Sweet Home Chicago: Part VIII – On the Road Again

Amtrak Surfliner
Amtrak Surfliner (Photo credit: mark242)

I would have loved to have been able to tell you that while I was riding the Lake Shore Limited back to the Empire State, I had managed to hatched an elaborate plan that would in the end land me back in the city named after a stinky onion. That my desperation inspired a moment of brilliance. It would lend my story an air of drama that would be fitting for a badly written romance novel. But it was nothing like that. I conjured up my escape from New York a full two weeks after I arrived back from my trip. Oddly enough it was my complete lack of direction over the course of the previous year that made it possible for me to move to Chicago at the start of 2003. Who would have thunk it? I will make sure to get into exactly how I managed to pull that off, but first allow me to tell you how my moment of triumph still managed to play itself out like a Greek tragedy.

As you can imagine I was feeling pretty bleak after I left Chicago. That short trip gave me a glimpse of another life. One where pain and misery did not have to be a familiar constant. I honestly had a sense that I could grow to become a halfway decent human being if I could just somehow manage to break away from the life I lived in NYC. Go someplace far removed from the family drama that continued to play itself out time and time again. To get away from a city that was still very much in mourning from heart wrenching events of September the 11th. And to top it off, I could be making this new start along side someone that I felt loved me as much as I loved her. Yet there I was sitting on that train, helpless, as I watched everything that I wanted out of this life getting further and further away from me the closer the Lake Shore Limited got to Penn Station.

I spent an awful long time that day thinking up different scenarios that might get me back to Chicago before Christmas. Maybe I could get a job. Or maybe my parents would be foolish enough to bum their 23 year old son some more cash. But who was I kidding? Once I got a job, I probably couldn’t just get up and leave to visit Jess whenever I wanted. I also figured that it would be both selfish and foolish to depend on my parents, who did not have much, if any, disposable income, to make a second trip possible. Although I sure would give the latter a shot anyway. Regardless, both scenarios did not solve the biggest prevailing problem; that being that Jess and I were separated by almost 1000 miles. Both plans were only stop gap measures at best. I required a more permanent solution. I was completely stumped.

When I arrived back home I did what people tend to do after getting back after a trip. I spoke at nauseum about the wonders and joys that I had witnessed during my short time in Chicago to anyone that was within ear shot. Everyone smiled politely as I excitedly rambled on and on without any sense of cohesion. I can never tell a good story if I have to speak it out loud. My brain gets too excited and it wants to force out every point I want to make all at once. Which often times just leaves me sounding like a complete idiot, instead of the insightful soul that I am trying to portray myself as being.

A couple of days passed before I actually got to speak to my father about my trip. He had stopped by to pay my siblings and I a visit. He walked into my bedroom as I had my forehead pressed against my computer screen trying to formulate my escape plan. As soon as he walked in I hugged him and much like I did with everyone else, I crammed 5 days worth of events in about 30 minutes. My father could see how excited I was about everything. He could see the wild spark in my eye. I was filled with an almost manic energy. But as my mouth shot-off at a 100,000 words per minute, I could see from my vantage point that my father was lacking the enthusiasm that he had shown me before I left for my trip. I found it strange. Knowing the man the way I did, I figured that there was something that he wanted to tell me, but was waiting for the right time to jump in like if we were playing a game of double dutch. I had a bad hunch that this conversation was not going to go exactly like I had envisioned it. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to end my monologue by saying, “Dad I think I want to move out there. I think it would be good for me.”

I can’t remember word for word what my father said to me but it went something along the lines of “ Look Tom, I’m sure you had a great time out there an all. But let’s not get too carried away now. You went out there, had your fun with your little girlfriend. But let’s not get crazy.” I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get upset by my fathers words. Because the truth is I was pist. Really fucking pist. I felt like my father had discounted everything I had just said to him. He had trivialized what Jessie meant to me. I was mad. However looking back, now that I am 12 years older than I was then, I am kinda able to see what he was trying to do. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was trying to protect me from getting hurt. He could see that I was a runaway train, if someone didn’t apply the brakes soon, it would be only a matter of time before I would end up jumping the rails. Off course I didn’t see it like that then. To me my dad was only trying to discourage me from being happy. I was being a little delusional. But you gotta’ understand. That delusion was the only thing keeping me marching forward. Thankfully I didn’t over react in an outward manner. I kept my angry feelings to myself. After all, my dad made it possible for me to see Jess in the first place. So from my vantage point that bought him one or two get out of an argument passes. I bit my tongue, and allowed him to give me some generic fatherly speech uninterrupted. I wasn’t the happiest camper by the time my father left. But I had avoided any major drama between us, so I took it as a partial victory. And any remaining ill will that I might have felt ended up evaporating as soon as I got to speak with the wifey that night.

