My mother always taught us to clean up after ourselves: put your shoes in your closet when you take them off, fold your clothes when they’re finished in the dryer, load your dirty dishes. It always seemed like common sense, but I learned that not everyone operated this way when I moved into a house with 33 other girls my junior year of college.
Keys were cast on coffee tables and shoes were scattered under sofas, while laundry was often left in the dryer until someone else pulled it out and piled it on the counter, where it would sit, wrinkled, until they realized they needed a T-shirt or underwear. Though e-mails were occasionally sent (“Has anyone seen my X, Y, Z?” ) sometimes items just went missing and, if you were lucky enough for them not to be mistakenly taken hostage by a sister with a similar-looking black tank top or pair of size 8 flip flops with embroidered sorority letters, they often did not resurface until the house was emptied for summer vacation. Confused by how anyone could live like that, I made good on living as per my upbringing.
I knew going into it that Chicago was going to be a short two months, a far cry from the three-quarters of a year spent in Des Moines dorms and sorority houses. I knew that. Luckily, my living habits are just that — habitual. I didn’t have to worry about belongings resurfacing weeks later. My shoes always went into my closet at the end of the day. I always washed my dishes after meals. I always folded my laundry promptly after drying. Cindy would have been proud; I kept my space clean and organized like a pro.
But when Tyler walked into my room for the first time, he said I looked like I had barely moved in. A little hurt, I glanced around. Having been there for almost a month, I was definitely settled: my cube was built, my bed was inflated, my picture frames were out, my books were displayed.
But this was Chicago; I was here for two months. No nails went into the walls, no headboards or bed frames were hauled in. I tread lightly during my stay, partly to ensure I got my security deposit back in full, partly to avoid the hassle of getting the furniture back out again in a few short months, and partly because it was no use kidding myself that bringing in heavy furniture and leaving shoes in weird places would mean I would get to stay any longer.
Treading lightly and living organized made packing a snap. There was no retracing my steps to search for cords under chairs or bras behind the dryer. There were no forks in incorrect drawers or nail polishes stashed where they ought not be. As far as I can tell, and because I haven’t gotten any texts from my roommate suggesting otherwise, treading lightly did its job: everything made it into my little red car and made the trip back to Kansas City. (OK, I left a quarter and two tap lights in the closet and a piece of my French bulldog paper by the light switch. Have at them, Adrienne.)
But for all my material efficiencies when it came to packing, and for all my light treading in the apartment, there’s no way I could have packed myself back up to make this trip. When it comes to my feelings, I take giant, heavy, bold, unapologetic steps. There are pieces of myself all over that city, with those spaces then left to absorb Chicago in return — the people, the culture, the freedom it gave me. And I guess that’s just the give and take with me.
I’ve never been the type of person to be in a place and not be of it, too. Door County, with its sunsets, its hospitality, the family memories; Ireland, singing a cappella at Kylemore Abbey and the cliffs of Moher, hands held with my best friends; Des Moines, where I’ve learned and written and interned and loved; and Kansas City, which has been my entire life; they all make up a big part of who I am, and they all have a little piece of me.
I spent two months in Chicago and, perhaps unintentionally, I left more of myself there than planned, absorbed it more than planned — and no amount of retracing my steps or rifling through drawers will turn me into the person I was before that.
But somehow, although I’m awfully sad and a little bit disoriented being gone, I feel more whole, more right and more me than I ever have. And anyway, my car was full enough as it was.
“Such journeys have convinced me that it is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us.” — The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid