It’s been four years since I started my first real job in the city. Commuting an egg timer-worthy distance might not be appealing to everyone, but I love it. I treasure the quiet time I have on the train to daydream, to write, and to relax in a wink of time built into my day that I don’t have to feel selfish about enjoying. I like walking home in the evening and glimpsing families sitting down for dinner through curtains that haven’t been closed yet. With this in mind, I hope you’ll understand why I get defensive when someone asks me, “When are you moving to the city?” as if it’s a Pokémon evolution or state of nirvana I haven’t yet reached.
My mom worked in downtown Chicago for most of my childhood. Every morning she’d pack up a black, Lesportsac bag and walk the handful of blocks from home to the train station. It was wondrous to me that while I was tucked into a lift-top desk in our little neighborhood, a train swept her off to the big city. Her very routine was an adventure. In a single day, she lived two different lives, and I found it exciting and courageous that she belonged to both me and the city.
Splitting time between the city and suburbs was woven into my DNA. When I hear that evening train horn, I anticipate the sound of a mailbox opening, a key sliding into a lock, and dinner pots being put to work in the kitchen. The soothing sounds of home. For as long as I can remember, I craved a life illuminated in equal measure by high-rise windows and Morse code constellations. I’ve been in love with this life long before I lived it, but not everyone finds it enchanting.
When you’re a young person working in the city, most people assume you live there, too. Probably with a roommate or two, with some gripes about rent that you could pull from your pocket as readily as loose change. Gossip about metropolitan life has appeared on the soundtrack of every adult job I’ve had. Most of my colleagues have been transplants from other Midwestern states brought to the city in search of more job opportunities and fewer cornstalks. As a suburbanite, I’m an outsider to be studied and converted.
I dread the suburbs conversation, because even though I’m not ashamed of where I call home, it inspires that familiar feeling of high school cafeteria alienation. Every day is Wednesday, and I don’t own anything pink. I always break the news the same way: Actually, I live in the suburbs. Always using that word: actually—like I’m bracing to tell them I’m from another planet. I can sense the curiosity, the confusion, and to a certain extent, the pity. I can see them questioning if we’ll have anything in common, if I’m more familiar with animal husbandry than WiFi, or if I’m on house arrest.
For a lot of people, the suburbs are another planet—an inhospitable territory lacking in brunch options. Moving to the city – both personally and professionally – is a common rite of passage, whereas life in the suburbs suggests defeat: either you were either too afraid or unambitious to leave or circumstances forced you back into its picket fenced clutches. My peers are always eager to find out when I’m going to make my pilgrimage to the city. They ask so confidently, as if they were asking about the next appearance of Halley’s Comet and not when I plan on unearthing my roots.
For entirely too long, I let their questions make me feel small, boring, or unimpressive, but now I puff out my chest and defend this little life that I’ve cobbled together across two decades of chutes and ladders decisions. The magic you inherit is always the most difficult to explain, especially magic found in the mundane. I’m happy to be right where I am, for now, smack dab between the life I grew up with and the life I’ve created for myself, walking through sleepy suburban streets and shuffling through a concrete jungle.