Last weekend I traveled to Chicago for C2E2 (their comic con) with my parents and brother. The event was phenomenal, the costumes were outstanding and the people were kind, but it wasn’t the time with my fellow nerds that struck me the hardest.
The city itself was an obstacle I was nervous to tackle. I lived in Chicago for school many years ago and it’s where I went went through some of the biggest hurts of my life. It’s where I was assaulted at 20, where I had a nervous breakdown, where I was hospitalized and where I learned that I wasn’t invincible. I’ve returned a few times over the years since leaving, but each visit took a piece of me. I saw specters of failure in each familiar building, every friend who still lived there.
I went into this trip excited for my first C2E2, yet I worried I wouldn’t be able to take everything in through clear eyes. I thought about backing out several times, but my partner kept me from that course of action. To my surprise, once I was on the ground with my family things just felt different. I believe what made the trip better for me emotionally was the presence of people I know have my back through anything and vice versa. Laughing with my brother kept me from looking over my shoulder. Helping my father get his bearings on the CTA gave me a sense of pride, and reminiscing with my mom as we walked through the French Market made me forget for a moment the pain of the past.
On reflection, I’ve realized that with time and space we heal. The part that made Chicago so painful for me was the sense of shame I felt over leaving. All my life I wanted to conquer the big city; I left feeling like it had won the battle with me. My bestie Jesse – who I met at University – reminded me that it’s our responsibility to make decisions that are good for us regardless of what other people think. Leaving was difficult, but now I choose to think of it like this: walking away from bad things to heal is brave as hell. I wouldn’t be as happy or healthy as I am today if I had remained. You don’t get a medal for staying and suffering, but you do win something great when you leave. I won a second chance at life. Slowly, I’m letting go of the bitterness to see the city anew.
Tip for returning to places that hold painful memories: don’t go it alone if you can avoid it. Find a partner or a group that keeps you from focusing on the hurt.