20 stories about 1 person: part three.

Catch up:  part one and part two.

11.

It was another long, drunken march up Belmont.  But not that Belmont in Chicago.  This was a different Belmont on the other side of the country.  This Belmont didn’t have a single punk rock clothing store or piercing parlor.  This Belmont stretched eastward into a mountain, and well, I didn’t know what was past the mountain because I didn’t have a car to drive there.  

It had taken me a year to be ready to leave my mother’s house in Pennsylvania.  I had to learn to speak again.  To eat and sleep and smile and shower.  I had forgotten how to execute all of life’s most menial tasks.   I empathized with the brain-damaged victims of horrendous car crashes and gory freak accidents. I remembered a video in junior high school about the evils of drugs and alcohol (or maybe it was reckless driving?) called It Happened In A Millisecond.  That title seemed so poignant to me now.

The path to feeling somewhat human (or least behaving as if I felt that way) began with devouring stacks of long, dark Russian novels.  Maybe my life seemed less grim by comparison.  Soon I began to eat three meals on most days.  I stopped wearing my husband’s clothing.  I noticed that my hair was long overdue for a box of hair color.  I called Patrick.  And I finally unpacked the boxes of my Chicago belongings that had been stacked against all of four walls of my bedroom for months.   Next I found a job “proudly serving Starbucks coffee” at a big box bookstore two towns over.  It was where all of the local weirdos and art jerks liked to hang out. They told me their problems while I made their lattes.  You’re the best listener, Evangeline.  I enjoyed that brief glimpse into someone else’s life and worries.   So I made some friends.  But I still preferred to spend my time alone.  I drove around the countryside for hours at night, mentally writing long letters to my dead husband. Continue reading

Tagged , ,

20 stories about 1 person: part two.

Read part one here.

5.

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.

 

6.

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.”


Continue reading

Tagged , ,

20 stories about 1 person: Part One.

I’ve been working on this story for months.  It has been outlined again and again.  Just when I thought I knew exactly how and where I wanted it to go, another detail would occur to me.  Hours upon hours on airplanes and trains slipped through my fingers as I sunk myself deeper into this story.   Notes were scribbled on the backs of credit card receipts and sometimes even on my forearm.  “Don’t forget this! It’s so important,” I would tell myself. 

Now it’s here. And it’s really long.  So I’m breaking into four posts, every day or so.  I don’t want you to cramp your wrist with endless scrolling or shrivel your corneas from prolonged reading.  Plus, it will be more suspenseful or something this way. Right?

 

1.

Chicago in January is unimpressive. Residents bravely march through winter with soft bellies full of fortitude-lending liquor, toting bags of movie rentals, store-brand cold medications, and countless cartons of cigarettes.  The days are brief.  The sun sets long before dinner, prematurely plunging the already dark day into a final blackness.  Those courageous enough to venture out for dinner parties and cocktail hours find themselves donning layers upon layers of protective clothing.  The mere act of getting dressed becomes exhausting.  They are jealous of those lucky enough to afford tropical vacations and cars with all-wheel drive.   But it is the memory of spring that keeps everyone going.  Around April–unless it’s a particularly cruel year–the sun returns to melt away the seemingly permanent layer of snow and ice, revealing well-tended flower beds and delicate dogwood trees.  The residents emerge from chrysalises of bulky sweaters and long underwear, revealing pale newborn skin.  The lake fills the horizon with blue and silver glitter.

But this afternoon–just a few days after the New Year–the view from the bus window was merely a dreary blur of dirty snow and people swallowed up by puffer jackets.  

It was my first time in Chicago.  And now I lived there.  

The bus ride from the Blue Line El station was too long. I wondered if I had made a mistake.  Apparently I had moved to America’s version of Siberia.  Desperate times will lead to desperate decisions.  Meanwhile a steady stream of fun facts and encouraging statements flowed from my boyfriend’s mouth.  This is your home now.  Our home.  Actually, he had been here for six months while I floundered back east, waiting for my stepfather to die.   I was twenty and he was the only person I had.  So I was here now, too.