*******

As I had mentioned before, my Eureka moment came some two weeks after my return. I had spent an obscene amount of time scouring the web for a solution for my dilemma. I desperately wanted see her again, but a few visits sprinkled throughout the year was not going to cut it. I needed a permanent solution. At first I thought that maybe I could find a job out in Chicago. But after about 5 minutes of research it dawned on me that I didn’t have any  highly sought after skill sets that would get me paid enough to make an actual living. Unless that is you needed someone that enjoyed looking up comic book references online or downloading copyrighted music from Morpheus for hours on end. Nope. A job would not be the answer. It was then that I thought about going back to school. Maybe I could actually attend a school in Chicago. I could live in the dorms. Get my education on. With the pièce de résistance being that I got to be close to my lady love. This was something that the wifey and I had discussed on several occasions. But I always discounted it because I figured that it would be much too costly. However all that changed when I looked up how financial aid was actually granted.

The amount of financial aid that you get all depends on what you  or your parents earned during the previous year. This is where my being a slacker during a large portion of 2001 and the entirety of 2002 actually benefited me greatly. I made a measly $4,000 in 2001. Since I was an adult and made such a pathetic sum this meant that I qualified for full financial assistance. YES! This was my ticket. With Uncle Sam’s help I had just been handed an opportunity to change my stars while being closer with Jess.

I’m not exactly proud that being a lost slacker for so long actually benefited me in some way. Because I know that it goes against many of the ideals that we hold so dear in this country. That only hard work and perseverance are rewarded. But sometimes, for some of us, we require a lucky break. To have a door simply opened for us. Or to have fate gift wrap an opportunity and drop on our laps like it did with me. That type of unexpected generosity can serve as a source of inspiration for the right individual at the right time. I will admit that the idea of me going back to school was more a means to an end. Yet once I was there, it opened my eyes to the opportunity that I had Forest Gumped my way into. It taught me that I didn’t have to live my whole life feeling sorry for myself. That if I didn’t like who I was, then I could, through years of hard work, change who I was.  It’s a long process. And there have been plenty of times where I took my eyes off the ball and lost track of what is it that I wanted most out of this life. Yet sooner or later I always managed to find my way back on the right track.

All that was left was to figure out was what schools I wanted to apply too, and what major I wanted to choose for myself. The major was easy. I still had aspiration of being a comic book writer. So that one was decided within second. My major would be English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. As you can see from my choice of major, I did not take one second to consider what kind of employment I could actually attract with that major. What can I say, I was a very naive 23 year old. So all that was left was to figure out what schools I would be applying. There was Columbia, which had an awesome English program. Loyola, UIC, Dominican and so on and so forth. But I knew well enough to know that once the admissions office of those institutions took a single look of my high school transcript, and finished laughing uncontrollably for several long minutes, they would toss my application in the garbage and send me a rejection letter that simply stated “Nigga Please!”

I couldn’t apply to any community colleges because I didn’t know of any that had any dorms. And that was the only way I was going to be able to live in Chicago. It was looking like I had hit another dead end when I came across a little school situated on the south-side of Chicago. That school was Chicago State University. The school’s prerequisite were a little bit on the lenient side. And more importantly it had built a small dorm just a couple of years prior. Also the out-of-state tuition was just low enough that my financial aid would cover all but $1,300 of the cost. If I had any shot at going away to school, CSU would be it.

