Champaign Dreams and Resolution Wishes

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To say that I did not enjoy my undergraduate college experience is a huge understatement. When I was working with my therapist, Dr. T, I referred to September 1996 – August 2000 as “the lost years.” Ones full of missed opportunity, regret and dangerous behavior.

There are many reasons for the crushing depression that overtook me as a young adult attending classes (sometimes) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention two. I’d spent most of my childhood in a constant state of distress and/or high alert. I had precious little time to process the abusive, neglectful upbringing I’d experienced and frankly, I’m not sure I could have survived long enough to actually leave home if I’d stopped to let it wash over me. But when I found myself dropped in the middle of corn fields and farms, a quiet place where there were few immediately threatening distractions, I came silently unglued.

At the same time, I severely underestimated the climate shift from pulsing, vibrant, stimuli everywhere you turn Chicago, to the slower, muted lifestyle of Central Illinois. I didn’t know enough to predict the tremendously negative impact this would have on my energy and intellectual curiosity, though in retrospect of course it couldn’t have been any other way. I recently watched an episode of Sex and the City. The protagonist Carrie Bradshaw finished a conversation with a handsome sailor, and then observed in voiceover: “If Louis was right, and you only get one great love…New York may just be mine.” I feel the same way about the Windy City. It fascinates, frustrates, challenges and beckons me. I am Chicago and Chicago is me.

So there I was in Urbana/Champaign gaining weight, phoning in my English Literature degree with Psychology minor (with a complete and ironic lack of self-awareness), drinking, taking drugs, hanging out with townies. I can admit now to a disgustingly passive death wish, but what bugs me the most about it is not the risky conduct itself. Risk I can do – always have in some form.

It’s the indifference, the lack of agency with which I dithered. It’s not who I am. I utterly, completely lost myself on the flat plains of the Midwest. I didn’t care about much. I’ve learned to forgive myself for most of it because I clearly had issues to work through and didn’t know any other way to cope. But still – sometimes it gnaws. The “best” years of my life flushed away with little to show for it except a degree I know I didn’t really earn.

I’ve spent 15 years pulling myself together and today, I’m rather proud of the life I’ve built. I have a talent (words) and I make a diverse, fulfilling career of it. I am healthier – mentally and physically – after many, many hours spent in individual and group therapy. The volatile, unstable parents are out of the way for good and amazingly, my sister and I came away from the experience holding hands in unshakeable solidarity. I live in a good home full of adorable animals and the perfect partner. I have a large network of talented, supportive friends.

And yet…

In my dreams, sometimes I still go back to Champaign.

It’s a few days before graduation and I haven’t completed a class. I won’t receive my diploma. And then they’ll come for the Master’s degree I earned (the right way) from Northeastern. I can’t have the latter without the former.

My father is badgering me for money and he’s in pursuit as I run through a monstrous, Gotham-like version of Campustown.

Bob doesn’t love me anymore. He’s leaving, and he’s driven us down to Urbana to break the news, leaving me behind in an empty dormitory.

I still grapple with nightmares. And they often occur within the context of four years a part of me will always want back up and redo.

In late April, Bob I went to Urbana-Champaign for the weekend. He ran a marathon and I wanted to support him, despite my trepidation. The experience was positive and cleansing in a number of ways, but most importantly for me, I no longer recognized the place that has been demonized by my subconscious. Like so many of my beloved Chicago neighborhoods, the towns have experienced the frenzied build of gentrification. Where once stood empty cow pastures near Memorial Stadium, there’s now a Houlihan’s restaurant attached to a large hotel. I also spent the time engaged in healthy activities utterly foreign to the emotionally stunted self of the late 1990s – writing, running a 5k, and notably, in the company of a man who has earned my complete trust and confidence.

The frequency of the dreams lessened afterward.

Tomorrow morning, Bob and I will pack the car, drop the dogs off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house (Bob’s parents) and make our way to Central Illinois once more. His friend’s wedding will take place at beautiful Allerton Park outside Champaign. Bob bought a new suit, I’m bringing my favorite gown and I already know we’ll have a splendid time. We always do. With every healthy return visit to a patch of earth so pregnant with personal trauma, the demons incrementally recede.

I expect to sleep soundly.

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The Unasked GOP Debate Question: Will Someone, Anyone, Please Drop Out of This Race?

Contempt

“So many questions in the aftermath of an ongoing exercise in excruciating national embarrassment. But the most important one remains unanswered today. With 14 candidates left in the field and the actual primaries just a couple months away, is anyone going to make like Scott Walker and go back to screwing up his or her regular day job?”

