A journalist observes life in the far north.
My brother sent me pictures from his visit to Chicago, where I am going in a few weeks. That’s where our parents were born and we were born. We grew up north of the city in a resort town turned gritty, faraway suburb. I felt fine about the trip until I saw the pictures Greg sent me by e-mail. Now I am nervous.
It’s been 14 years since I lived at home. I keep in touch with a lot of people, but there’s stuff—livin’, ya know?—you just can’t get into over the phone. One of my friends battled an addiction, and I didn’t know it until years afterward when she told me. Another close friend had a kidney transplant. I counted and there’s been seven children born to four of my close girlfriends since I left home. My friend’s parents are starting to die.
My oldest niece, Jessica, is in college. I remember when she was born. I was a 16. Me, my mom and my brother were so excited that we went out and bought sweat pants with iron-on letters saying “Jessica’s aunt” or “Jessica’s grandma.” My sister Dawn, Jessica’s mom, and I hardly speak since our mom died four years ago. We speak so rarely that Dawn has mistakenly referred to our mom as “my mom.”
When I was growing up in Northern Illinois, there were lots of farmer’s fields between the towns. Now it’s housing developments. It feels increasingly crowded with every visit. If I had to operate a vehicle on I-95 these days, I bet it would send me spiraling into a nervous breakdown.
During my visit, I’ll be staying mostly with my dad, who lives over the border in Wisconsin, not far from my close friend, Donna, who took a day off of work so we can take our children to the zoo.
My Uncle Jim is having a big cookout during my visit and sent out invitations on fancy paper saying “Amanda will be in from Alaska with her new daughter, Jade Kristine.” I get pretty good billing on the invitation. It almost looks like a flier to some event in which I am the entertainment.
When I’d visit home, I used to like to see my ex-boyfriend, Heath, who I dated in the 1980s. He was always the same as when we went out, tan, bleached hair, drifting from job to job. I don’t know if going out is what you’d call what we did. I used to go to his house late at night after closing the video store where I worked after school. First, I had to drop off the day’s revenue to the video store owner, who lived near where my boyfriend was camped in his parent’s basement. I’d spend the night. Sometimes, we’d snort cocaine. I was always late to school after those nights, and my mom would call and make excuses. My brother tells me Heath moved to Texas after his parents split up.
My father has promised to take me out on Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, on his boat. He even has a life jacket for Lucky. A few weeks ago, Dad called me at work asking if I wanted him to pick up some water skis so that I can ski on Lake Michigan. I told him that I never could get my butt up out of the water when I’ve tried water skiing in the past. He said, “You know, I never could get my butt up either,” which I thought was very sweet.