during those times, I would be doing with my life. I’m not exactly sure that I had any concrete thoughts about where I’d end up, honestly, but at the very least, that certainly means I never thought I’d be back home. I mean, when it was time for me to go to college, moving Very Far Away From Home was no insignificant motivation; and it seems to me that a lot of my decisions subsequent to that were driven by the desire to establish Clear Separations between me and the life I left behind.
But all that seems somewhat silly now. My parents aren’t getting younger, and someone needs to watch over them…and maybe there’s some feeling of a need to make up for lost time. And, as much as I love and miss New York, and as much as I learned to love Wisconsin (and PA, too, I guess…), there’s no denying that there’s really only one place I consider to be truly Home, and it’s not a bad thing to come back to it. And if I consider that this all started with an invitation to interview received well after I had considered my application cycle as complete and had already begun planning for another four years in Wisconsin…I think I was incredibly fortunate. Weird, how these things work out sometimes.
Some things you don’t forget.
“Did you have classes on September 11?”
“When were you supposed to be in at school?”
“I wanted to be there at 12:00.”
“What day was September 11?”
“Did they cancel classes?”
Some things you can’t remember.
I can’t remember if I tried to call any of my friends to see if they were okay.
I can’t remember if I tried to call anyone, for that matter.
I can’t remember who called me or tried to call me.
I can’t remember whether anyone who tried to call would have been able to reach me, anyway.
I can’t remember when I finally turned off the TV.
I can’t remember when they let us back below 14th Street.
I can’t remember when I finally let myself go below Houston Street.
Some things you wish were not even a dream.