I spent the first two weeks of my life in Chicago grieving and fretting. Moving here meant closing a chapter of my life, and I kept getting weepy at the thought of what I was leaving behind. There would be no more coffee with my mom in the mornings, no more beer with my dad at night, no more bird-watching with Cleo by the window facing the pond…etc
I found myself crying over the distant past. At the train station I saw a little girl who looked like my little sister at that age and I burst into tears.
I obsessed about how everyone is aging and how sooner or later everyone will die. I texted my sister, referring to my parents: “I don’t like the thought of going back home and them getting older and dying.”
I was flooded with regret over how I spent my twenties; it wasn’t “the time of my life” as a guy I worked with said about his twenties. Mine was more a period of confusion, introspection, withdrawal, and fear.
I was feeling guilty about living in an expensive city when I have debts to pay. Because of what I perceived as an abnormal amount of guilt, anxiety, regret and grief I concluded that I’d gotten in over my head by moving here alone. So, after only one week of being here I hopped on a train to go home.
Almost. An event occurred that my mom described as God making the decision for me; twenty minutes before I was supposed to board the train the temp service called saying that the position I wanted, which was the same position I’d had in Grand Rapids, had opened up and that I was to start the next day.
Still, I went home that Saturday night to sort through my feelings. I made a bed for myself on the couch and Cleo hopped up and lay down next to me and stayed there the whole night. I spent the next two days crying, processing, and undecided on whether to stay in Chicago or go home.
On Sunday morning I decided to stay home. I woke up feeling nauseous.l My mom made coffee and I sat there with her. I started crying and told her I was coming home. I immediately felt better, and later in the afternoon I was still confident with my decision. I watched the Lions game with my dad and brother and the Lions beat the Bears. I took that as confirmation, and as I sipped my patriotic blue beer I contentedly resigned myself to more Sunday afternoons just like this.
By evening, though, indecision crept back in. I grappled with whether I should get on the bus in the morning to a life of improv, Bears games, and adventure, or stay at home in Michigan and embrace what I had there. I went to my grandma’s and cried on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to do.” I wept. “I know, it’s hard.” We went back to her room and lay on her bed with her dog Raven and talked. I told her I felt too old to be following the Chicago dream and felt regretful and worried about money. She told me to stop worrying about money and start worrying about my heart and soul. Raven hopped onto my chest. She looked at me sympathetically and licked my face.
So, in an effort to take care of my heart and soul, I’ve been praying and reading devotions and listening to spoken word poetry. I have been trying to make meaning out of (and feel at peace with) the four years I’ve spent as a sort of hermit and the bleak years before that, beginning at 16, when I was socially anxious and withdrawn and Eeyore-like a lot of the time. And, as if the colossal weight of all of these realities weren’t enough, I sat there struggling to accept that I made the choice to be withdrawn and was now living with the consequence of that choice: I’d robbed myself of a normal young adult life.
If I’d chosen to participate beginning at 16 and through my early twenties, I could have had a life like my little sister, who was always going out and doing things with friends, who eagerly moved out at 18 and spent the next several years living a fun twenty-something’s life; she dated and fell in love with her now boyfriend, and they have friends of their own age who they get together with regularly, drinking beer on porches and having Breaking Bad marathons. Or I could have been like a friend of mine who cherishes her nostalgic college years. She lived on campus and had the normal, fun college experience of roommates, campus events, and clubs. After college she did what I thought of doing as a 20-year-old: She’d work for several months to a year and travel. Then she’d come back and work some more and travel again.
Now that I am spreading my wings in Chicago, I fighting the urge to compare myself to the despairing Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he gets out of prison. After getting a little taste of the freedom he’d missed out on during his 30 year sentence, the pain is too much to bear and he hangs himself.
I don’t plan on hanging myself, but I need to wrap my mind around this in a healthy way. I need to create a story that I’m at peace with. I think I will feel the best if I go with the story of being a late bloomer. I was content to live at home until 28, when I finally spread my wings to fly.
I keep asking myself, too, if I’m too serious and prone to melancholy to do improv. Maybe I have the sensitivity of an artist, not the lightheartedness of a comedian. That’s why I told my friend Tara Sunday, when she texted me a picture of a cake she’d proudly decorated, that I think I will learn from the improv class that comedy acting is an old childish dream so I’m just going to let go and enjoy the experience and see what I can learn from it.
Now I have been in Chicago a month. The grieving has stopped, I’m only fretting a little, and I had my orientation at Second City Sunday morning, where I listened to the director of the improv program explain that improv isn’t all about being funny. It’s about learning how to play again. (When he said that, I thought about how I’d been getting down about feeling old.) He went on to say that improv is about getting out of your head and getting in touch with your feelings and humanity, and I thought about what my grandma said. “You need to start taking care of your heart and soul.” I also thought of how in seventh grade I developed a fear of public speaking. How I withdrew and never quite came back out. He said it’s about connecting with other people, and I thought about how socially anxious I’ve been for all of these years. Maybe my mom was right; maybe the phone call at the train station was God making the decision for me, because he knew better than I did how good it would be for me to stay.