Happy Chicagoversary: What 7 Years in the Windy City Has Taught me

If there’s one thing I love, it’s celebrating. In fact, It’s 6:02 on a Saturday night and I just sat down in our living room with a house-made margarita, extra salt.

Dan and I bought a headboard shortly after Christmas and we just put it up. That may not sound like much to celebrate, but trust was. After enduring one Harvard-level coding course (Dan, not me!), a trip to Home Depot, an Amazon-delivered drill, and a few minor adjustments to said headboard, that thing is finally on our bed.

We paused after installing it, put our arms around each other and took three seconds to enjoy the site of our new headboard. Then we simultaneously came up with the brilliant idea to use our leftover Cinco De Mayo supplies to concoct a celebratory marg. Dan is now lying on the couch watching some show that’s making him laugh, and I’m here — typing to you about how great celebrating is and why you should do it.

A couple weeks ago, just after Dan finished the above-mentioned Harvard coding course and we’d celebrated at brunch with friends, I said to him, “You wanna know something we’re really good at?”

“What?” he asked.

“Celebrating. We’re really good at celebrating and I think that’s important.”

He nodded knowingly, the sentiment settling softly on us in the light of the heavy two years we’ve had. We lost people. We lost jobs. We lost plans and dreams, and we lost time. But in the midst of it all, we kept celebrating….even if it was by accident.

The summer that Dan’s dad died, we went to Kennywood. Kennywood is a local theme park with rickety roller coasters and water rides that only a park built in the 1880s could produce. Yes, you read that right. Kennywood was built in 1889.

It was July 2017, the week after Daryl’s funeral, and a few days before our friends’ wedding,  both of which took place in the Pittsburgh area.

There was no “theme” to this theme least not that I can remember. It’s located in West Mifflin, PA, and its sidewalks house memories from Dan’s childhood the same way Opryland holds memories from my own.

The paint chipped off the tunnel walls as we walked from the parking lot to the inside of the park, and the brand new metal rollercoaster towards the right of the entrance felt out of place in what was otherwise a wooded park with a certain sense of rundown charm.

We rode that coaster first because Dan had never been on it and we assumed the lines would get longer as the day went on.

After that, we hit the Jackrabbit, the Exterminator, the Log Jammer and more. We walked through a creepy moving replica of Noah’s Ark and felt like kids on the carousel. We ate corn dogs and funnel cake and Potato Patch fries— a Kennywood classic— and got sunburnt in the summer sun. And when the day was over, we went home.

Even now as I’m remembering it, I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave because leaving means the sad was real. But I guess I have to remember the sad parts too.

The next day, Dan took me to one of his favorite parks in Pennsylvania and we spent several hours walking the trails around a manmade lake. The day after that, we went to a beautiful outdoor wedding where Dan stood as a groomsman, and we danced the night away with a few of our favorite friends.

It was lovely.

Looking back, the sad didn’t stop at the wedding. It didn’t stop the following week when we were back in Chicago. It didn’t stop the following year when we celebrated Cinco De Mayo (also Daryl’s birthday) with friends and margaritas around our living room table.

It didn’t stop on Dan’s birthday when we went out for a steak dinner; or at the surprise party we threw him to remind him he was loved; or on Father’s Day when we got drinks at Montrose Beach; or on the one-year anniversary of Daryl’s death when Kiara hosted a cookout on her deck and our friends sat and listened as Dan reflected on the hardship of the last year.

The sadness never stopped, even when we were having fun. But the fun also didn’t stop, even when we were sad.

The whole point of this post was supposed to be about my seven-year Chicagoversary, celebrating the significant milestone that happened on May 16, 2012 and all the crazy things I’ve learned because of it.

But, when Dan asked me about my favorite memories in Chicago over the last seven years, I could think only two things.

We were sitting at the downstairs bar at Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf. Bavette’s is a swanky steakhouse off the Merchandise Mart “L” that has become one of our favorite special occasion date spots. On this particular night we were there strictly for the fancy cocktails and Ice Cream Sundae Royale— a beautiful conglomeration of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and every candied topping you could ever think to want.

“What were some of your favorite memories from the last seven years?” he said.

“That’s a broad range of time!” I laughed. “But I have been thinking about two things all day. First was all the good time we spent in my old studio before we got married. I loved that apartment and I love that you’re a part of almost every memory there.

“And the second is just how sad I’ve been for these last two years. It’s just been heavy so that’s all I’ve seemed to think about.”

Sweet, sweet joy with Dan and heartbreaking sorrow with Dan— those were the two things that stood out to me the most.

I often forget just how long Dan has been a part of my Chicago life. I met him approximately 18 months after I moved here. He’s celebrated just about every anniversary with me and I couldn’t be more grateful. Marriage makes some things easier to handle— things like transition and big decisions and grief. It also makes some things harder— things like transition and big decisions and grief =)

If life in Chicago has taught me anything, it’s how to hold all these things in my arms at once— joy and sorrow, happiness and grief.

Recently, I was reading the book of Nehemiah from the Old Testament in the Bible. Nehemiah lead the Israelites in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. Once everything was rebuilt, the people called on all the priests to bring out the Law of God and read it out loud to them. As the priests were reading, the people began to weep. They sobbed at the site of their sin in light of the law God had laid out for them.

However, instead of condemning them and telling them they should weep because of their sin, Nehemiah shifted their gaze towards God and told them to celebrate for the joy of the Lord was their strength.

I love that so much. There’s a time and a space for grief, for confession, for feeling the weight of sin or the weight of a broken world. But celebration is what moves us forward. Celebration is what lets us rise above our circumstances, reminding us of who we are, no matter how low we may have gotten. That’s the biggest and the best thing I’ve learned this last year.

I’m fighting myself on the ending of this post, right now, trying not to let this thing get all sappy. But writing rarely goes the way we want it to, and  it seems that sappy is exactly how my seven-year Chicago heart would like to end this thing right now— with a big ol’ “Thank You!” to that big, handsome man with the soft and scruffy beard for walking through most of this with me and for letting me walk through it all with him. He’s been with me for six Chicago-versary celebrations and I hope I get to have him for 6 (plus a few) more.

Happy (my) Chicagoversary, Dan Clair. Thanks for being my guy.

Dan and I on my 2nd Chicagoversary— three months after we started dating— eating all you can eat sushi. May 16, 2014.

Dan and I on my 2nd Chicagoversary— three months after we started dating— eating all you can eat sushi. May 16, 2014.

Rachel ClairComment