I’ve passed my one month anniversary-of returning to normality, that is. I’m now just an everyday, average citizen in the US, and, in many ways, it feels good. Good to be able to live in shorts and tank tops, good to eat bacon for every meal (not that I do, because then those shorts wouldn’t fit), good to rediscover the beauty of this remarkable nation, good to mend those car-bombed bridges of my relationships, good to walk into a restaurant and order in English and be understood, good to smile at neighbors, good to be finally treated as an adult by both family and strangers, good to be breathing, good to pull warm clothes from the dryer, good to have a new Razr (which, insha’allah, will last longer than those phones from Egypt), good to drink Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, something I never could find in Egypt. But I also miss it-more than the places, I miss the interactions, the thrill of talking in Arabic to niqaabed women in perfume stores, the excitement of grasping the meaning of Al-Jezeera’s headline news, the hilarity of a new marriage proposal for each day of the week, and, of course, I miss my friends. But I thank God for Skype and Facebook and the network of interstate highways.
I’ve already made good use of them once, over the Fourth. When I returned from Egypt, Mother was still convalescing from the very major surgery she’d endured a week or two ago, and I played nurse and housemaid for awhile (I still am, somewhat) and allowed her sore body to recuperate and heal. Every time she did little more than walk up and down the stairs, her stitches bled and her sides ached and you’d have to be a very cold person indeed not to want to help. She is an incredibly positive person (where do you think I got my disgusting cheerfulness?), but she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t recovering faster, despite the fact that we all told her she’d undergone a double mastectomy and lymph node removal and the body requires time to recover from major body part alteration. Anyways, some of my duties were quite enjoyable, particularly the visits to her surgery check-ups. Alright, her doctor was quite cute, Dr. Vietzen, with a degree from Harvard and very gentle, dexterous hands, and a quiet, intellectual temperament. Mother just laughed when I threw on one of my beautiful Thai silk scarves, perfume, tank top, and mini skirt for a trip to the doctor’s office, but, alas, Mother’s condition improved and our appointments with him ended and the harpooning could pass much beyond the plotting stage. We did have a moment, Paul and I, when he thanked me for my excellent care of Mother and our eyes met, for an instant, but then he walked out the door. Oh well…
There are moments every day when I do become frustrated and long for the freedom I had in Cairo, but there are just as many moments when I look around and am utterly content and want nothing more than a life of endless summer. As much as I hate to mention it, Mom’s cancer does affect our family life in sometimes perturbing ways. To rationally discuss what we’ll do when she’s gone, to hear her tell Dad to finally get a dog, is hard to ingest sometimes, to try to consider a future without her. Whatever happens, we are all so grateful for the years we’ve had, and it makes each vacation that much more precious, knowing she may only have a few more chemo- and cancer-free years to spend with us. Which is really why I’m not working this summer, not because I have no motivation or ambition, but because she, and my former boss, told me I’d work my entire life. Enjoy this slice of freedom while you can, because next summer you’ll probably be sitting in an office somewhere contemplating the summer days floating by without you.
Before our road trip to Chicago, I had my own doctor encounter during my yearly physical that was 6 months overdue. The only available slot available happened to fall on my birthday, so I celebrated my 21st being violated by Dr. Rutlidge while discussing the wonders of ancient Egypt. “Yeah, I spent Thanksgiving on the…owwww!....ummm Nile and I saw this really cool…ahhhhh…..temple called Abu Simbel and, you’re done, thank God!” There were several questions she asked-if you’ve gone through it, you know what I’m talking about-to which I was obliged to respond affirmatively and there were several I rather prevaricated on. “Do you always wear a seatbelt in the car?” I’d like to see you find a seatbelt in a cab in Egypt, cuz, honey, they just don’t exist. “Of course I do.” Do you smoke?” Well, there was the sheesha, and the constant exposure to second-hand smoke, and the roiling clouds of pollution I lived in so…”No.” Stuff like that.
