Our first (and last) Valentine’s Day together in Chicago

This Valentine’s Day was bittersweet.

It was our first Valentine’s as a married couple.

It will also be our last Valentine’s together in Chicago.

Shey is getting stationed to San Diego this summer, and I plan on staying in Chicago to finish my PhD. A part of me wants to leave everything and go to San Diego with her. Another part of me… well, wants the same thing.

chicago 12th street beach

Chicago hasn’t been the kindest city, nor the warmest. People have been rude more often than not. And I can’t forget that time I lived on the West Side and was followed home daily. Or that other time a man pulled a knife on us for being “dykes”. I shook from fear, and haven’t gotten on the blue line train since. I haven’t made any close friends in Chicago, so I won’t terribly miss anyone. In fact, leaving the city would probably be the best choice for my marriage, and mental health. And my non-existent tan. It’d be easy to leave.

It’d also be easy to stay. I’ve passed my qualifying exams, so now I just focus on my research and some elective classes. I have somewhat figured out how public transportation works, so I won’t need a car. Shey and I adopted Candy Cane, so I would have someone waiting for me at home. And Shey bought me another winter coat, so I can’t let that go to waste, naturally.

chicago 12th street beach valentine's

But what about everything else?

In high school, I took an AP economics course. I forgot who taught it, but I remember that he was a genius. He taught us about how nothing is free, and about why beautiful people will always own everything. He taught us about how you are always giving something up, and about why no one deserves anything. I think of him often, this man whose face and name I can’t remember. I imagine him telling me, “Laura, you may get this degree, eventually, but you will lose 3 years of your life doing it. A lot can happen in those 3 years. Like having kids. Or transitioning to a new career that involves kittens. Or shaving your head (*whispers* do it…).”

He would also say, “Laura, those 3 years might not be that interesting. You’re better off working in lab from sun-up to sun-down. Those mice need you.”

I would reply with, “Man with no face nor name, you’re right. And you’re wrong. Those 2 things can be true at the same time because life is complicated. And because I lose with either choice.”

My fear of losing, of failing, is overwhelming.

I know how to finish experiments, and how to calculate the proper dose for a small rodent–skills that are in high demand. I know how to approach problems, and how to somewhat assemble a coherent presentation.

But I don’t know what the benefit-cost analysis is of missing holidays, days, minutes, etc. with my wife/family over the next 2-3 years. I cannot confidently say that staying is any better than leaving. So, I will continue to work with the mice, the experiments, the lab bench. I’ll continue to take pictures of the Chicago skyline, even though I can only afford to live in a closet-sized studio. And I will continue to work, because that is what I know how to do.

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