My alarm clock starts screaming at 7 am, just like every other morning. I wake up and promptly call off work.
Back in bed, I realize I’m not tired. But I do feel like I spent the night drinking and raging. I should have a neckful of hickies and a missing shoe. In reality, I sat on the rug crying until my head felt like it was filled with sand. Eventually I ran out of strength for sadness. I tiptoed into the kitchen for juice, hoping to avoid contact with Nate and Ashley. The last thing I need is some sort of “I told you so” look from Nate. And Ashley would just be too thrilled by my defeat. I took a hot shower and crawled into bed with my cat. I tried to think only the most positive thoughts. I listened to old R.E.M. records until I fell asleep.
I spend the morning smoking in my bed while listening to Bikini Kill and reading The Female Eunuch. I realize how silly it seems, but it really does make me feel better when I’m feeling crushed. Surely Kathleen Hanna would have already forgotten about Ryan and his secret fuckfacery. I decide that I am going to quit smoking (after this pack). And I’m going to make a hair appointment (I still have weird bald spots from the bike accident). I’m going to paint my bedroom and write a play and buy some new shoes and just get back out there and ultimately win. Yeah!
First, before I do all of these things, I’m going to go over to Earwax and drink lots of coffee. This will surely give me the energy to tackle my new list of goals. And then I’m going to stop at Reckless Records to spend some more disposable income. I force myself to don a snappy outfit. After all, Wicker Park is swarming with cute boys. The best thing I could do for myself is get back on the proverbial horse. I fill my bag with notebooks and pens. I carry my bike down the stairs with a newfound level of strength.
I’m about to jump on my bike and ride away, when I hear someone yelling my name.
I turn around to see that it is my neighbor Mark.
So Mark was the first person I met when I moved to Bucktown. I had just broken up with my boyfriend Brad days earlier, essentially losing all of our mutual friends—really, my only friends in Chicago, other than Nate–in the process. And I was in the midst of some weird friends-with-benefits (always a no-win scenario) situation with one of Brad’s best friends. I knew that it was a bad idea, but I was so fucking bored with everything else. I was hoping that moving to another part of the city was going to help. Otherwise, I was going to move back to New York.
Mark introduced himself to me while I was unlocking my bike from the fence outside my building.
“Don’t lock your bike there regularly. It will be stolen within weeks.” I thanked him for the advice and I was about to walk away, when I noticed that he was kind of cute. I turned around to unleash a big smile. “So what fun things can be found in this neighborhood?”
We talked for a while:
–Yeah, I just moved from a weird high rise on Lake Shore Drive. Well, my roommate and I thought it was glamorous. And it was near my boyfriend’s place. Oh, I mean EX-boyfriend.
–I’ve been living in this building for five years. It’s a pretty great neighborhood, but it’s definitely getting gentrified. Oh, you like comic books? Well, the Bucktown Pub, at the end of the block, has a ton of original Daniel Clowes drawings. He used to live right around here.
Soon Mark was agreeing to take me out that night to show me the neighborhood. And dinner/drinks later, I was already enamored with him because he seemed to know everything cool in Wicker Park.
Of course, everything was doomed between us from day one. He is eight years older than me. Fucked up and bitter–even somewhat regretful–in that way that only thirty year old guys can be. For a while this was charming, but then I realized he was making me more sad than happy. And he always read the newspaper while we were at breakfast. I would awkwardly stare until space for a few minutes before grabbing the Op-Ed section. The silence just killed me.
So now we’re friends. He gets drunk and shows up at my house late at night to talk about his fear of failure. Or why girls hate him. And why his job is stifling him as an artist. Complaints about his family. Fears about getting old. He asks me for advice I have no right to give.
Other times we go out for drinks. He pays the bar tab and gets jealous any time he thinks a guy is looking at me. It’s more fun than it sounds.
I start laughing when I see him waving at me. “Did you get fired? Why are you home in the middle of the day?”
He scowls at me. “Shouldn’t I be asking you the same thing?” Mark is a copywriter at an allegedly hip, edgy advertising agency. This is a new-ish development, the result of years of freelance work and the related financial struggle. Now he is doing well. He just bought a car, a true luxury even in sprawled-out Chicago.
And…apparently he is doing so well that he is moving to Lincoln Park with his new girlfriend.
“Wow…so you’re really selling out now, huh?” As soon as I say this, I can tell I’ve hit a sore spot. Time for a peace offering. “Let’s smoke a cigarette and catch up.”
He’s doing that whole “I quit smoking, but I guess if you insist, I’ll give in. Aww, you’re the worst influence,” thing that he ALWAYS does with me.
We sit on his stoop.
“So who’s that cute little boy that’s been hanging around your building? London says he’s your new boyfriend.”
I roll my eyes. “He is 26, so he’s no little boy. Actually, we broke up yesterday. The Queer Case of the Ex-Girlfriend.”
He laughs. But then he sees how sad I am. “Oh, princess, I’m sorry. I had a feeling something was up when I heard screaming riot grrls seeping out of your bedroom windows.”
I shrug my shoulders non-commitally. “I was a model of good behavior. I didn’t even get drunk and pass out with my head in his shower.” This refers to a particularly bad evening in Mark’s apartment on Halloween, after I drank a whole bottle of wine in about thirty minutes and then decided to pay a visit. Within seconds, I was puking in his bathroom. And then dropping into unconsciousness (this was actually a good thing, because I tend to start crying after vomiting).
“Aw, that was cute. You looked good in those leather pants.”
My good spirits are deflating. “I’m really sad that you are moving away. It’s the end of an era! I mean, you introduced me to the Rainbo. And that’s my favorite bar ever!”
He puts his arm around me and promises that we’ll still hang out.
“I doubt it. I’m forbidden to leave Bucktown/Wicker Park unless it’s to go to work or the animal shelter.”
“Listen, I’ve had a lot of disappointment and broken hearts in my time and–”
I cut him off. “Is this where you play the I-am-so-old-and-experienced-card? And then I’m supposed to be so glad that I have someone so wise and thirty in my life?”
He pinches my arm. “I think you should go away on a trip. A little space and unwise money-spending is always the best prescription.”
“Where would I go?”
“Go to New York! Make it a long weekend. You can buy a roundtrip ticket for just over $100 right now. Do it! Don’t you have college friends there?”
At first I’m shaking my head like “No, that’s a stupid idea,” but then I start nodding my head. Yeah, this a good plan.
We both stand up and I give him a hug. “Your cover of ‘South Central Rain’ is the best I’ve ever heard.” (OF COURSE he’s in a band).
He laughs. I’m sure he’s secretly thrilled. “Your new haircut makes you look like a rock star.”
Now it’s my turn. “I’m glad I could be a part of your Turning 30 Existential Crisis.”
He hugs me again. “You’re going to write the best book ever someday, I just know it.”
This obliges me to kiss him on the cheek. I walk away waving, as he gets into his fancy silver car.
I jump on my bike and pedal to the end of the block. Then I stop and turn around. Back to my apartment, up the stairs, straight to my computer. I buy a ticket to New York for the next weekend. $125 is a small price for the return of my happiness.