Chicago. One of the greatest cities. THE Windy city.
Also known as Chitown, Chiberia.
I live here. Not directly in the city, but about 30 minutes out west, in the most basic middle class town. It doesn’t fall into the small-town category, but it isn’t a big town either. But basically, you go to the grocery store, and there is a 43% chance of you running into someone you know.
Well, let’s start from the beginning. I’m an immigrant.
I am pure-breed, one hundred percent Lithuanian. Born and raised. Well, I guess, “halfway” raised. I came here when I had just turned thirteen. Straight into the school-year. Eighth grade.
The middle school I went to wasn’t big. Everyone knew everyone. Obviously there were the popular, the “independent” friend groups, and of course, the not-so-popular. But I’m not here to describe the social pyramid of the American school system.
All you have to know, is that I was placed in an ESL class, which was created to help out students who have a hard time with English. This helped me gain two friends, which gave me a little comfort to go through the school day without having to cry in the bathroom during lunchtime. Hell, I was glad to have someone to borrow a notebook from.
Going back to the whole ESL thing: my family stumbled into the office of the school, merely 2 months after moving here, me having absolutely zero English skills and having not formed any because I was only surrounded by my Lithuanian speaking family, we were told that I was not going to be able to repeat 7th grade, and that I was going to be placed straight into the next school year. Of course, our pale flustered faces were accompanied by my second-hand cousin, who had attended that school as well, earlier on. Anyways, they put me in a class - for immigrants. FANTASTIC resource, don’t you say? Except the biggest problem was that my ESL teacher’s second language was not Lithuanian, it was Spanish.
Now you say, “so many people go through these classes, they learn English, like even you, you’ve been here for, what, eight years already? I can’t even tell that you have an accent!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard it all before. Yeah, truthfully that class did help me. Not to learn English, but to complete my homework. That’s it. Meanwhile I was in an English class learning the same stuff as the other eighth graders were. History? A bunch of foreign words and gibberish. Science? Oh man, don’t even get me started. Even PE? CONSTANTLY hearing shit I did not understand. Like pacer test? Do you know how much nerve it took for me to ask a fellow classmate what the fuck that was and how do I do it? To literally make a fool out of myself with my “broken English”? Even math. Slopes, fractions, functions? I had not even heard of those terms when I got there, and in eighth grade they weren’t learning it anymore, they were perfecting it. So many hours spent by my kitchen table crying.
One advantage American kids had, was that they could ask their parents. I couldn’t.
Well, in other words I did, but they didn’t know.
And the purpose of this whole written rant isn’t for me to shit on Americans. Not at all. It’s for you, the reader to realize or relate to the struggle immigrants have to go through. And many other issues that I’ll cover later, but this would be the first.
Comes the age 15, I had befriended a fellow Lithuanian, a year earlier, who helped me ENORMOUSLY with my English. Not only the formal language, but the slang as well. This friendship was beneficial to us both, because at this point she had been living there for eight years, and having moved here at an earlier age, her Lithuanian was getting rusty.
Anyways, at 15 I started setting up my first bank deals with my parents. In person I would introduce myself as their daughter, the translator. I was learning new banking terms in English and Lithuanian on a weekly basis. By the phone, I talked on behalf of my mother, I mastered the art of lowering my voice and sounding more formal, knew my mother’s social security number by heart before I had even really looked at mine.
By sixteen I was handling most of my family’s bills, loans, car payments. I was answering most of their formal calls. Later that year my parents opened up a trucking company. With the help of some Lithuanian representatives, and myself, the company was running. I went over all of the contracts that were signed in terms of buying a truck, leasing a trailer, safety and all other regulations (not going to get into detail). Then, I got a temporary job at another trucking company in the summer solely to learn how to dispatch.
I had to learn how to dispatch so I could teach my mother. My mom’s English was still very weak at the time and she was scared to go and learn it herself.
In other words I had no choice. I spend my summer mornings waking up crabby as shit, going upstairs to make phone calls with cocky dudes with egos breaking through the roof. “Illinois to Alabama, one pick, one drop. Potatoes. 750 miles, rate 950”. See at that point I was taught to shoot double, then lower it to the most reasonable price. “Where’s the pickup? Loose potatoes? (Requires a paid wash afterwards, therefore rate should always be higher- waste of money and time), I’ll take it for 1500”, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHa are you out of your mind, where have you even heard of prices like this? 1000, take it or leave it”.
