I took a short vacation to cheer myself up. It worked. Except then all of the air travel of the past month finally caught up with me when my eardrum burst on the descent into LAX. It was the strangest mixture of pain and relief. So I’m operating on a mixture of antibiotics, painkillers, and decongestants. That’s why you only get one story today. But it’s long! The final two stories coming tomorrow or Friday. xoxo
The voicemail was clear.
Well, I have to say that sending me more than a hundred postcards is a pretty grand gesture. But honestly, if we’re going to patch this up on any level, the gesture has to be grander. Let me know when you’ve booked a flight.
I sold a bunch of clothes and books that I mostly didn’t need to pay for another ticket to Chicago. Of course I wasn’t expecting Patrick to meet me at the airport. But I couldn’t help but suspect that he made me wait on the stoop a few moments longer after I rang the buzzer. And his hug was very stiff. He had prepared slightly for my visit. There was whiskey. There was a stack of DVDs to work through. But it wasn’t the same. Maybe he knew that I hadn’t really sacrificed anything too important to make this trip.
I have to work the next few days so you’re going to have to entertain yourself. Of course he didn’t take any time off of work. I think you should go down to Wicker Park while you’re here.
I shook my head. No, no, no.
He was not pleased. You say that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life being an asshole. This is part of that…of getting your head into a better place.
The first day I walked all the way down to Belmont to visit a dollhouse supply store. The upstairs was filled from floor to ceiling with mini versions of every object imaginable. Obviously there were little couches and tables and bathtubs, but also tiny magazines, thermoses, and first aid kits. But the basement was even better. It was simply a large workspace for those slaving away on their own miniature dream home. There were pristine suburban chalets. Minimalist modern caves. Architectural monstrosities with too many cupolas, columns,, and gables. The air was a specific blend of Duco cement and Testors paint. I loved this place. When I still lived in Chicago, I secretly visited every week. No one seemed to question the regular presence of a girl with a wacky hair style and even wackier clothes. No matter how sad or anxious I had felt–and there were a lot of those times–I always felt happy and calm when I finally bounced back up the stairs.
That night we shared a bland and silent dinner. What did you do today? I didn’t want to mention the dollhouse store, so I made up a boring story about trying on lots of coats. He frowned. We slept in the same bed, side-by-side, not touching. I felt like my body might just burst into flames if I had to spend another night like that. But I was too stubborn to do anything about it.
The next day I went to the Art Institute to give dirty looks to all of the tourists fawning over the Impressionists. That night he slept on the farthest edge of the bed. I mirrored his effort, almost falling over the edge deep in the night.
On the third morning, I found myself sitting in the cemetery across the street from his apartment. I just need time to think about all of this, I told myself. I felt backed into a corner. Grand gestures. I didn’t want to be asshole for the rest of my life. I really did want to get my head together. If that’s even a possible outcome.
Getting to Wicker Park from Patrick’s neighborhood required virtually a herculean effort without a bicycle. First I had to take the red train all the way down to the loop. It gave me too much time for hesitation. Stop after stop I considered just getting off and going to the top of the Sears Tower instead. I’ve never done that before, I reasoned. But some nearly forgotten sense of routine took over, and I found myself making the proper transfer and climbing the stairs to the Blue Line platform.
Soon I was there, at Damen and Milwaukee. Everything looked different. In the midst of bad dreams, I could usually talk myself out of feeling frightened by pointing out all of the geographical inaccuracies. Everything was all wrong here. My favorite coffee shop was now on the opposite side of the street. The used bookstore had moved up the block. An Urban Outfitters had opened at the intersection. And there were other strange errors. Stores had new names. The cheap restaurants were gone. All of the familiar leather jacket-clad hipsters were pushing strollers. That didn’t seem right.
I worked my way down Milwaukee, wondering if I really was sleepwalking. A cute boy my age stopped me. I know this sounds like a weird question, but are you from Portland? I laughed, yes, that’s barely a weird question. He nodded. I could tell by the way you are dressed. I walked away confused.
If this really was a dream, nothing too bad could happen. After all, I was in charge. I decided to go all the way. I stopped at a formerly dirty bodega that had become the standard yuppie supply store, filled with esoteric microbrews, eight dollar candy bars, and no less than ten varieties of soy milk. I walked out with a $20 bouquet of organically raised white flowers.
Next I boarded a bus bound for Humboldt Park.
Fifteen minutes later I was in front of the building where my husband died. The home of his former studio. I hadn’t been here since the day before his death. His parents had cleaned it out for me, while my mother watched me toss and turn in a sedative-induced sleep twenty blocks away. That’s the last place he ever saw, I announced to no one. If ghosts are real is he in there or is he following me around, seeing what a fuck up I am? I laid the flowers on the stoop. I wished I knew some kind of prayer.
I walked back to Wicker Park with hot-lava tears scorching my face and neck.
I went to my favorite bar. The bar where I had met my husband. I drank a series of cheap gin cocktails in rapid succession. Feeling both dizzy and flushed, I found myself at the nearby Jewel-Osco, meandering down every aisle. There was something comforting about watching families squabble over important food shopping decisions under the blazing fluorescent lights. Very little here had changed. Everything was in the correct place. I emerged with a box of Fruity Pebbles.
I took a cab back to Patrick’s apartment. I could see his bedroom light from the street. I began slipping off my shoes as I fished in my pocket for the spare key. I undressed in the doorway. Socks, jacket, dress, underwear, bra. A surprisingly tall pile of fabric.
Honey, I’m home, I announced as I walked into the living room. I hope you like breakfast because I brought this cereal all the way from Wicker Park.
He actually smiled at me.
The beating of his heart woke me up in the middle of the night. My ear was nestled in his sternum. I felt so glad that he was alive. Grand gestures.