Read the full post on the Contemptor website.

 

Kris Bryant’s Rookie of the Year Win is Also One for Hopeful Cubs Fans

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“While I’m sure I’m not alone in confessing myself disappointed by Bryant’s lackluster post-season performance, the announcement offered occasion to remember how truly great he was throughout 2015. Bryant was a huge factor in the Cubs’ 97-game winning season, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 99 RBIs. Both of these statistics represent Cubs rookie records. Bryant also logged a .275 cumulative batting average and stole 13 bases. The numbers tell the story that the pain in our hearts almost occludes us from reading. Bryant had a great year, and under the capable management of Joe Madden, he’ll only get better.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Thicker Than Blood

“You can kid the world, but not your sister.”
– Charlotte Gray

“An older sister helps one remain half child, half woman.”
– Unknown

As the oldest of two in my immediate family, I fantasized often about having an elder sibling. Brother, sister, it didn’t matter much. The point was that in an unstable, unhealthy environment, it was a warm reprieve to imagine an older, stronger, loving person whisking Jenny and I to safety. Like Charlie Salinger from Party of Five.

It’s not that I resented being my kid sister’s de facto protector. Quite the contrary. I relished being the one dependable person she could always turn to, trusting I’d never leave her defenseless. But sometimes, many times, I needed an older, wiser hand and was left wanting.

As I grew up, I found surrogates that subsidized many of the lessons and unconditional support I lacked. In high school, my academic decathlon coach and history teacher Mr. Smith and my best friend Christian’s parents were vital adult influences. Mr. Smith once buried a quarterly absence report because I’d cut a class and he knew about the embarrassing, unpredictable wrath of my father. Christian’s mother Marnie took me to a nice salon for my first manicure, invited me frequently to family dinners and vacations and to this day, uses the instant connectivity of Facebook to remind me of her consistent pride and love. It’s an incredible, enduring gift.

I have a number of close friends with whom I enjoy some form of brotherly or sisterly relationship. But until I met Andrea through work 18 months ago, that secret yearning for an older sibling someone to love and look out for me, to understand, support and admonish me with equally passionate involvement (because it’s for my owned damned good), seemed just that. A quiet wish that must go unfulfilled.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened – only that the bond formed easily, quickly and robustly. Yes we share complicated upbringings, acerbic wit and a mutual love of sightseeing, but it’s more than that. I trust Andrea like I trust myself. It’s often the case that I don’t need to articulate my thoughts and feelings. They are intuited before I can form words.

Knowing that I am generally cold in temperatures below 90 degrees (tough way to live in the frigid, Windy City), I opened my mailbox last holiday season (Andrea is Jewish, I’m Protestant turned Hindu turned atheist) to find the longest, warmest, prettiest scarf ever knitted. Andrea made it herself. I’m able to wrap this thing around my head and neck five times with length to spare. It can be used to lasso errant co-workers, be folded and fluffed into a makeshift pillow – all of these variations have been successfully tested. Someone loves me enough to want to keep me warm from across the country.

I will be wearing this scarf when I greet Andrea in the baggage claim area at O’Hare Airport this evening. I haven’t seen my adopted sister in a full year. A lot has happened and I’ve missed her. I look forward to hugging her close and relish her baby talking to my pets while I answer questions. Am I getting enough beet juice? Do I like my new job? Is Dino not the sweetest snuggle sandwich on the planet? (The answer is “Yes” to all). She will finally meet Bob, who was not part of my life when Andrea and I were last together tromping through the streets of San Francisco. I am eager for them to love each other the way I adore them both.

And for the next few days I’ll let go – just a little bit – of the constant need to manage (fill in your favorite noun or activity here – like a Mad Lib). I’ll relax, overeat and entertain a whole Saturday that as yet still has no definitive plans. It’s ok to wing it. My big sister is on the way. She’ll know what to do.

Guess What Corporate Media? There’s More Than One Gun Lobby Worth Covering

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“Hell yes. The only thing that stops a cynical operation profiting from the death of innocent Americans is a positive operation, sick of the killing and ready to fight for change. Does the media possess the courage to cover the growing chorus of regular Americans calling for it?”

Click here to read the full article on the Contemptor website.

Some Cubs Fans (Like Me) Fighting That “Sick Feeling” to Rally for NLCS Game 3

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“I cannot take credit for the title phrase in quotes. That is the nomenclature of my friend and fellow Wrigleyville Nation Contributor Randy Richardson, who perfectly encapsulated the sad despair that overtook me in the third inning of NLCS Game 2 when Daniel Murphy hit his “cheap ass windblown pop-up homerun.” That latter quote is the work of the always soundbite-ready Bob, who despite the harsh words for Murphy’s at-bat, never betrayed a confidence shake in the Cubs eventual triumph. As we know, that was not to be.”

