This goodbye won’t be for forever


Shelly Batterbee

The first time I was in Chicago with my brother and sister by my side.

My first time in Chicago was when I was about 10 years old. It was a spring break adventure that I remember the most random parts of. 

I remember walking around the American Girl Doll store at Water Tower Place trying to find the best souvenir. I remember looking down at the tiny specks below wondering what their lives were like in this bustling city. I remember the Weber Grill across from my hotel with all the flags. I remember running into two people that I knew and playing cards in the hotel with my family. I walked past the Joffrey studios and wondered if I would ever be dancing in a big city. 

About five years later, I found myself wandering the streets of Chicago—or rather State Street—as I walked back and forth between the dorms and the studio. 

Throughout that summer, I had to weigh my options. Did I want to move to Chicago with the rest of my roommates, or should I stay at home and have a normal high school experience? And after tears and wonderings and time spent alone, I decided to stay. But did I get a normal high school experience? Like everyone else, that is a no. 

The next time I was in Chicago was March 13th, 2021. The river was green for Saint Patrick’s Day, the streets were quiet, and I went into Ballet Chicago, where I danced in a mask for the first time. 

Everything seemed eerie, yet exciting. I didn’t have many friends because the one main one from two summers ago was back in her home in Texas. But I rode the elevator up to the 19th floor, wandered down the familiar hallway to the dressing room, and attempted to not look terrified. 

Within the next few weeks, as I went down on the weekends, I met one of my current best friends, and I wasn’t even too scared to talk to her. I already survived the first week in Chicago, and I had text conversations with her—no matter how minimal. Eventually, the locals were able to go in nearly every day, and Zoom was left just to us outside of Chicago.

I wondered if I would ever be dancing in a big city.

But, I still ventured the three-hour drive down around the tip of the lake every Saturday morning and returned home every Sunday night. 

After a springtime of doing homework in hotel rooms, walking the streets with my mom and dad, and taking pictures—either myself or by my mom for my senior pictures—I decided once again that I wanted to stick with this adventure that is Chicago. But I didn’t want to give up my senior year quite yet. 

So, another year of driving down weekend after weekend has come to be. This time, I leave after second hour on Friday. But for some reason, this year, I was more nervous than I was the year prior. I was scared they all had made friend groups over the summer and within the first three days that I wouldn’t fit in. 

And then another of my current best friends started talking to me as if we’d known each other since we were born, and I met another one of my Zoom friends, and a friend from the summer of 2019 acted and we acted like nothing had changed. 

Since that first time over spring break in 2014, I have changed enormously—even beyond the seven years that now separate the memories. I now have walked through the streets (plural) of Chicago with my family and friends. I have stayed out past class to eat Chipotle, ice cream, watch performances, and do homework with little success. I have found a family from all over the country, and we have all found a home in Chicago. 

So, as I prepare to say goodbye to the Windy City within the next few months, I’m saying goodbye to so much more. To friends, family, laughter, nostalgia, and, of course, wind; I know I’ll see you again.