One of the first people I spoke to about what I was planning on doing was my mother. I sat her down and I laid out all the info that I had been gathering up for the past two weeks. I gave her the whole spiel that I wasn’t happy in NYC. That going away to school would be good for me. That it would be rough for me at first but that I would at least have Jess close by so I wouldn’t be totally alone. I was honestly expecting some resistance. To get some push back. But on the contrary. My mom had never been more receptive about anything that I had said in my life. My mom’s eyes got watery as she told me in no uncertain terms that “ All I’ve ever wanted for you kids was for you guys to get an education. I don’t want you to get stuck doing the shit that I have to do. I don’t want you guys to have to bust your ass every day just to make ends meet. I want a better life for my kids.” She cried and hugged me. She told me that she would miss me. That she would miss our nightly chats that we would often share after she had a long day at work. But that she would be more than happy to support me in anyway that she could. She gave me this deep loving hug that gave me a level of comfort that I had been lacking since I got back from the Midwest. I can’t put into words how much that moment between my mother and I meant to me. My mom and I have not always seen eye to eye. We have had our fair share of disagreements. There was a time when I was convinced that she resented me simply because I reminded her of my father so much. Yet here she was overjoyed that I had finally grown the courage to start living my life. It wasn’t a simple matter of just getting me out of the house. When she told me that she would miss me, I had no doubt in my heart that she would. My mother simply wanted a better life for me. And I wouldn’t have a fraction of the things I have now, if it wasn’t for her support during that time. I probably never will be able to repay her for the kindness that she granted me. I will be forever grateful to her for what she made possible. Within a few days of our conversation I went back to my old high school to request that my transcripts be sent out to CSU. I filled out my application, wrote a $25 check, and dropped it into the mailbox. It was a few days past the one year anniversary of the day that my boy had came over and gotten me to sign on Migente.com.

For whatever reason, I felt it was best that tell my father about my plans over the phone. I find it a little odd that I did that because I always feel that important conversations like these should best be done face to face. Maybe I had a sense of which way the conversation was going to go. Or maybe I just wanted to get it out there. Either way when it was all said and done  my father turned out to be the voice of the opposition. He was not at all receptive to my plans. He thought it was a ridiculous move. “What are you stupid? You’re going to leave your family for some girl you met on that computer of yours? What’s wrong with you? All she’s going to do is hurt you son! And then you will be stuck living in Chicago all by yourself, feeling like a chump! Think son, think! Remember, blood with always be thicker.”  I was a little less than pleased with his reaction. This was the second time my father had tried to burst my bubble. Once again I was upset, but I thought it was pointless to argue my point. I already had the ball rolling. I was going to make this happen with or without his blessing. I informed him that my mind was done. That I appreciated his concerns but I wanted something else out of this life. And whatever that was I wasn’t going to find it in NYC. My father persisted, telling me repeatedly that I was being foolish. That the risk was not worth it. But by that point I had stopped listening. Perhaps if he had not felt like I was brushing his concerns off them I might have been able to avoid what was coming next. I was just trying to avoid a big fight. I didn’t know if I was leaving or anything just yet, but if I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave in under any bad terms. I failed in those regards in every possible way. When we hung up the phone that day I was under the impression that he was upset. But I figured that he would eventually come around and support my decision. My father apparently saw it differently. Our truce was in it’s infancy and it was already over. I had just failed to get the memo.

*******

It was early December. I hadn’t gotten back any word on whether or not I had been accepted by CSU. I knew the Spring semester would be starting in about 4 weeks. I was growing inpatient. So I did the proactive thing and decided to call the admission office. The phone rang a couple of times. I was almost sure that nobody in the office would actually tell me anything. I figured they would just tell me to wait for the rejection letter in the mail. A lady picks up. I introduced myself. I go through the whole story that I had applied a couple of months earlier and that I had not heard back from the school yet. The lady asked for my name, and some other bits of personal information. She then told me in a very casual manner to hold on for a few seconds. A minute or two pass by when the lady comes back on the phone. She tells me in an incredibly nonchalant manner that hinted that giving folks this type of news no longer held any meaning for her, that “No you good. You were accepted. Registration is January 4th. So make sure you get here early. Oh and bring a check for $1,300. That will cover what financial aid did not.” I was in shock. It was finally happening. I would be living in Chicago in a little over a month. Just like that. My days in NYC were numbered. I thanked the lady with enough enthusiasm that it made her laugh. It was then that maybe she remembered what getting accepted by a school can mean to someone, because she suddenly became warm and told me “Congratulations young man. We look forward to seeing you on the 4th.”

The first person I told was my mom. She was so happy for me. She wasn’t too thrilled about the $1,3000 check. But she told me not to worry about it. That she would give me the money. Next person I told was Jess. We was pleasantly surprised by the news. I don’t think she ever believed that I would actually be able to make such a move. I mean she hoped and prayed that it would happen. But I don’t think she ever allowed herself to believe it wholeheartedly because she didn’t want to end up feeling disappointed. We both started making plans for the thing that we would do together once I got there. First thing on our agenda was to go see Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers. We were going to be a normal, run of the mill couple. Going on weekend dates. Dining together. Just doing things with each other all the time. We both could not wait. Life was good.