The rest of my 21st was rather tame in comparison; seriously, despite my threats and vaunts, I spent the evening opening presents with my family, dining at Wildfire while I imbibed on a Mojito and Cosmo (my first two legal drinks!), eating cake at home, taking salacious photos with my present from Andrew, a bottle of Capt. Morgan’s, and watching Chasing Liberty. What frightens me is that many of my relatives and acquaintances got to know me this year through my blog during my time in Egypt, where, for lack of anything better to do, I spent most weekends in bars or at parties. At home, there are other distractions to occupy my weekends other than alcohol, but in Egypt, we had little else to do and much to drown, so, bottom’s up!
My redoubtable mother had, despite her continuing recovery, suffered to travel down to Marshall the weekend after I returned to move Andrew into his kicking new apartment; well, Dad and Andrew transported most of the heavy stuff, I aided them a little, and Mom did what she does best-organize. But that wasn’t much of a vacation, and the Fourth was looming on the horizon, and we wanted to celebrate her perseverance (and I’m not usually ;-) a detractor when it comes to vacation), so we decided to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Chicago. I think Aunt Mary was my most dedicated blog reader over the last year and I was curious to see how I would be treated, given my newly acquired ‘maturity’. My grandparents had accepted me as the slightly prodigal daughter returning at long last to home, but loved me just the same, resigned to accept that I was slightly more unruly than when I’d left.
So, late as usual, Mom, Dad and I piled into the Accord at 6:30 pm on the 3rd to head down to Chicago, Dad finally conceding the wheel to me after crossing the border into Illinois at midnight. It was a tempestuous night; rain slashed across the road, whipping the trees into a frenzied rattling; lightening arced across the sky, blinding in its terrible beauty; thunder moaned its low, ominous dirge throughout the land, penetrating even my earbud-encased ears. And then there was Dad, the most annoying element of them all, who claimed to be sleeping in the back but frequently leaned over my shoulder to criticize my driving, yell instructions, and otherwise create undue stress. I refuse to drive with him in the car from now on. It’d been awhile since I’d traveled through Illinois, and I’d forgotten that the lesser states use toll roads, so the three of us, amid much cursing and shouting, scrambled to find change. As I pulled into the first toll booth, the man cast one look at me and asked, “So, honey, where do you model?” Ahh, men, the same the world over.
Eventually, after a few wrongs turns and more swearing, we found the quite lovely Comfort Inn in Crystal Lake, checked in at 1:30, and hit the sack for an exciting Fourth. The next morning, the Chicago Schlichtings picked up Dad and me in their van and drove us to the Pingree Road train station where the two of us and Uncle Jim, Sara, and Abby unloaded for a day downtown. I felt rather provincial, boarding the train and unsure of how to conduct myself; Minneapolis isn’t small, but compared to Chicago, it’s quite miniscule and without a proper rail system. It took an hour and a half just to get downtown. An hour and a half! Along the way, we passed through countless suburbs, interrupted a few town parades (I scowled as we passed through Palatine, I’ll never forgive them for their treatment of the Royals in Valpo…but that’s another story), and eventually pulled into the main train station downtown. My dad and I calculated it had been at least 10 years since I’d seen Chicago, and it was, well, bigger than I’d remembered. All those skyscrapers, where they really here before?
I allowed Sara and Abby to lead me through the streets to the trolley stop, where we boarded and eventually found ourselves in Millennium Park confronted by a giant, chrome bean. It was more reflective than I’d considered, and, walking through it, I moved back and forth and watched my figure attenuate and fatten one the ceiling. Weird! From there, we moved on to the Taste of Chicago, where the five of us happily trolled the paths of Grant Park and munched on greasy food and met up with Alex, Sara’s boyfriend, who, after hearing so much about him for years, more than exceeded the lore that proceeded him ;-) John Mayer was set to play in a free concert at 3, but we realized he himself would not actually walk onstage till about 5:30.