I silently stared through the steamed up windows.  I was glad that we had long passed the point in our relationship where my participation in conversation was necessary.  I saw a hospital with a smugly beatific Jesus  watching over its entrance.  A factory that specialized in artificial flavors filled the bus with the ghost of freshly baked cookies.  There were stores upon stores bursting with copyright infringement Pokemon paraphernalia.  I judged the souls foolish enough to walk dogs in this weather.  I spotted the occasional teenage girl clad only in hubris and a miniskirt.   And at least half a dozen McDonald’s locations.  We had travelled no less than one hundred blocks.   I speculated that I had spent more time on this bus than I had on the flight from Baltimore.  But eventually  the bus deposited us at a bleak intersection in front of a check cashing place. Now we got to drag the two huge suitcases that held all of my worldly belongings through the slush.  And then we huffed and puffed up three flights of stairs.  Apartment 3N.  That was where I lived now. Continue reading

Tagged , ,

we have come for light.

I live here now.

I live here now.

I spent the last NYE in my nightgown, watching Woody Allen films while tying strips of white fabric to a huge plastic grid.

My ostensible reason for spending the alleged OMG BIG PARTY NIGHT OF THE YEAR holed up in my apartment was an art installation/happening that I was putting together with my good friend/creative partner.  The clock was ticking and we only had a few days left to prepare.  My friends reluctantly accepted this excuse.  Yet my phone buzzed into the wee hours with declarations of  “I WISH YOU WERE HERE” and “IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO PUT ON A DRESS AND COME OUT.”

I did not wish I was there.  And it was far too late in every sense for me to put on a dress and the requisite coordinating happy face.  I had spent the holidays adorning myself in sequins and fake smiles.  My grandmother had always told me “Smile until it’s real.” I adopted this approach for the numerous Christmas parties and wild drunken nights out that social law forced me to attend.  But despite my aching facial muscles, the smile never became true.  I woke up every morning wishing that it were time to go back to bed for the night.  I fell asleep every night wishing that they next day would never come.

I was sad.  I had spent the last two months holed up in my bedroom, vaguely enjoying dinners of gin and painkillers.  I couldn’t eat.   I couldn’t sleep without chemical intervention.  Work made me want to die.  And I had abruptly developed a case of agoraphobia that prevented me from even going out for a cup of coffee.   I didn’t want my friends and family to know just how pitiful I was–I’m nicknamed “McPartypants” for a reason–and so I spent time rehearsing enthusiastic responses to innocent questions like “How are you doing?”

“I’m GREAT.”

“I’M great.”

I just couldn’t get the accent right, so I switched to a vaguer (but theoretically still positive) “I’m SO busy.” Continue reading

Tagged , ,

ghosts.

commute

Walk about one mile to the Highland Park Gold Line station.  Board the next train bound for Union Station/East LA.

Disembark from the Gold train and walk through Union Station to the Red/Purple Line  platform. Board the next train.

Get off the train at 7th Street.  Use the exit at Hope Street. Walk to my office in the fashion district.

Stop for coffee along the way.

This is my daily commute.  About 45 minutes in total, which makes me lucky by LA standards.  And of course, the journey home is the inverse, with a long uphill walk to my house.

I usually read on the train.  I consume approximately two books per week, lovingly chosen at The Last Bookstore.  But last Tuesday night, my eyes were dry from the unnecessary office air conditioning and my head ached from eight hours of meetings and spreadsheets.   I’m sorry to say, Mr. Hemingway, but The Sun Also Rises was incapable of holding my attention.  My eyes wandered around the train, reading the advertisements for personal injury attorneys with terrible design direction and a message in Spanish informing women that they were free to leave their unwanted babies at fire stations with no questions asked.   I scanned my fellow passengers, wondering once again, why I never see the same people twice on my regular and regimented commute.   That was when I noticed the man standing closest to the door.