Approximately 70 calls a day with one successful, if it’s a good day. Sometimes I’d be on that computer for over 10 hours.
My mom learned, she started dispatching, things got a bit easier. I only had to handle the “bigger” things. Claims, detentions and other shit like that. Stressful as hell, burned out most of my patience out by the age of 17.
At seventeen, I started rebelling. I wasn’t happy with my life, but I also felt fucking invincible. By then I had earned a bit of social acknowledgement, I guess everyone saw me as the bitch I was portraying myself to be. Reckless and bad as fuck.
Street racing, going 120 on the highway to the city and back, drinking in the forest in the car. Coordinating who’s throwing a party on what weekend, sneaking out and coming home hammered, only to sleep for a few hours and go about my day like nothing ever happened.
This lasted a whole year, shit more than that. I made a lot of good and bad memories, been places I really shouldn’t have been, but I don’t regret any of it. But guess where I ended up on Halloween night the year I turned 18?
Cuffed to the fucking wall at a police station.
Who would’ve thought, what a surprise!
I’m not quite comfortable going into detail in writing, but if you know me then you know the story, and if not, ask me about it in person, I’ll be happy to tell you.
The one thing I want to put on the table is that it wasn’t drug affiliated, and not criminal.
However, I was facing jail time. But hey, I was lucky enough to get those charges dropped, and that was the biggest lesson I could ever have.
From that point on, I went to my court dates, reevaluated my life, and started rebuilding. I had to switch schools, which introduced me to new people, ended up cutting some off, and befriending new ones. Graduated, started going to the local community college. I was working the whole time, trying to make spending money, still helping out my parents with all the financial stuff. In college I was undecided, tried out a couple different options, they didn’t seem to work out.
Not this brings up another issue I have with the way society has been built.
I ended up picking something I felt I had an interest in, and not what my parents thought would be good for me. I enrolled in the architecture program. I was doing great, I was able to keep my focus, I wanted to improve and was eager to learn new things. Finished off the first semester. Through sweat, sleepless nights, and tears – ended up with all A’s. That significantly brought my GPA up.
By the second semester, I was ready. I was excited, because at this point we were actually starting to be able to create. This had to be my favorite part, because I consider myself relatively creative, I constantly have random ideas flowing in my head. It’s kind of like slight madness.
Anyways, when we started, my architecture program coordinator was teaching one of the classes. By that time I had already formed a professional relationship with her, she was very helpful and gave enormously valuable advice. Every project we did, I put my heart and my soul into. There weren’t any major guidelines, yet I kept being told to simplify my work. I kept being told to change it up, almost so I would blend into the other projects hanging up beside mine. I talked to my professor, she complimented my creativity, she said she hasn’t seen this much creativity and thought in a very long time, yet I still had to change it, and simplify it.
I don’t blame her, or anyone, really, but I felt myself get more and more suppressed. I felt like I had to fit into a basic box that’s been designed by someone else. I accepted it, decided to move forward. Life is all about compromise, isn’t it?
But then, in the middle of my somewhat peaceful life…
….I found out my mom was having an affair.
It’s almost like being practically the head of the family, I finally stepped a couple steps down and within a few blinks everything went to shit.
Wow, I can’t even describe you how I felt, truly broken. Like even worse, I felt like family was ripped out of my hands.
I tend to rely heavily on friends and family, and these two really are the only thing that kept me alive throughout all those years. And just like that, it’s gone.
The day I found out, I had been driving to the mall with my mom. I was putting a song on thru her phone, when a text message came in. I recognized the number, I had asked her about it roughly 4 months ago. She told me it was nothing, just some stupid guy hitting on her, and that she blocked his number. During that car ride, looking out the window I realized that all those evening yoga classes weren’t really even yoga after all. Shit hit me hard. But what I managed to blurt out was “I’m going to pretend I didn’t see this, so that we have one good last day, and I will deal with this tomorrow”.