What to do until then? Shop! Under the pretense of showing me Michigan Avenue, Sara and Abby led us down the length of the street, the men lagging a bit behind, until we found the H&M store, but, you will be happy to note, I didn’t buy a stitch. After that, we took the trolley back to the Taste, listened to John Mayer (we couldn’t actually see him due to the insane masses of people), who was very good live, watched the considerable inebriation of certain concertgoers, and ate again after the concert. Of course, we couldn’t leave Chicago before the Fourth fireworks, so they decided I needed to see Navy Pier-which I did hurriedly-and then we returned to the waterfront, plopped wearily down in the grass, and waited for the fireworks. At 9:30, they exploded into the sky in a spectacular show of sparkle, color, noise…for 10 minutes. Granted, they were a good ten minutes, but still, I expected more from Chicago. Reluctantly, we left the waterfront and pondered taking a taxi to the train station to head home.
“How much does a cab run in this city?” I asked my uncle.
“Oh, to the station, about 20 dollars for a few miles.”
What! Ridiculous! I will never adjust to the exorbitant price of cabs in the U.S., so we walked the several miles, witnessing a hit-and-run car incident, and waited an hour to board the train. Due to the plethora of people downtown for the Fourth, the railway company reduced train operations, resulting in a mad crush of humanity waiting for the 11:30 train back to the Northwest suburbs. Standing near the tracks waiting for the boarding to begin, I could not help compare it to the positively civilized train boarding I’d experienced heading to and from Alexandria in Egypt. When the doors opened, I was swept along in the inexorable push of humanity, separated from my companions, and sprinted through various cars before someone grabbed my arm. It was Abby, thank God, who pulled me into the seat she’d secured while I caught my breath. Interesting characters ride the rails, and we were all treated to the entertainment of some peculiar individuals. Strangely, Chicago actually allows alcohol on board their trains but had to temporarily ban it because of the Taste. So, usually, the individuals would still be finishing up their drinking on the train…When we got home, Mom was dozing in bed, but still had enough energy to display her pedicure, compliments of Mary, and tell us about her far more leisurely day.
My parents and I slept in the next morning, had a late brunch, and relaxed until Sara invited me over to swim in their pool, an invitation I gladly accepted. Actually, I continued relaxing even in the pool, as the extent of my exertion was walking to the edge to pick up a fun noodle. That evening, we dined at their house with two other Schlichting family members, Roger and Elizabeth, brother and sister-in-law to my grandma. That evening, I was exposed to a phenomenon that is, apparently, sweeping the state of Illinois-Bags. There are actual prescribed rules for this game, with set dimensions and distances, but it is basically a bean bag toss. Despite the mockery of certain family members, I was decent; well, not really. My throws tend to veer alarmingly to the left, and, instead of hitting the board, hit another team member. But it was fun to joke and compete in the warm summer night with fireflies flitting around our heads and willows swaying softly in the backyard.
The next day, my parents and I went to the Twins game, who happened to be in town playing the Sox. Once again, I was struck by how insanely large Chicago is; from Chaska, I can arrive in downtown by car in 35 minutes, but it took us a good hour and a half to reach the stadium, and then a few more wasted minutes of wrong turns and “Dad, you’re driving us into the ghetto!”
We arrived at the indisputably beautiful U.S. Cellular ballpark, or The Cell, as Chicagoans apparently call it-definitely an improvement on old Comisky, that even I remember as being in need of renovation-a tad late, bought our tickets, and were waiting in line for popcorn when we glanced at the monitors. How could the Twins already have 5 runs? Didn’t the game just start? By the end, plenty of Sox fans had either drowned their misery in beer or simply left, but we were happy, screaming our support for the Twinks in our Minnesota gear. I mean, a 20-14 whupping deserves celebration, no? Chicago pics below...
