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TODAY

Monday, July 23

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Detour

How long do you have to live somewhere before it becomes home?

I ask because I've never felt like any place was "home." I've moved a lot. Quite a lot, actually. In order to figure out how many places I've lived I need a piece of paper and a pen because I lose track. And I only count the places I can remember. I've lived in at least 40 different homes in the past 31 years. Quite a lot.

Consequently, one of the hardest questions for me to answer is "Where are you from?"

When most people get asked this question there is an automatic answer.
"Chicago."
"What part?"
"Pilsen."

So, when I'm asked this question I can't just rattle off an answer. I have to ask myself if they are looking to find out where I was born, where I spent the majority of my childhood, where I spent the majority of my young adulthood, where I lived before I moved to Chicago, or what area of the city I live in.

The most common response -- because it's the easiest, not the most truthful -- is "Central Ohio." If pressed for a precise location, I'll often say Columbus" and occasionally I'll throw in "but I lived all over the area." If they seem doubtful that I'm not exaggerating, sometimes I say "I went to every public school district in Pickaway County, a fair number in Fairfield, and a few in Franklin."

07142003_house.jpg

Fig1. Before moving to Ohio, Cinnamon lived in San Diego, in a house like this one.

Moving that often has some benefits. I developed a decent sense of spatial measurement which means I can adequately pack a moving van or a box with very little room for movement. My map-reading skills have amazed more than one friend. And switching schools in the middle of terms has helped me learn to blend into existing sets of cliques and groups.

I'm not saying I fit into them, I just found a way to exist on the peripheries without being noticed. I was reminded that my name was too exotic, my history too much an unknown, my bookish tendencies too off-putting, and my lack of the local accent a detriment to developing friendships. It didn't help that I wasn't really interested in developing deep friendships since I knew I would move and no longer see the people I liked or disliked again.

Columbus came close to feeling like home since I was there for almost 10 years, but there were too many gaps between what the city offered and what I needed. I still stuck out too much and the longer I was there, the less comfortable I was. I tried to develop friends in college, but they had a tendency to move away.

When I traveled to visit a friend attending the Art Institute of Chicago and I caught my first sight of the downtown skyline on that blustery, gray day, I felt awe. Not "I was in awe" but "I felt awe." It extended from my eyes to my belly-button and felt a lot like an expanding balloon. I found it hard to swallow, and I realized my eyes were dry because I hadn't blinked. I felt like the tourist I was, gawking at this skyline that most of my fellow travelers were ignoring.

I still get that sense when I'm approaching the city on an elevated line. I get that sense when I look out my Evanston office window and see an uninterrupted, but tiny, view of the city. When I approach downtown on I-90 I still look all around me, amazed by the Morton Salt roof, the Polish Roman Catholic Union, the mess of on-ramps and over-drives and concrete. When I fly into Chicago at night I understand what Liz Phair sang about.

07142003_skyline.jpg

Fig2. "I was flying into Chicago at night..."

I still wonder, though, how long I have to live here before I can claim this city as my own. My name isn't nearly as exotic here, my unknown history isn't an obstacle, my bookish tendencies are dwarfed by people I meet, and my lack of a local accent is assumed and goes unnoticed. And I'm developing friendships with people that I feel are worth keeping even if they were to move away.

I have goals of learning the history of the city, understanding the local politics, knowing a good watering hole in every area of the city, trying every ethnic cuisine offered at least once, and being recognized by people I run into. And, I'm slowly making progress.

But I'm not sure if this is enough to make Chicago my home. Have I been here long enough to tell people I'm "from" here? I've never felt the desire to be a part of a place before, so maybe it is.

 

About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper's home on the Web is poise.cc.

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