I lived in Chicago with my first lover from New Year’s Eve 1989 through October 1996. This time corresponded with my mid and late 20s. I say it all the time, but I’ll say it once more for posterity: Chicago was the city where I came of age. I developed as a gay grown-up. I went from being a happy little temp to owning my own IT-consulting business. I wrote and published fiction with regularity. I was social and active, more interested in the world around me than at any other time in my life. I discovered the life of an antiquarian and learned to cook and eat well. I partied my ass off, took my first international vacation, read five books a week, and schooled myself in all the domains for which a closet-intellectual college drop out naturally yearns.
This last weekend, after an absence of a decade, I returned to Chicago. My boyfriend, Jeremy, joined me. It was a short trip — flew in on Friday, flew home on Monday. And it was bloody cold, just the way I remembered it.
We stayed at the luxurious Drake Hotel on the north tip of the Magnificent Mile, right across a small park from tiny little Oak Street Beach, where people have been sunbathing on the shores of America’s inland sea (Lake Michigan) for well over a century.
We ate spaghetti at a family-owned joint in Near North and authentic deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East, a joint my mom remembers from its original location on Rush Street back in the early 60s. We saw an invigorating dance performance by the Richard Alston troupe at the Dance Center of Columbia College. We ordered delicious breakfasts in bed, and walked around Lakeview and Wrigleyville as much as the cold and snow would permit. We visited an antiquarian book store that was once a right proper haunt for me. We bar-hopped in Boys Town, ending our evening at Berlin on Belmont, my preferred dance destination back when busting a groove was my norm. By God, we belted martinis.
I had an important moment on Saturday, when, with snow in our curls and on our eyelashes, we trotted through the neighborhood where I used to live. I thought that seeing the apartments my lover Andy and I used to live in would bring on some strange and powerful sadness. On October 5, 1995, in one of those apartments, Andy died in my arms after a long battle with AIDS-related illnesses.
But I felt no sadness. Chicago and Andy were so good to me, how could I feel sad about that? They represent a magical chapter in my life, one which, despite any number of mistakes I made, proffers no regrets.
I was happy to learn while there that Chicago is hosting the quadrennial Gay Games this summer, to coincide with not only spectacular weather, but my birthday. I’m going back because remembering Chicago as a cold windy place is no way to remember Chicago at all.