Birthdays and feelings and being really happy???

Something I’ve noticed about living in Chicago is that a lot of people who moved here from elsewhere remember and commemorate the date of their move. I have no data to back it up, but that’s probably common among people who lived in small towns and came to a big, vibrant city in their young adulthood. For many of us, it’s the start of a new life on our own, far away from family and old friends. Maybe it’s the end of a relationship, or the beginning of a new one (or both, I don’t know your life). Maybe you don’t intend to stay very long and then all of a sudden you’ve been there for years and you have a hairstylist and a state ID. In my case, I came here for grad school and then after about six months I was like HEY I MIGHT ACTUALLY STAY FOREVER.

Anyway, I always remember my Chicagoversary because it’s two days before my birthday. Five years ago, my dad drove me here from western Pennsylvania and helped me haul my belongings into a little two-bedroom apartment in Lakeview. I had a roommate, who was lovely and is still a good friend of mine today, but at the time I had met her only once and didn’t really know her at all. In the last year, all my friends had graduated college and moved away. I had a boyfriend back in Pennsylvania who I was sad to leave and determined to come back to, even though three months later I would finally break up with him and feel almost no sadness at all.

So it was me and my dad. He helped me move in, took me grocery shopping, took me to a couple of Cubs games. On the night of my actual birthday he gave me a hug and said good luck and drove back to PA. I was basically alone and terrified.

(This story sounds sadder than it was. I was crazy excited to be on my own in Chicago; it just didn’t occur me to until recently how deeply lonely I was at the time, and had been for a while.)

Now it’s five years later. I celebrated my 29th birthday surrounded by friends. Ten people came over to our house. Ten! That might not seem like a lot but it’s a lot for me. Ten people left their homes and came to see me. Ten people brought a gift, or a snack, or a drink, or a game, to help make the party. Not to mention all the work JD went to to make our home clean and cheery and guest-ready, or the fact that he bought me a bunch of small gifts and set up a little treasure hunt around the house for me to find them, because the dude loves me and wants me to be happy.

And I was really, really happy. So happy that it was a little bit terrifying. I mean, I’ve gone to plenty of birthday parties in my life. Sometimes I don’t really want to go, even if the person being celebrated is someone I love, and even if I end up having a good time. I wondered off and on throughout the day if people were sitting in my living room feeling that way, vaguely resentful of me for having a birthday and forcing them to come to it. I felt undeserving of the love and attention and gifts. Everything was so nice that I was afraid I’d lose it all if I blinked.

There was this one day during my senior year of high school when I woke up with a weird feeling. It was like nausea, but higher up in my chest, and much more pleasant. I didn’t know quite what it was, but it made me feel young–like nine years old–and exquisitely weightless and high.

It was a Sunday, and I didn’t have any responsibilities–all my homework was done for the week and I literally had no obligations. So I took myself down to the lake and listened to Simon and Garfunkel on my mid-2000s mp3 player, because Simon and Garfunkel reminded me of being little, and it seemed appropriate. I tiptoed around for hours, afraid to break the spell of whatever had temporarily broken in my brain to make me feel so light and worry-free. By the evening I had pretty much gone back to normal.

That never happened again, but last night as I lay in bed, trying to sleep, I felt like I’d caught a glimpse of that feeling again, like a little rent in a piece of fabric through which the light shines through.

I don’t even consider myself an unhappy person, not by a long shot, but probably from adolescence onward I’ve always had a layer of vague anxiety and cynicism. We all do to a degree, right? It’s just part of getting older, and having your heart broken a few times for various reasons, and having responsibilities and figuring out how to take care of yourself. It’s not like I go around consumed with anger and fear all the time. But that general world-weariness that’s become part of my nature got dislodged a little bit yesterday. It was nice, and scary, and I’m going to try to hold onto it.

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