A year and a half ago I was living in Chicago, on the lake. I had a favorite movie theater, favorite coffee shops, theater, restaurants, a quirky local community.
But not all was perfect, my Boston-area family was not getting younger, and I have a sister with some special needs I wasn't seeing as much as I'd hoped. Also, for all the really great things about Chicago, I always felt distinctly Un-Midwestern, all of my jobs were crappy, and the final one was so bad as to push me back East.
So here I am. Understand: I'm not even back in Boston, which has only gotten more insanely expensive since I left 10 years ago (and it was pretty ridiculous then). No, I'm back in my home town, a place of legendary awfulness (on Facebook, a meme had us tied 6 for worst Boston suburbs, and a page dedicated to this place actually had a thread where people posted memories of finding their first dead body). There is a well-known song about our town that speaks to its poor reputation. A city of more than 60,000 that has not a single movie theater but does have an abundance of convenience stores, sub shops, and nail salons. We are about to lose our remaining hospital, in what is widely interpreted as just more proof of the indifference to our inhabitants (Got an emergency? The ambulance can take you two towns over. During rush hour).
I'm probably too hard on the place. It is on the coast, and we have a lovely beach. The older architecture is pretty, if in many cases dilapidated. A commuter rail connects us easily to Boston, and there is a small but eager arts group. I'm three miles from a nicer town's center, complete with indie movie theater (hallelujah, praise Jesus). The problem is that this was once a prosperous, glorious, historic manufacturing town, and when that all went away it's as if the place fell into a pit of insecurity and shame from which it never quite recovered, or thought it deserved to recover.
Movies are shot here: American Hustle, Black Mass, Joy. (You see that scene where she tries to demo the mop in the parking lot of Kmart? Right next to my Planet Fitness. When she meets the guy in a room in "Dallas," you can see through the window the train platform on which I used to stand to go into town to work. I live in a parallel universe with many movie stars.) The downtown is an Everyplace with potential everyone can see, but that can't seem to be realized. It's like a halfhearted curse: doesn't want to destroy us, just make us mediocre.
All of which begs the question as to why I'm here, of all the places I could be, and it's an excellent question. The initial plan was to live with my uncle for a few months while I got a job, got on my feet, and found a place I liked to live. I'd enjoy the New England landscape again, see old friends, start a new old life in a place close enough to see my family, but one that had Things To Do.
What happened was that I lived with my uncle for a year while running through several employment situations that only confirmed the endless varieties of living death available for a paycheck. So I sat myself down and explained that the next change had to be not just location and job, but a big, total change. A Life Change.
And things fell into place. I say this not to sound like those glib, slap-worthy tales of people who started their own business with only a $13-an-hour job and the $150,000 in their trust fund, but because things really did fall into place, AND I was willing to make compromises (like living back here) to do things that will ultimately be good for me. And it was a tough, tough year getting to that point.
I will tell you how I came to live for free in a house by a bar and a 7-11, and how I went back to school full-time, and how I survived Millennial Madness. Later. For now: a hot bath.