Read part one here.
The party was boring and I was only there because I wanted to smuggle Patrick back to Wicker Park. Maybe stuff all 6’3” of him into my bike basket. I counted the minutes on a couch, drinking directly from a bottle of vodka.
Drinking was so complicated yet completely mandatory for social situations. Like, vodka was disgusting. It tasted like soapy dishwater. But gin allegedly made one feel sad. And whiskey was only good if it was expensive. Red wine gave me a headache. White wine was basically cheap perfume. Tequila was for sorority girls and rum was social suicide. But drinks occupied my hands and gave me an excuse to be silent.
After an eternity, I went into the bathroom to make sure I still looked good. I scribbled onto a gum wrapper “meet me at ashland and addison at 11:30.”
I slipped it into his pocket as I walked by, saying goodbyes to all of the people who no longer wanted to be my friend since I had broken up with my boyfriend.
“Farewell. Thanks for the great party! I hope I see you again soon.”
I probably would not see them again soon.
I pedaled as fast as I could to Ashland and Addison. I wanted to have enough time to reapply lipstick and assume a really cool pose.
The sex was not that good. In fact, it was awkward and anti-climactic almost every time. But it didn’t stop me from waiting by the phone for him to call. I taped a note to the bathroom mirror that said “Patrick didn’t call and that’s just fine.”
He was begging me please please please just stay the night here. I couldn’t because all of his friends were on the roof, including his really good friend, my ex-boyfriend. People would see me and they would know. Just hide in my room until everyone leaves. I promise no one will know you are here.
This was drunk logic.
No, no, it would be be better for me to go back to Wicker Park and then he could just come over afterwards because even his roommates couldn’t know that I was sleeping with him. At least let me carry your bike downstairs. I relented because was already stumbling down the hundreds of steps with my bike on his shoulders.
Please let me kiss you because I’ve been waiting all night. He pulled me close and already I could feel myself deciding that I would carry my bike back up to his third floor bedroom because I couldn’t wait another moment for You fucking bitch. I should have known that you would do something like this. My ex-boyfriend was in the doorway, his face purple with rage. He hurled a bottle of beer into the street. A real curveball.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I whispered to everyone as I jumped on my bike and pedaled away as fast as I could, skipping all of the stop signs on Clarendon.
The problem with Patrick was that maybe I was falling in love with him.
Another problem with Patrick was that he wouldn’t call for a week or two. For the first few days, I would be insane with jealousy and insecurity. Where is he? Is he with another girl? Do I know her? And then slowly, I would think about him less and less. I would wrap myself up in this or that project. I would feel productive and powerful. I didn’t need him or anybody else.
But just as I was shifting my obsession elsewhere, he would leave a voicemail announcing his intention to arrive at my place some time that evening. The anticipation would drive me crazy. Would he arrive at seven? Or nine? Midnight? Some nights I just biked in circles around my neighborhood. With the wind blowing up my skirt, I would silently chant his name backwards. My best friend in kindergarten told me that was the best way to make someone appear. When he finally rang my buzzer, we would hole ourselves up in my bedroom for two or three days. And then I had to start forgetting him all over again.
I never knew where he was staying or what he was doing when he wasn’t with me. I didn’t even know if he had a job. There were rumors about his family and their old money. His mother allegedly lived in the Drake. He may have had a trust fund. I never asked. Asking would be crossing an invisible line we had both drawn.
I was sleeping with my neighbor, who was thirty, and therefore, infinitely cooler than anyone I knew. However it was doomed from moment one because he tended to lecture me about how I should live my life. Learn from my mistakes, Evangeline. And then he commanded that I practice writing every day and read this-and-that book and that other one, too. He forced me to listen to the same Sinead O’Connor song ten times in a row–”The Last Day of Acquaintance.” This is how you write, Evangeline. To be fair, it was an amazing song. He also brought The New York Times to breakfast. Rather than speak to me, he would spend the entire meal reading, passing me a section only when he was done with it. This was a taste of grown up life that I preferred to avoid.
On the other hand, he knew every cool secret about Wicker Park. He was an excellent tour guide. And he introduced me to his friends as The Wunderkind. He thought I was brilliant. He read my stories aloud as if they were already part of the literary canon. He left books in my mailbox. I threw up an entire bottle of red wine in his bathroom and he still liked me.
I took him to this party of old friends, “friends from when I first moved to Chicago,” in hopes that they would be impressed that I could attract older Wicker Park natives.
Immediately I realized I had made a mistake. For one, I spent a lot of time gently reminding everyone that I was no longer Angie, but had grown up to be Evangeline. And then my ex-boyfriend was there. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I had just gone to a show with him a few nights before. I had drunkenly dragged him into the alleyway after the opening act, begging him to fuck me by the dumpster. Little persuasion was required. Ten minutes later, we were back in the front row for the headliner. On the walk to the El station, we had discussed what to bring to tonight’s party. There had been no goodbye kiss. Just a tepid hug.
I couldn’t stop sleeping with him. The first time was a little sad and awkward. It was a week after he caught me kissing Patrick. We shouldn’t do this. It’s a bad idea. And so on. But soon we were making up excuses to hang out. Suddenly it was really important to see bands we previously did not care about. Of course we should find every bar in Chicago that offered free popcorn. Yes, he should come over to listen to my new records. He was comfortable and reassuring in a city full of foreign, frequently disappointing bodies.
