Illinois is across the river. Living on the western side of the Mississippi, Illinois was oddly separate from my life. We hardly ever crossed the river. We knew no one in Illinois. There was no reason to go there, except maybe to pick apples.
Illinois is where Bixby is from. Suddenly it takes on some importance. Bixby knows all about Illinois from St. Louis' latitude down to the very bottom tip at Cairo.
Illinois is driving on a levee road when I've only been dating this boy for a month. Getting out and looking at the stars and arguing that we have to cross the river next, and the river is east.
The river is always east. But in Illinois it is west.
Or sometimes south or northeast. Local mileage may vary.
Illinois is a 'tater patch, staring up at the meteor shower.
Illinois is Christmas at too many grandparents' houses and being overwhelmed by so much family.
Illinois is hiking in Shawnee National Forest with Bixby. With Carlos. With Thad. With the Other Mary. With the girl scouts. With everyone I love, eventually.
Illinois is standing at the Point and looking at the water.
Illinois is a funeral for a man who hardly knew who I was; the whole town, the whole county, knew exactly who he was, and people stopped on the side of the road to salute us as we drove to the cemetery.
Illinois is half my children's DNA. Illinois is in their genealogy.
Illinois is in mine too. My accidental namesake, her husband killed a man in his saloon in East St. Louis and then committed suicide with rat poison in his whiskey. Illinois haunts me a little. But only because I want it too.
Illinois is flood and worry and deer hunting and weddings and funerals and baptisms and holiday parties and sitting on a porch swing with the smell of the soybean factory permeating everything.
Illinois is my state-in-law.