Wednesday, July 6, 2016

At nineteen, after his first year of college, my brother went backpacking with his friend one summer through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont. At the end of his trip, he flew back home briefly, giving himself a few days to pack up the rest of this belongings and tell my parents that he wouldn’t be returning to school. He was instead moving to Vermont. I was 12 or 13 at the time, and remember that weekend vaguely, mostly concerned but also in awe that there was another narrative out there. One that didn’t involve going from the Chicago suburbs to the state university.

Since then my brother has stayed in Vermont, jumping from apartment to apartment as one does in their twenties. His move out east afforded him remoteness and stunning sunset drives home from work but there wasn’t always the promise of stability. Still he stayed, and now he lives in a little blue house on a ½ acre property with his wife and son. I have visited him over the years sporadically and last week I was able to head there to celebrate my nephew’s first birthday. It felt nice to unpack my bags and sleep in his spare room, wander through his backyard trails and get to know his home.

Vermont is a state made for vacation with its rolling green hills that extend in every direction and the mountains that lay stacked behind one another fading in the distance. The wide open expanses are sparsely populated, usually only by brick-and-mortar stores and worn farmhouses here and there. It’s exciting to think that with my brother’s house, this will be a place that I return to. Driving through the area, my mind gets ahead of myself, and I think of my children one day swimming in the reservoir in my brother’s backyard, experiencing a quiet safety never known in Chicago. 

I don't know why I'm disclosing all of this other than the fact that I've always liked my brother's story. Unlike him, I didn’t venture far from the suburbs. I was able to study overseas and work south of the border but I have always come back to Chicago for reasons both external and internal. For feeling like I should and feeling like I want to. I am deeply attached to the city but often I find myself online during my lunch breaks, looking at inexpensive real estate in different parts of the country. In my head, it seems there is never much silence, never much satisfaction.

When I arrived back home on the Fourth of July, the sun was setting as I rolled my suitcase past children lighting off firecrackers in the street. After a post-travel dinner of pita chips and a beer, I followed the sounds of fireworks and found a family setting off roman candles in my back alley. A few fathers were in charge of the spectacle, yelling at their kids to get back as a rocket would shoot into the air, leaving a trail of color. I watched them in the summer heat for a while, and then I walked to my friend’s apartment a few blocks away to drink wine on his porch and listen to the cacophony of sounds, the fireworks erupting in every direction. It sounded a bit like warfare but the view was one of unfettered celebration, which I think we could always use a little more of. 

Perhaps it’s because winters are long and summers so fleeting but I always wonder how I can quiet my thoughts at this time of year, forget future plans, enjoy the city around me. There's a lot to be said for the life I can live outside of work, during the two weeks I have of vacation. Considering the tragedy that can be, I sometimes struggle with how pleasant things are, wondering how I can bottle it up and save it for later. I reflect, write it down. I snap photos, trying to acknowledge not a moment but a feeling. That night I arrived home from Vermont, I tried unsuccessfully to get a shot of the children as they ran in the alley, lighting sparklers, and laughing in the humid air with their siblings and cousins and their mothers yelling at them from the yard. In one quick moment, sparks flew above their heads and with a crack, burst like a willow into the sky. 

I never ended up getting the shot but I'm happy it happened all the same. 

1 comment:

Celia said...

Oh, man. I dream of country life but also fret about how I can eke the very most out of city life while I'm here. This post really resonated with me - you write beautifully. And I love your brother's story.