Read the full post on Wrigleyville Nation.

Whining and Wine: Hell is an Address Change

There are two tasks on this planet that make me, as my good friend Beth offers in metaphor, lose my bones. You know when something is so tiresome, boring and awful, you feel like you’re actually turning to jelly and slumping to the floor, as if the cartilage in the body instantaneously decided it can’t offer support against such an onslaught of tedium? For me, the two activities that cause this childish collapse are cooking (or really food preparation in any form) and moving.

I don’t mean literal motion. I mean the act of packing boxes, renting a U-Haul, filing address changes with government entities and other places with which one does business, cancelling the cable service. Under the most pleasant of circumstances, like the present set, the arduous work of changing homes is joyless. It’s time, often lots of it, spent doing something dammit, that should be simple. Time I’ll never get back. Each time I relocate, I swear it will be the last. And how the hell did I accumulate so much stuff anyway!?

When Bob and I started dating in February, it didn’t take long for either of us to understand that this is it. At some quick point we verbalized our mutual, peaceful satisfaction with each other. We’re off the market. It’s a wonderful, surprising certainty heretofore totally alien. I am a writer. We thrive on gray areas. It’s where we live and obsess. Great, painful products result. With Bob, I get the great without the painful. Huh. But this revelation came at an awkward winter housing moment. We were in love but so new. And then a renewal for my current lease arrived. I signed it. It seemed too soon to talk cohabitation.

By early May, I had my own set of keys to Bob’s condo and wasn’t going “home” (already the word was dissociating from my Rogers Park apartment) for more than the feeding and maintenance of Dino. To grab a few things that I needed in the love nest.

In early June, Dino relocated entirely. The act was infused with more than the simple transplant of an old, four-pound ball of fluff. Dino is my baby, at the time my only furry boo. We had a full, independent life before we met Bob. We were the dynamic duo that ate cheese in bed together. We couldn’t imagine a reason to improve upon perfection. We didn’t know we could have more than enough. So when Dino was released from his cat carrier into a new environment, with a warm man to cuddle and canine siblings to tease, I knew we’d reached a tipping point. The five of us were all in.

One thing you have to know about Bob. He’s quiet but that should never be mistaken for weakness or lacking in passion. Others have made that error at their own expense. His is one of the strongest personalities I’ve known. It’s part of why I love him. Supportive, solid, funny – without the noise and drama. Bob doesn’t make more work for anyone – including himself – than is logical. Combine this fluid, yet determined sense of purpose with my innate aversion to drudgery, and it’s probably no surprise to learn that it’s mid-October and I’m still not out of my old place.

I no longer sleep, eat or shower at the bachelorette, beachfront studio that served as a personal healing and growth bunker for four post-divorce years. My mail is forwarded. The furniture has been donated. There’s just boxes of memories left. I have no emotional attachment to the rooms where I recovered from cervical cancer surgery alone, or responded to knocks on the door from the police after my alcoholic ex came home from another night of binge drinking. The place has been done for me for a long time. And even if I hadn’t met Bob, Dino and I had been inching toward a fresh environmental beginning. Maybe it’s because of the literal and metaphorical baggage of the place, compared with the light warmth of our new home with Bob, Meko and Jude, that returning there to retrieve my photos, yearbooks, awards and trinkets feels so passé, a trip to another era that I am ok with leaving in the past.

But it’s increasingly clear, in the best, most comforting way that it’s time to bring this business to an end. The only sensation to rival my distaste for cooking and moving is an absolute hatred of loose ends. Bob and I (it’s all “we” now) are spending money on two homes. In increments we have merged our utility and grocery expenses, but the waste involved in delaying a complete domestic unification grows more oppressive. It’s not even something we have to discuss. It hums between us, a frequency that speaks: “I’m with you. There’s nowhere else I can be. Nowhere else I’d want to go.”

So tomorrow morning, we’re finishing what we didn’t realize we were starting in February. The natural second and final act – living together contentedly until death does us part. I will whine, rush and verbalize my displeasure with every second of the work. Bob will shift into focused task mode, silently doing the heavy lifting, pausing only to give me a kiss or ask what to do next. His legs will grow sore from all the trips up and down both sets of third-floor walkup stairs, but he’ll never complain once. That won’t stop him from smiling when I do – profusely. Then we’ll look at all the boxes in our living room, open a bottle of wine and I’ll be home. Never to move again.