That evening, Sara and I made Cosmos and apple martinis (devilishly delicious, btw) and watched the chick flick Music and Lyrics while our parents caught up. Then, the next morning, after a delicious breakfast at a quaint little Crystal Lake establishment, Reese’s (the best omelet and hash browns I’ve had in a long time), Sara, uncle Jim, Dad, and I went downtown again to visit Shedd’s aquarium and marvel at the sea creatures and press through more crowds. Driving on Lake Shore Drive, I couldn’t help but envy Chicago for its lake and the beaches it possesses. On that clear summer day, the lake radiated serenity and provided the perfect backdrop for bikers, joggers, and strollers. More than anything, it lent a sense of space to an otherwise crowded city, offering a limitless horizon to those given to dream. Our last night with the Chicago Schlichtings was perfect; after a casual dinner, we decided to forego the movie and play a rousing game of Sequence, a riotous card board game that is too complicated to explain if you haven’t yet played it. Though I recommend you should.
With everyone I meet, the conversation inexorably turns to Egypt and my experiences there. I’m working on perfecting the highlights and skirting over the disappointments into a compact slot of time, but I usually digress onto a tangent of some sort and end up talking way too long. I repeat, if I ever do this to you, tell me I’m being annoying and arrogant and I’ll shut up, I promise. I only want to talk as much as anyone wants to listen, but because I’m a naturally enthusiastic person, I can often misjudge my audience’s appetite for me.
I think my mom finds the new me slightly amusing, certainly more racy, more obdurate, and a bit more unpredictable than before. So, when Dad said that I seem to complain a lot less than I used to, I think I pleased Mom when I responded, “There’s not a lot to complain about in the U.S.” Life is so ridiculously easy here compared to abroad, I still sometimes feel like I’m on vacation, rather than back in reality. Of course that may be due to the fact that I’m intentionally unemployed, sleep till noon, read, write, walk, eat, and occasionally shop every day, rather than actually hold a job, but still. Properly functioning societies are nice….
So, with much laughter, we said good-bye to the Chicago Schlichtings, returned to Chaska with a brief detour in Janesville to the scrapbooking store I espied from the road, and didn’t really do much the rest of the week. Well, that’s not exactly true. Harry Potter opened on Tuesday night at midnight, and Meghan, my highschool/Kenya friend invited me to go along, so I navigated the roads all by myself all the way out to Apple Valley and the Imax at the Minnesota Zoo, where I cheered and watched Harry fight of Voldemort in 3-D. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to wear my Hogwarts costume, but there were plenty of others who had meticulously dressed the part, so I observed their interactions with considerable amusement.
Colleen, my feisty red-head from Arabic class, and I grabbed drinks at a downtown bar on Nicollet Wed. evening where I related the other half of my experiences abroad. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my blog most of this year, and nothing I said didn’t occur; however, certain parts were omitted to protect my, well, innocence, in many ways…But girlfriends deserve the whole tale, from Cairo to Thailand to Jordan to Israel. According to Colleen, that one night in Thailand is a story for the grandkids ;-)
Then, on Thursday, my best friend from the pre-Wawa days, Meg, came and visited me from Madison, and we gossiped, watched Clueless, saw Harry Potter (just as good the second time!), and slept in. It was so wonderful to see her and show her my world and just talk about my life. Having graduated last year from the U, she has endured a year in the real world and has offered a rather dreary perspective of the corporate world. I just hope I end up somewhere I like, insha’allah, love, but, at least, enjoy when I enter a career. I spent the next night watching Happy Feet and picking up Andrew from an Uptown apartment at 4 am; despite his incorrect directions, I eventually wove through the south side of Minneapolis. Next time, I’m going and we’re crashing in someone’s place till the next morning! Dinner with the grandparents, a Brazilian birthday party...life is pretty good here in Chaska. In fact, according to a recent poll, Chaska has been rated the 8th best city in the nation! So, yeah, I’ve really got nothing to complain about.