Patrick was also at the party. I had just seen him that morning, eating waffles in my kitchen. He was my favorite of all of these men, my favorite of all of the men I had ever met. Of course I had to prepare an elaborate breakfast in honor of his mere presence. And of course he knew I was sleeping with the other two. I had to tell him everything. Lying to him would have felt like lying to myself. We barely liked the same movies or music or even food. But we shared one key quality: we both knew what it felt like to be loved by no one. We had both been sad, lonely children. We liked to think that our long time starvation for love had destroyed our appetite for it. And therefore, everything between us was just really, really cool. I wanted him so badly to be jealous, but of course he couldn’t be. Here at the party, he avoided my eye contact.
After lots of awkward conversation about How I Was Enjoying Wicker Park Hipster Life and Key Bicycle Accessories Every Woman Must Own, I dragged my neighbor out to the porch for smoking. And of course, my ex-boyfriend and Patrick were already there. Just me and the three guys that had seen me naked in the past week. Well, more like the past 72 hours.
Wow, I was powerful. These three men…I knew their vulnerabilities, I had touched their soft fragile bellies. I had seen them sleep. I had watched them try so hard to please me. They had bought me drinks and omelettes, records and books.
Now Patrick was trying to catch my eye. He wanted me to know he was laughing at the other two. And maybe even laughing at me. My heart sank. I had been tying knots upon knots that I would never be able to undo. I had been slowly learning that I was only regretful about something when I consciously knew it was wrong while I was doing it. And now this all felt wrong.
It would be a good time for me to teach English abroad. Or go to Amsterdam to smoke weed with dreadlocked backpackers. Maybe I could bike to Central America or something. I needed to get out of town ASAP.
In the fourteen days since my husband’s funeral, I had taken to lying in the willowy weeds across the dirt road from my mother’s house. I felt safe lying there with only the sky watching me. When I was eight, my mother had told me that there was no heaven. Instead we died and nothing else really happened except worms and insects ate our bodies. Here in the weeds, I imagined if I stayed just still enough, if I slowed my heart down a little bit, I could get that process started. There was comfort to be found in a gradual, silent disappearance from the world.
I had never been a Twenty-four-Year-Old Widow before. I couldn’t shake the terrifying sense that my life was now officially over. I was damaged goods. A cautionary tale. I was a 24-year-old woman that had abruptly quit my hard-earned grown up career job and left everything but my books, clothes, and records in an alley in Wicker Park. I was a 24-year-old woman lying in chest-high weeds, possibly being conquered by chiggers and fire ants. All while wearing my dead husband’s thrift store MEXICO YMCA t-shirt.
The path to the role of Twenty-four-Year-Old Widow can begin on April Fool’s Day in a bar at the corner of Damen and Division, where you find yourself chain smoking duty free Gauloises in the corner alone. You are so happy to be surrounded by English chit chat, after six months of self-imposed exile along the southwestern coast of Mexico. You feel fresh and new. You will be better this time.
But you are a bad, bad girl. No geographical relocation will ever cure that condition. And you know that you just want someone to whisper dirty, filthy English words into your ear as soon as possible. You meet this young man, a painter with emerald eyes and a natural coconut scent. And four hours later, you are having surprisingly good sex on the futon in his Humboldt Park studio. I usually can’t have an orgasm the first time I sleep with someone, you shyly confess, because this time was different and therefore fated.
His house number is 3303 and three has always been your favorite number.
The path to widowhood can last a mere sixteen months if you work hard enough. There will be plenty of projects along the way: public arguments, vintage dishware hurled across rooms, and holes kicked in drywall. But it’s not all hard work. You will feel like a princess in a 1920s green silk dress at your city hall wedding. You will find tiny love notes hidden in the pockets of all of your jackets. You will walk down the street together and realize that yes, everyone is looking at us because with your fashionable punk rock hair cut and his unconscious magnetic sexiness, you are a dream couple. Everyone wants to be near the two of you. You never pay for drinks. You start receiving clothes for free. You are invited to every amazing party and the phone never stops ringing. There will be druggy threesomes and hazy bubble baths. You will wake up convinced that you have found the one male that would never, ever make you wait by the phone for his call. And you will be unable to fall asleep that night as you abuse the *69 feature on your marital landline trying to determine just who called him earlier that evening. You will remind yourself over and over and over again that there’s no need to be jealous because he is legally your property forever and ever, or at least until one of you has an extra $500 to get divorced. That won’t be happening any time soon because you both just bought tickets to Europe.
And just as suddenly as it all began, you will be a Twenty-four-Year-Old Widow. There will be plenty of agonizing phone calls to his family. Official police statements. Autopsy results. You will really earn this role.
I had spent the last week in my teenage bedroom, futilely begging my brain for the temporary escape of sleep. Instead I just stared at the collage of late-90s Spin photos above my head. My friends were gone. I couldn’t bear the darkness. I couldn’t watch movies or television shows involving death, love, children, marriage, or sad animals. Songs with similar subject matter also brought me to tears. When I wasn’t lying in the weeds across the street, I hid in my bedroom with all of the lights turned on, listening to The Chronic. I heard my mom quietly expressing concern for me on the telephone with relatives. The phone had rung only once for me. It was the ex-boyfriend who had brought me to Chicago. My longest relationship. If you can’t talk to me about what’s going on, I think you should call Patrick because the two of you always seemed to have some special connection.
I would have called Patrick, but I had lost the ability to speak. I could manage yes, no, scrambled, Xanax, Ativan. Actual sentences were out of the question. I tried to write a note to myself, reminding myself how to talk, but even those words failed me.