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As I was part of Chicago, I thought Chicago was a part of me. It seemed as though nothing could extricate my Chicagoan heart, any more than tame my native accent. So when shifting vocational winds drove my family to Bethesda, Maryland, I thought the bond would hold. Five years later, when another gust promised to return us to our Midwestern homeland, I presumed the transition would prove seamless; after all, I was just going home. Yet once I returned, the city did not recognize me.
At first, I thought the Windy City failed to identify me because I was outside the context of my family. Although we had decided to return to Chicago, we had not secured a residence, and the start of Junior year lurked just past Labor Day. To attend the initial days of school, I moved without my family and boarded with my great uncle, Maynard. Aside from a room, he cushioned me with little else. However, through his detachment, I encountered an unprecedented liberty that demanded responsibility as an upkeep, and I learned skills varying from the operation of laundry machines (previously confusion captured in metal), to the science of scheduling a day. After two months, my immediate family joined me, and we inhabited our new domicile. But a family, or lack of one, cannot hide a personality.
Perhaps it was my shift from student to teacher that expanded my character beyond recognition. Before I left, I was a swimmer only, but upon my return, I spent my Saturday mornings as a swim instructor. I helped toddlers in their pursuit of the elementary strokes, while ultimately feeding them confidence to confront future challenges with. The habit was not exclusive to swimming; I also tutored students in flute. The trivial delight I once derived from performing a pretty piece was replaced with a deeper exuberance gained from a student’s confirmation, either through a flawless stroke or an ornate Sonata, that I had embellished the world; that through my care, some facet of life was ground a little finer.
Maybe the demands of the countless coaches I encountered throughout my peregrine swimming career had all compounded, and swelled inside of me until I reached a totally unrecognizable form. Their critiques rolled over me, flattening me into a breaststroker, next a distance swimmer, then foisting me into the mold of an Individual Medley swimmer. During my junior year my team presented me with the “Macho Man” award, and though I wish I could credit bulging muscles and an intimidating glare, my profile will testify that the trophy was actually a tribute to my willingness to swim for the team, rather than for myself.
It could have been that moving to Maryland and back had thrust me with situations that forced my adaptation. The year before my migration eastward, I began to play the flute. Because I started the instrument one grade later than the rest of my Lab School classmates, the director had me spend the band period practicing in an office by myself, until I could produce a sound no more offensive than the other “musicians”. I kept practicing, and I eventually graduated from my private room to the band class. Then we left for Maryland, and I took my flute with me. I joined the school band, and continued practicing and progressing, until I gloriously claimed first chair of the sophomore band at Walt Whitman High School. I thought I finally knew what course my life would take, when my schedule stabbed me with a sobering fork. To allow sufficient time for studies and swimming, I would have to forsake either music or my freshly developed passion for journalism. After much soul probing, parental lectures, and several teary counselor conferences, I chose journalism. While music mainly provided me with emotional expression and entertainment, journalism both provided aesthetic satisfaction, and allowed me to articulate my views to a larger audience than possible through music. Thus I returned to Chicago with a pen instead of a flute.
Returning to my birthplace revealed several ways my character had evolved, in a light that was only visible through the sequence of emigration and repatriation. Learning to live independently, propelling others with my own knowledge, tolerating the ever-contradicting commands of different swim coaches, and painfully abandoning music for print, all supported my purported maturity. Yet, could such intrinsic aberrations really cast me from a city’s familiarity? Maybe I just grew taller.
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