He was the older version of someone I loved.  Or rather (and I’m aware this is incredibly cliche), someone I was trying to forget. Someone I almost hated myself for loving because the mere idea of loving this person would seem so foolish to anyone with the slightest bit of common sense.  But hell, if people weren’t feeling this way all the damn time, fifty percent of the  books and albums I love wouldn’t exist.

I tried to look away, but I couldn’t.  The resemblance was uncanny.  The old-mannish high waisted jeans.  The buffalo check jacket, brown boots, and even similar glasses.  But the Steinbeck paperback in his right hand just clinched it.  A wave of long-avoided heartache and its corresponding sad songs washed over me.  I could feel the slightest hint of tears creeping into my eyes.  For the briefest moment, I wondered if he was a ghost sent by some vindictive spirit to awaken the the emotional cyclone I had squashed into the darkest corner of my brain.

“Oh fuck no,” I told myself.  “I’m not allowed to think about any of this in my new life.”  But there I was, rerunning one of the major story arcs from the last year of my life.  A montage of moments both rapturous and wrenching.  If I allowed myself to fall down that well, I wouldn’t escape for days.  I had spent the last two months tiptoeing around the edge, promising myself all sorts of rewards if I avoided even looking in its direction.  Continue reading

Tagged , ,

crazysexyguilt: part six.

My mom called me after school. “I want you to come to see me at work today. Can you be here by five?”

Her nearly professional tone told me that I was in trouble. I searched my memory for possible missteps. I hadn’t cut school in weeks, I was always on time for my shifts at the bookstore, and a wild run-in with some Zima the previous summer had squashed any impulses toward underage drinking. I had seen her about a week ago, when I was visiting my stepfather Charles in the hospital. He had been admitted with a particularly virulent case of pneumonia. One of my friends had driven me the thirty miles from the house where I was living (with another quasi-emancipated teenage girl) because I wasn’t allowed to have a driver’s license until I was in college. As far as I could remember, I hadn’t even come close to sticking my foolish foot in my mouth. I had arrived with flowers and surprisingly neat hair. Everything had seemed amiable, despite the strange setting for our family reunion.

The same friend–an awkward teenage skater boy–agreed to once again chauffeur me to Harrisburg for this mysterious meeting. We speculated about the agenda. Concerns included a random drug test, my tendency to cry in the girl’s bathroom before Physics, and a recent male sleepover at my house. But my guess was something bigger. “She’s probably about to tell me that I’m not allowed to go away to school in NYC, which is totally unfair since I’ve been living alone all this time.” Teenage girl problems. Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

another intermission: what happens next?

On Monday my mother announced that my existence was her single greatest regret. On Tuesday I attended my stepfather’s funeral in an itchy black dress hastily purchased at Burlington Coat Factory. By Thursday I was heading to Chicago with a one-way ticket, $300 in my checking account, and two suitcases full of clothes and books. My grandma stuffed a fifty dollar bill in my pocket just before I went through security. “You’ll be glad that you did this,” she promised.

And that was how I moved to a city I had never visited.

Still shell-shocked by the events of the week, I struggled to fake a smile when my boyfriend greeted me at O’Hare. I officially had no home, no family, and no place to fall. My brother was already trading my records and books for weed and beer. I would never again see my beloved vintage Schwinn (named Strawberry Julius). I was going to have to make the best of all of this. My boyfriend was all I had left and I knew my grip on him was tenuous. Moping would only accelerate his slow drift away from me.

The long bus ride from the El to his (now “our”) apartment blocks from Lake Michigan revealed a grim assortment of low buildings blanketed in dingy snow. January in Chicago is harsh, probably not the best time for new arrivals. Each stop brought more exhausted passengers wrapped in worn down coats. My faux fur jacket, while stylish, would be no match for the icy wind. Every block was comprised of check cashing businesses, cell phone outlets, and dicey-looking takeout restaurants. The trees seemed to have climbed back down into the ground to wait out the winter. My boyfriend pointed at a vaguely industrial building. “That’s an artificial flavor factory. Some days it smells like butter, and other times cinnamon.” I feigned laughter, immediately deciding that this wasn’t going to go very well if that was the most interesting aspect of my new life.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,