Wednesday, September 09, 2009
This is not goodbye. It's just a long break between animal crackers.
Have you given up on me? I mean, if you did, I would completely understand. It's like that raccoon that sat on top of the telephone pole behind your house for a week and then suddenly disappeared. After a while, you just stop looking.
As it happens, I have left Chicago for the more murderous and less expensive pastures of St. Louis, before I proceed to Omaha in November. I normally leave personal details out of my blog posts, replacing them with vague references to feelings and hopes and dreams, but I feel it necessary to explain that I am leaving to get married. And I couldn't be happier... unless PBS decided to run a primetime "Today's Special" reunion episode, under which circumstances I would be happiest. Anyway, I imagine I'll write more about wedding things down the road. This, however, is a time for reflection.
I arrived in Chicago in November of 2007, fresh from a breakup (with the person I'm now marrying) and eager to test my own fortitude in a city I'd always dreamed of inhabiting. During my first few months, I turned one friend into a few acquaintances. I was cold sometimes. Drunk often. Lonely always. I survived on carrots and mustard and weekend visits from friends. And occasionally... just occasionally, I wondered what the fuck I had done.
Fast forward to Valentine's Day, 2008. I was working for a PR firm and hating love and eager to get home to my carrots and mustard when a co-worker, who up until this point had been known only to me as the one girl I think I could probably be friends with, swung by my office and made a joke in passing about spending a lonely holiday at Chili's. We glanced back and forth for a minute before we both realized the sad truth: we had nothing better to do than to make this quip a reality. At 5:30, we braved the wind and walked west on Ontario to a Chili's restaurant otherwise populated by starry-eyed tourists. We drank expensive margaritas, followed by expensive beer, chased by cheap chips and salsa, and talked about where we had been up until this point. Nothing very remarkable, but we were hopeful.
This person, by the way, is Lauren Svoboda, resident person on my list of top Chicago-related accomplishments.
When you spend Valentine's day at Chili's with a person under unexpected and somewhat sad circumstances, you sort of cement yourself to them because you share a secret that you will laugh quietly about every time it crosses your mind. And you will laugh loudly when you are together.
At this point, it was all downhill in an uphill sort of way, as I had finally made a friend that I could complain to and not feel like a burden, call and not feel like a telemarketer, cry in front of and not feel like a zoo animal. When my dad died, Lauren was the person I called to say that, for the time being, I would not be at work. And three months later, when I received walking orders from my employer, she was the person I called once I'd hauled my belongings home and taken a moment to realize the enormity of the situation.
And when I called, I found out that she had suffered the same fate. If, when I am old and a little closer to dying, I think back on my life in phases, like the time I was listlessly detached or the time I was monumentally happy, this will be the time I was poor, confused and thoroughly entertained. We spent our mornings talking about going to the library that afternoon, our afternoons at the zoo and our evenings drinking sugary pre-mixed cocktails, knowing full well that we had nothing to wake up for in the morning, except maybe lunch.
Getting laid off with someone is sort of like going to Chili's on Valentine's Day only slightly more raw. And thus the cement grows stronger.
A month later, we were back to work but not back to normal. At this point, I would mention Lauren's name in conversation with family and friends in other cities and states, as if by osmosis they knew exactly who she was, what she was like and what enormous role she had taken on in my life. To everyone outside of Chicago, she was a ghost and a super hero and a character from the short story I was writing with this portion with my daily existence.
In reality, we spent a great deal of time drinking things and eating things and watching things and talking about things that usually remained off limits to everyone else. Sometimes we would watch One Tree Hill, sip whisky and tap water and wonder where the months and days had gone since October 16, 2008, and when our novels would be published.
I'm not exactly sure what I wanted to get out of my sudden, unplanned and seemingly immature move to Chicago. I wanted to do the writing program at Second City, ride on buses and trains, carry an umbrella and learn to navigate my way through large crowds. I wanted to go to concerts (I probably made it to four) and do vaguely adventurous things. I did not expect to make really good friends, but that's perhaps the one area in which I was most successful. The number is small, but the people are good. And the very best of all is Lauren Svoboda.
So thanks, Lauren, for not only being the sole reader of my blog, but also my favorite person in Chicago and one of the greatest friends I've ever had. I'll see you in October. Save me some triscuits and please be waiting with a hug.