chicago, memories

andersonville, 1am

Nothing unusual, nothing strange
Close to nothing at all
The same old scenario, the same old rain
And there’s no explosions here
Then something unusual, something strange
Comes from nothing at all
I saw a spaceship fly by your window
Did you see it disappear?
—from Amie by Damien Rice, a favorite song of mine

There are no pictures of this one. This is a feeling, a memory, a suspicion that more happened here than I want to remember. Much of grad school spent on Clark Street, hovering around Foster. A colleague tends bar here, offering cheap whiskey and beer that end up more expensive in other ways. Sometimes I’d walk home to Lincoln Square, others I’d drive in a black-out. It’s only a couple of miles, wide easy streets, no one will get hurt. But every morning (afternoon), after I took a “detox nap” in a too-hot bubble bath and drank a liter or two of Pellegrino, I’d be out to inspect the car: any scrapes? dents? evidence? blood? Ask any recovered alcoholic if it could’ve been them on the 10 o’clock news, having killed a family of three and not even knowing until 18 hours later when the black-out lifted. We all know someone like that. Sometimes they’re the best of people sober. People make mistakes you wouldn’t expect or understand when the whiskey takes over.

Jack spent a year in prison. DUI. I don’t know how many he’d had. I never asked. Once you meet someone, sober, they’re a different person. Always the possibility they’ll revert, relapse, reinvigorate that Dr. Jekyll inside but mostly everyone’s glad they don’t know the people everyone else used to be. I didn’t care about Jack having been in prison or that he’d lost his trading privileges after doing something that cost someone a million bucks. He cared. Carried that with him, right into his grave.

Me, too. Reading my writing from 2005, 2006, the years before the drinking ended, it’s like reading about someone else’s life. It’s embarrassing. I leave it on my blog to remember. What, I don’t know. I never ended up in jail or losing much of anything. Losing: a relative term. It’s difficult to say you lost something if you were giving it away, willingly, like candy on Halloween. That stuff, I’ve got plenty. I don’t do that anymore, play philanthropist with pieces of my soul. They’re kind of important now. I’ve grown attached.

Also hovering around Clark Street: Neo-futurist theater, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Last night, the first time I’ve seen them finish, all 30 plays in 60 minutes. The only time I haven’t hated at least one sketch. One of the few times I’ve seen them not on a date. Like many things, better without someone to worry about satisfying. It’s tiresome, feeling judgment from people—men—who don’t understand people can be different without one (them) being better. I’ve wasted too many hours convincing someone else my tastes matter. It’s obvious they do. Why they should. Disagree? Too bad. This could’ve been the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Farewell Chicago Tour item No. 13? Check.

And: Women & Children First. I think I saw Naomi Wolf there in the early 90s. Or maybe that was Barbara’s further south on Clark. I know it was the early 90s, when I had a confused notion of feminism—working in an occupation in which pleasing men is the first priority does that to you—but Naomi got it. We were pals for a while, she was going to get me published, take me under her wing. I could blame drinking for it not happening, but more so it’s bad decisions all-around. Get married young, play house, have babies, pretend you’re a suburban mom, dye your hair blonde and wear Brooks Brothers twin sets. Live like that and at some point the bubble bursts but not before you’ve forgotten any dreams, plans you might have had. Me? Brooks Brothers? It was a spectacle. The blue streak I added back into my hair was but the beginning. The Philosopher knew what was coming. More power to him for trying to hang on for so long.

Women & Children First: the idea of a feminist bookstore never crossed my mind as a teenager living in Texas. Probably I was stuck on Ayn Rand and her notions of femininity, which—really—had a bit of a draw to them. Screw the parts where a woman couldn’t ever be president because she needs a man to look up to, but I’ll take the rough sex and hair pulling any day—not rape, mind you, just a degree of emphasis. This doesn’t surprise anyone, which surprises me. A former lover cites my tattoos: no one gets those unless they like a little bit of pain, he said. But: even tattooed folk need tenderness among the fierce. Also: sometimes tattoos don’t mean anything more than liking artwork, on your skin. At some point the pain is an afterthought, a nice reminder that even after all these years you’ve still got a soft spot.

I suppose I should have been afraid, walking home last night at 1am, even though it was only half a mile, in what people call a “good” neighborhood. I suppose I should be more afraid more often, but it doesn’t occur to me until after the fact—much like bad decisions, romantic ideas, and men I date only because I like the sound of their voices. The alleys I’ve been in, seedy places I’ve traveled, half-steps I’ve taken inches ahead of danger. Life seems a bunch of taking chances and risks and if I thought about the fear too much I’d be in bed all day. That says a lot, considering how much fear I do admit. Meh. Maybe it’s not fear so much as nervous energy, me chattering about to pass the minutes/hours/days until it’s time to let go and just bungee jump.

Those trampoline classes I took last fall in NYC? Terrifying. I was like a lead zeppelin up there, not realizing the weight I’ve gained could impact the process. Uh, yeah. But I did it: held the bar and I jumped off the platform and I swung—ungracefully—with the Manhattan skyline on one side of me and the Hudson on the other. Doesn’t much matter whether I did it well. It’s the jumping-off. No one fears good outcomes, success, having accomplished something; the beginning is the catching-point that leaves fearful people static. Not-fearful people (not fearless, no one is but sociopaths and mental cases) know that after the first step, the rest falls in line. Hard to remember sometimes, but true. I wouldn’t lie.

(Obviously) Thinking a lot lately about the differences between teenage me, me now; me leaving Texas, me leaving Chicago; me with and without Jack; me in a comfort zone, me taking risks. I like to think “teenage me/me now” is the biggie, but not really. Nor do geography, Jack, or emotional comfort matter. It’s all in the moving forward, wherever I am. I could stay here and move mountains. I could move to NYC and do nothing. I could move anywhere and be anything, relatively speaking. (I have no desire to join the circus, be an investment banker, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, or lose five billion pounds to become a middle-aged catalog model.)

What hasn’t changed: what other people call naiveté and I call optimism. The idea that things will work out. That if they haven’t, then the process isn’t done and I need to keep walking. That I’ll find people to love who will love me right back. That life is a big tea party and I want everything to be just right. That even though bad things happen to good people, bad things don’t define the future, my future. That I deserve to be accepted “as-is” and not with conditional warranty. That financial insecurity doesn’t equal a glum life. That there is a place for everyone if we look hard enough. That I’m OK and you’re OK. That we’re in this together. That Let It Be has all the answers. That the person I was in 2006 isn’t the person I am today. That even rough paths are a journey. That prayer is asking to be changed in ways we can’t imagine. That communion—metaphorically—is for hungry people, not perfect people. That treading water is still moving. That everyone is the six-year-old version of themselves who didn’t get what they needed then, even if that was only a candy bar or a kiss after a spill. That life is meant to be lived, then written about, not vice versa. That. I believe that.

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