I admit it. When the Cubs won the World Series, I was out on my high-rise balcony hooting and hollering with the rest of Chicago. After all the talking Ryan and I have done–and all the blogging that I’ve done–about our desire to leave Chicago (first for Los Angeles, and finally back to be with my NYC family), I felt a little hypocritical joining in the joy.
And on the other hand, a little bit not. Watching my fellow Chicagoans dealing with the bittersweet, down-to-their-core joy of the end of the longest drought in sports history has been humbling. I forgot how much I used to love this place and the people in it. I’ve spent the past two days remembering that I still do, and so happy for the people with whom I share this, my adopted city of now almost 14 years.
There was a time I never thought I’d want to leave it. I used to pull the Chicago skyline around me like a warm blanket, feel a sense of relief and joy seeing the city’s hinterland spread below me on airplane flights back home. Express an abiding sense of gratitude that my sense of home had changed to this world city and not the east coast world city where I lived until my early thirties.
Ryan and I aren’t sports fans, but like the rest of the Chicago universe, we got caught up in the Cubs drama because for the past few weeks here there was no way not to. How do you not root for your own city, to heal the pain of generations of loss that finally look like they’re coming to an end?
My family would suggest baseball is in my blood, or should be. We’re from Queens. All my adult nephews are Mets fans, as it should be. That would explain why Brenden and I were keeping tabs with each other through Game 7. When you’re a Mets fan in New York, you’re a default Cubs fan in Chicago. It’s the relatability of underdog to underdog. It just works out that way.
My sister was a Yankees fan. I once watched her sprain her wrist by punching the furniture so hard after a bad call that she broke the arm of the living room couch. She dragged me to a Yankee’s game once to root for the Bronx team. I was bored. They never seemed to stop winning. What the heck did they need with me? Especially when we could have been at the zoo instead?
Underdogs have always made a lot more sense to me. When I moved to Chicago in 2003, my first neighborhood was Wrigleyville. I arrived in April, into a tiny apartment a quarter mile from Wrigley Field. I spent the entire baseball season telling myself to go to a game, but settling for watching my Camoes of blessed memory sit on the windowsill and listen to the slightly muffled, occasional roar from the stadium.
Until the NLCS. That was the last time the Cubs swept me away. Living near the friendly confines, it was inevitable. I’ll never forget venturing over to Sheffield to engage in that venerable Cubs tradition–watching the game through the window of a sports bar across the street from Wrigley Field, while hearing it happening live directly behind me. Game 6 with the Cubs ahead 3-0, on the verge of the World Series. It was a magical night. Until the eighth inning–but you already knew that. Afree Steve Bartman yanked that foul ball away from Moises Alou, I’ve never experienced a crowd of people grow so angry in an instant. I saw first-hand the reason he needed a security escort out of Wrigleyville that night.
The city finished deflating even before the Cubs did, and my yen to explore Cubs Nation along with it. It was my first big lesson about being a Chicagoan. You always have to keep the faith for later, because the odds will always seem like they’re stacked against you in the here and now.
On and off for the past 14 years, I’ve wanted to go back. As an adopted North Sider, I’ve always thought it’s my duty to eventually go to a game. That it would be a sin to eventually leave Chicago after so many years and never see the Cubs play at home. After all, Chicago has been challenging because life is challenging, but Chicago has always been there for me. You can’t hear yourself think in New York, feel yourself feel, the way you can in the Windy City. Unlike my Gotham hometown, there’s a kind of psychic elbow room here, a spaciousness keeping this world city just enough at bay to give you a shot at figuring out who you are. Or at least where you’re hiding inside.
I was on autopilot when I left New York City. This place gave me the gifts of recovery from emotional codependence, awareness of my ADHD, new directions in my career, my Judaism, and my ability to reconnect with my family after so, so long. And yet, getting to those gifts of self-awareness and connection has been hard work. And if there’s anything my long-ago departure from New York should tell you, it’s that when the emotional going gets tough, sometimes I just get going.
I still spend far too much time rolling into an emotional armadillo in a misplaced attempt to protect myself from…what? The stress of growing up in my crazy family? The life I lived in another city a decade and a half ago? Or maybe I’m much more able in my mid-forties than I give myself credit for being. Maybe I run away because after all these years, I simply never bothered to turn the autopilot off.
I’ve backed off from so much in this city that I should have embraced. I do the same with my family and my hometown. (Just ask Brenden how long he’s been waiting for me to call him back.) I know that armadillo move is the very reason I came to Chicago. To spend years learning that it’s my nature. And to spend years learning how to let it go.
Ever since saying we were leaving this city two years ago, very little about Chicago has gotten through to me. It took the end of the curse and the 108-year drought to do it. But it did it. Unrolled me enough to hit me right in the heart. Ryan has remarked on the way I’ve responded to the North Side miracle. Like I’m someone else.
No. I’m just someone I haven’t been in a while. I’m an adopted Chicagoan who remembers that he loves his adopted city. I won’t live here forever, but I will live here for now. I owe a great deal of thanks to the Cubs and my fellow Chicagoans for reminding me of the love I shouldn’t hold back for both of the world cities I consider my home.
It’s time I called Brenden. He needs that callback–and so do I. I’ll be pulling that big-shouldered blanket a little tighter around me from now on, too.
And next spring, I’m gonna take me out to a ballgame.