Friday, June 03, 2011

Back to the cities: Chicago and Minneapolis, summer of '94

It's so hard to talk about the breakup of a marriage, that I've avoided this segment for maybe a few years. Let's just say that at this point in the marriage I was beginning to feel like my wife was abdicating, dropping out of our agreements to be equal and be married and work together. She felt that, having spent too many years in isolation, she needed to be in Chicago.

I had a summer job in Chicago at St. Xavier University, on the far south side, but we lived in Evanston, on the far north side, in a place that her brother had rented for the fall but let us use for the summer. If I drove to work, it was seventy or eighty minutes of hair-raising traffic each way that would leave me rattled and exhausted; if I took the subway and bus, which I much preferred, it was much longer; I'd have to get on the very first el in the morning, and this brought its own perils, especially as the month wore on. But worst of all, it was a huge city, and I didn't want to be there, and I didn't want to go back to Kansas either. When a job came open in Minneapolis starting in early July, I took it. My wife said she'd stay behind with the children. At this point her mother was watching them, but becoming exhausted; they were a handful.

One of my memories of Chicago was looking around desperately for a way to make it work, in terms of putting kids in school in the fall (they were 6 and 2 at this point, so we were really only talking about one of them). On an ESL salary, this would probably be Chicago city schools, worst in the nation. Other possibilities included living with the inlaws, living way out of town, or living much closer to the work site. By July I had scoured the city and found nothing. The ride on the el became steadily worse as the month wore on. The city cooked like an open dumpster.

Minneapolis, in contrast, was cool, green, pretty, manageable. I stayed in a room in the house of a friend of a friend and started commuting down to the university. I soon found out that the teaching was less, and paid less, than I thought, but this was the only down side. It was a wonderful city, full of music and young people. I found a couple of side-jobs to get through the summer and again scouted the place out looking for ways to put kids in school; the options were much better here, though housing was still tight.

To me, it was a manageable compromise with my wife; it was a city, but I could handle it; it wasn't Chicago, but it was close enough. To her it was one more compromise ruining her life; she wouldn't budge. And, it wasn't full-time; didn't have insurance. When the summer was over, and a full-time job in Carbondale came up, I took it and moved to Illinois.

In Dinkytown, at a café, I'd sip cappuccino and reflect on my life and where it had gone. I turned 40 in this year; Carbondale would be my fourth town, but there would be no question what school my son would go to, or, how to get to work.


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