This was when my baby sister enters the picture. You see I have two other siblings. I have my younger brother, who is the middle child. His Name is Paul. He is about  two and a half years younger than I. Then there is my baby sister Jennifer. She is almost 9 years younger. Jennifer and I don’t get along much. She is for the lack of a better term, trouble. We are two vastly different people. And I don’t mean it in some kind of generational sense. We are two vastly different souls. She is a force of nature. She runs on pure impulse. She does what she want, when she want to do it, without apology. And heaven protect you if you cross her. She will stop and no end to get what she wants. Basically she sometimes lacks a moral compass. I don’t know if witnessing all the fights that my parents went through when she was a child, had some kind of developmental effect on her. But something happened to that girl. Something that made it easier for her to betray everyone that has loved her at one point or another. Of course at this time she was only 15 years old and was several years away from committing some of her more reprehensible acts. No, at this time she was just a troubled teen that enjoys hanging out on the streets a bit more than I thought was appropriate.

One night she got a call from a group of girlfriend that there was something going down somewhere. It was later in the evening. She was preparing to head out when I asked her where exactly did she think she was going? She told me she was going to hang out with some friends. My mom worked late, so often times I was the one making sure my siblings were fed and safe at home. I told her it was too late for that. That the streets are too dangerous and no place for some 15 year old kid and her ghetto fabulous friends. She didn’t take too kindly to my opposition. She started yelling. I wasn’t her father. Who the fuck did I think I was for telling her what to do. I wasn’t the boss of her. Well anyone that knows me, also knows that I can sometimes give just as good as I can take. So I started yelling right back at her. I told her I didn’t give a flying fuck who she thought I was or wasn’t. The fact of the matter was that I was in charge at that moment, and that it was my job to make sure that the people living under our roof stay safe at all times. And if I said it was too late and too dangerous to go out, then that was the end of the discussion. She cursed me out. I returned the favor. She tried to push past me. I grabbed her and physically placed her in her bedroom. Now I know that you are thinking. Man this 450 lbs guy is probably manhandling this little girl. My sister weighed about 220 lbs at the time. She is many things, but a little girl wasn’t one of them. And all I did was use my size and strength to heard her back into her room. Eventually I was able to calm things down. She called my father up. My father asked to talk to me. I told him exactly what happened. He then makes a request to speak to my sister again. I oblige. My sister get on the phone and starts protesting loudly. I guessed my father was taking my side. She hung up the phone angrily, yelled a couple of obscenities in my direction and slammed the door shut. I went to bed that night so glad that I would be leaving all this madness behind. Yet I feared what would become of my sister if I no longer was around to keep an eye on things.

It was two weeks before I was scheduled to leave for Chicago. My mother calls me on the phone from her job furious. I asked her what happened? My mom tells me that she had just gotten a call from my sisters school. Apparently my sister had gone to her guidance counselor. She told the counsellor that I had been beating her up and that she was not feeling safe in the house. The school took the accusation incredibly seriously. To make matters worse my father had gone into the school with my sister and confirmed what my sister had said was true. They were about to send some police over to escort me from the apartment. I was about to be homeless. My mom told the counselor that it had all been a lie. That she was not going to throw me out on the street. I don’t know if I was more shocked or furious. The thing was that I wasn’t so mad at my sister. We never had a great relationship. She wasn’t exactly my biggest fan. In a weird way I almost expected that out of her. But I could not wrap my mind around why my dad had gone along with the story. I had been hurt plenty of times. I’ve been betrayed and disappointed by almost every person that I’ve ever believed in at one point or another. With that being said, I had never, before, or since, felt such a sense of betrayal as I did by what my father had just done to me.

I knew that he was mad at me for leaving. That he felt that he was losing me at the moment that he got me back. But what in the “Wide World of Sports” was my father thinking? Why the fuck would he say that about me? I was about to leave for Chicago. I was going to leave to try and make something out of myself. Like Oscar Wilde even though I was in the gutter I was still looking up at the stars. My mom was able to somehow convince the guidance counselor to call off the police. That I would be leaving for Chicago shortly anyway. In a blink of an eye my little run at bliss came to a crashing halt. I was livid. Hate was spewing out of my heart like Mt Vesuvius and it’s ash was going to bury the memory of my father once-and-for-all. No more bitting my tounge. I was going to let my father have it.

