In a week, I won’t live in Chicago anymore. Even though this move has been in the works for months (some might even say years), it doesn’t make it any easier. I’m doing what every normal person does when leaving a place: combing through memories and experiences looking for regrets. But I haven’t found any. I lived fully, deeply, truly here. But I likely wouldn’t have lived that way if my time in this town didn’t have an expiration date. 

Sometime last spring, I heard about a concept from a friend who heard about it from her coworker who heard about it from his roommate who probably made it up. The concept is the idea that when something happens to you or you do something while you’re living in Chicago that could only happen in Chicago, it’s a sort of rite of passage—except in Chicago, it’s called a “Chicago Star.” 

The Chicago flag has four six-pointed red stars on it. Someone once explained what each point on each star represents but, like most, I forgot. I associate the stars on the flag with this concept of Chicago Stars. These can be experiences that are as meaningful or as meaningless as you want: seeing your first rat on the street, sitting next to a person who isn’t quite all there on the bus, running to catch the train and just missing it—or worse, sprinting and barely catching it and having to ride to work a sweaty mess. 

I’ve been reflecting on my personal Chicago Stars: what are mine? How many are there? Do they count? I’ve seen plenty of rats, had many awkward bus rides, and barely missed more trains that I can count. I got to see my beloved Chicago sports teams lose from arena-, rink-, and field-side seats. I crawled under the State St. Bridge to avoid construction. I’ve eaten so many Chicago hot dogs and I should’ve eaten more. I’ve gone to the cool clubs and politely declined a bump of cocaine. I ran down the street, dancing to the perfect song for that perfect moment. I toured the Wilco towers and ate in the Signature Room the week before it shut down.

Four pairs of my shoes broke while I was walking miles away from my apartment. I’ve been followed down the street by someone yelling obscenities at me. I’ve been splashed and soaked by a truck driving through a big puddle. I drank a shot of Malört. I’ve fallen a little bit in love with every beautiful person I make eye contact with on the L. I got called out by the cops for having an open bottle of wine on the lake shore. I’m the proud owner of a Chicago library card. I carried a watermelon home from the grocery in my arms like a baby. I threw up at Lollapalooza. I hauled a Christmas tree a mile home. I swam in Lake Michigan during a thunderstorm. I biked down Ashland Ave. I cried looking at the skyline (that happened last night). 

Chicago Stars mean something different to everyone. To me, they are the stories I will tell about my early twenties. They are a badge of honor, representing the truth that I could—and did—make it in this town. And while I’m looking forward to my new town, to being in the mountains and reconnecting with my Appa-latch-ian roots, a part of me will stay in Chicago and part of Chicago will live in me. No, not in my heart or my memories. Chicago will live in me because I’m pretty sure Malört stays in your bloodstream for at least seven years. 

There’s something special about Chicago. It catches you by surprise. It caught me by surprise. Maybe everyone feels this way in their early twenties. Or maybe what’s special about Chicago is how special it is to me.

5 Comments

  1. Michal Rubingh

    Shedding a quiet tear for that watermelon baby!! Lovely lovely piece.

    Reply
    • Amy Gresham

      Love this

      Reply
    • Madison McDowell

      this is so beautiful. i can only dream these post-college years feel as good as your time in chicago

      Reply
  2. Izzy Nunez

    city gurlll

    Reply
  3. Ansley Kelly

    What a lovely, beautiful post. As someone who just moved away from a city that also took me by surprise, I can feel the grief and love here. Chicago is a delight. Thanks for sharing

    Reply

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