Fast forward over the next month or so, listening to my mother’s lies, and my dad’s psychosis trying to vent to me, I lost my mind. Actually, this time. I lost it. I dropped out of school after numerous failed attempts to show up. I would park up, get my backpack and tell myself “okay I’m going to go in one minute”, on repeat, until the class ended and I would take my ass back home, shameful and full of hatred. My anxiety and depression peaked at this point. I went to therapy, refused drugs, decided to continue going to therapy until I got somewhat stable. My friends pulled me out of the hole, forcefully, very unpleasantly, but I am eternally grateful for them. Took a very long time to heal, but I healed, I got back up, and I started moving forward.
Shortly after my father found out my mom was having an affair, he switched his life around trying to win her back. I respect him for that, however it didn’t work. The house went on sale. The house got sold. Dad (who is actually my stepdad but has been raising me since I was 3 years old), was moving in with his friend. I didn’t like that friend at all, he was an alcoholic and quite inappropriate at times. Mom? Off with her new husband. Greta with her dog and cat? Choose.
Do I want to live with someone who makes me feel very uncomfortable and is quite unpredictable?
Or do I live with the man who is the reason my family, and my life has fallen apart? Whom I, in fact, fantasized about stabbing at the time?
I said fuck you to them both. Picked up more hours at my two jobs, with the help of my dad, I rented out a 500 square foot studio apartment. I worked a fuck ton, and I mean it. From one job to another in the same day, back and forth thru the week. Paid my bills, dad helped if I came up a few hundred bucks short. My diet consisted of solely the food I could get at the restaurant I was working at. If I worked there only 4 days that week, that means I was only going to be eating those 4 days, the next three, I’d get off my other job, if the time was right I would visit someone and eat what they gave me, if not I’d literally not eat. Cigarettes were expensive and they were my priority.
Slowly my dad got back on his feet, despite his deep depression that he simply wasn’t able to understand. He started out helping out more and more, at this point I was able to save a few bucks for myself. Those bucks were spent mostly on ramen and bottom shelf wine.
A while later, I got promoted at my job. I started being a manager at the restaurant I was working at, and then slowly went into accounting.
Quit my retail job, and have been relying on shifting from manager to waitress for the past 6 months.
I would go into detail about how difficult it is to be put in a higher position as a 21 year old white woman, working with middle age white men, but that’s just a buzzkill. Everyone knows “white men run this shit” and I have a HUUUGE problem with that, but it’s fine. Not going to worry about it.
So why, after all this time, this magical city that I’ve seen my best ant my worst moments in, suddenly makes me sick to my stomach? Why can’t I stand being here?
Is it a bad case of (literally all year long) January blues? Is it all the cold and the gray? Is it all the garbage on the streets?
Downtown Chicago is like a painting you hang up on your wall. “Like, wouldn’t it be cool to be there right now?”, or “okay, this is the building I’m going to live in”. Pure fantasy, baby. You drive to your minimum wage job that you hate, you see the Chicago skyline in between the clouds ahead. All it is – a reminder that you probably will not be able to live on the 92nd floor of that building, no matter how hard you try. Some of us will try our best, but we will not achieve great things. Chances are slim, so we definitely should still try, but prepare for the worst. Life is funny, it will never go the way you want it to.
I type this from my dad’s apartment, which I moved back into, with the hopes of going back to school soon.
A few more things I want to mention while I’m here:
1. Value your family, always. No matter how dirty they do you.
2. It’s okay to hold your life on pause, to fix and reevaluate, as long as you make progress after.
3. Don’t rush to move out of your parents, you will feel lonely. Like really fucking lonely.
4. Don’t max out your new credit cards if you don’t want to be paying the bill (I’m currently still working on this)
5. Yes, these new Nike’s will make you feel like a bad bitch, but you worked 10 hours for this amount of money.
6. Don’t take a fucking 5 year loan out on a car that doesn’t hold value, shit drops value by the minute. Worst thing to ever invest in.
7. Treat your friends to lunch, and make sure they feel appreciated, even if it’s Wendy’s 4 for 4.
8. Last, but not least: don’t fucking litter please.