You came to this city a decade ago. You were full of optimism, you felt you were blazing a trail. You left your small Midwestern town, ready to conquer the place, taking a path away from your peers. You felt emboldened, like you were special.
Or maybe you came from the south, from a farm, or from another big city, albeit one without a subway system or tourist attractions and more of a working class mentality, more salt-of-the-earth, whatever that means. Maybe you came from California, looking to escape the traffic and to experience seasons.
You arrived and signed a lease on an apartment that was expensive, mediocre and in a neighborhood you were told was in transition. This made you feel edgy, but cautious. You bragged to your friends back home about how there was a mugging outside of your building that one time, as if this would give you some sort of credibility.
You jumped in headfirst to the things the city had to offer. Live music, brunch, happy hours. You wore your hometown team’s hat when they came to town, but maybe adopted the teams of your city after a while. You went to cultural events, the rooftop bars, and you made some friends along the way. You tried dating, had your heart broken a few times, and became cynical and hardened. You learned about yourself, your needs, your desires.
You worked for non-profits, government contractors, agencies and law firms. You got older, wiser and more awake to the struggle of staying afloat long term in this city. You thought about getting married, having children, but the costs scared you in a city where each bedroom can run over a grand, and children cannot pay their rent.
So you made a plan to leave. It was bittersweet, those ten years. You thought about how you used to own this place, how this city was yours. But somewhere along the way, you stopped feeling that. Your favorite dive bars closed down and started serving something called small plates and craft cocktails, rather than burgers, wings and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. You wonder how these places can survive, but then notice that they are packed every weekend.
Finally, you pack up your things and leave. Maybe you go back to the Midwest. Maybe you head south. Or perhaps you found a pleasant spot out in the suburbs of the very city you are escaping.
As you leave, you realize that the city does not care if you come or go. There will always be someone to replace you, a fresh new face from some Midwestern town armed with a master’s degree and full of optimism, willing to take over that expensive lease on your mediocre apartment. You were once that person. You replaced someone likely as jaded as you, and you did not care about them. They were you, and you are them.
It is a cycle worth repeating, and only when you return to visit the city, your old neighborhood, your old haunts, do you realize this in full. Your favorite bartender might remember your name, but the new faces at the bar are like ghosts of yourself. You are the old man telling stories of yesteryear that no one cares about as they sip on their craft beer and cocktails and talk about how someone got mugged outside of their apartment building one time, about where they are going for brunch and how much student loan debt they carry.
You were them, they will become you. And in the end, this is repeated so many times that it does not matter. Remember that.