I hung up with my mother and immediately called my father up on the phone. He picked up. The first words out of my mouth was “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” My father was caught off guard by my overly aggressive tone. I asked him again “What is wrong with you? Why the fuck would you do that? Why would you lie like that? I thought we were cool dammit! You made it possible for me to go to Chicago in the first place for Christ sake. So why the fuck would you say that about me?” My fathered stuttered and kept repeating something like” No son it’s all a misunderstanding. I swear. I will go to the school first thing in the morning and tell them they misunderstood me.” I was done with him. I kept asking what and why but the truth is I didn’t care to hear anything he really had to say. My father betrayed me in the worse possible way. I was done with him. As far as I was concerned my father was dead and buried in my mind. And I told him that in no uncertain terms. “You are dead to me. You hear me you fucking asshole. I don’t want anything to do with you. I hope I never fucking see your ass again!” I slammed the phone on the receiver. That would be the last words I would utter to my father until I saw him again four years later when I went to see him in the hospital after he broke his neck.

My last couple of weeks in NYC were bitter ones. I couldn’t wait to leave already. I just wanted to be next to Jess now. She was everything to me. She was all I had left. My sister made a few attempt to talk to me. To apologize for what she had done. She tried to play it off as it was all some goofy mix-up that just got a little out of hand. But I just no longer cared why it had happened. I was leaving. Chicago would be my home now. There was very little left for me to say.

On January 2nd my brother, Paul, dropped me off at Penn Station. He helped get my bags out of the car. He hugged me. Told me that he was proud of me. And to take care of myself. I was going to miss him. I know I haven’t talked much about him. But out of everyone in my family and all my friends, my brother has always been the one guy that I always felt sorta got me. He understood what made me tick. I was going to miss hanging with him. I was going to miss playing NBA2K2 and watching wrestling and our weekend drinking sessions. My brother was not just my brother. He was my best friend. If there was anything I could have taken with me to Chicago, I think I would have brought him along. I think we could have had a lot of fun together.

I got my boarding pass and waited in line much like I had done just 4 months earlier. Only this time I wasn’t accompanied by my father. This time it was just me, standing alone waiting for the Lake Shore Limited to take me back to where my future would be forged. There were so many conflicting thoughts as I boarded that train. I was already missing my brother and mother. I was going to miss my good friends. I was nervous. What if I failed? What if things didn’t work out with Jess? What if I flunked out of school? And I kept asking myself why did my father hurt me so badly? I still can’t quite answer that question. I have some theories. Maybe he had been doing coke and it impaired his judgement. Maybe he got this weird twisted idea that if I got kicked out of the house then I would be forced to live with him and he could then somehow talk me out of leaving. I don’t know what his reasoning was. All I know was that I didn’t want anything to do with him from that point on. Like I had mention in my very first post, my father claimed to have gone out to Chicago looking for me a couple of years before he suffered his accident. But I have no way of knowing if that was true. It does break my heart thinking that he may had been out there looking for me on campus, all alone. That the worst part about having unresolved issues. They feel so opened ended. There is never a sense of resolution. Thoughts lingering in my head forever after, like the ghost of Christmas past, reminding me of all that went wrong before.

*******

I never could have imagined that my life would have changed so much in the course of a year and three months. How so many little almost insignificant events came to play such an important part in my life. If my friend had not come over and told me about Migente. If I had not posted those rock bands on my page. If Jess hadn’t left a message on my guestbook. If I had not responded in kind. If I had not followed the wifey’s advised to reach out to my father. If My father hadn’t given me the money to go meet Jess. If the trip had not gone so beautifully. If I had not quit my job when I did a year earlier. If any one of those things had not happened I would have never had been able to move out to Chicago. I would have never married my girl. I never would have adopted the two most beautiful little pups. I would have never learned how to drive. I never would have bought a house. I would have never met so many beautiful and wonderful friends. I would have never had the inspiration to expand my horizons. I would never had decided on wanting to have kids. My life would be vastly different now. What my life would have been like if I had never left NYC, I couldn’t tell you. But I honestly feel like it wouldn’t have been good.

Some folks say that if a love is meant to be, then it will happen regardless.I don’t see it that way. Love doesnt just happen. It has to be nurtured. There has to be a sacrifice.  If a love is meant to be then you have to chase after it with everything that you have in your heart. It’s the only way you can forge a love that lasts. You have to put in the effort. You have to pay your dues. A great love affair can inspire all manner of things. My love inspired me to live. Without it I was lost. But with it, it gave me a reason to be a better version of me. And in my book that’s not to shabby.

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