Sweet Home Chicago: “Part VII – Only in Dreams”

This would be my last morning in Chicago for the foreseeable future. My cheeks had received the workout of a life from all the smiling, talking and laughing that I had done. For four days I did not bother to look at the clock. Or check out what day it was on the calendar. Time had no meaning. All there was and all I wanted to be in was the now. The only place I wanted to be was next to her. I had found after all these years the one thing that I had been missing all my life. The unadulterated love of someone that did not have to love me. I had never felt more alive than I did on that first trip to Chicago. And now it was over.

When I woke up that morning I couldn’t  motivate myself to get out of bed. I must have stared up at the ceiling in my darkened motel room for about an hour. Reality had been a good enough sport for allowing me to live uninterrupted in a fantasy world for 4 days. But apparently enough was enough, and it felt it was due time I snapped back out of it. In a few hours the Lake Shore Limited would be taking me back east. In less than a day’s time I would be staring at the ceiling above my own bed. Back to my old life. And every beautiful second that I had experienced during my time in Chicago would be relegated to memory. That was the single worst thought I could possibly muster at that moment. What exactly did I have to go back too? Granted my family was there. My mom, father, brother and sister who I loved with all my heart despite all the problems we had. Not to mention a small group of close knit friends that never allowed me to sink to seep into the abyss. But that wasn’t enough for me. I realized that. There was no future for me in NYC. As much as I loved that city, and the ten million characters that call it home, I knew I no longer belonged there. It wasn’t that I had fallen in love with the city of Chicago. It was a beautiful town. But compared to the city that never sleeps, Chicago was nothing more than a quaint, sleepy little town suffering from a big city complex. However Chicago had one thing going for it that New York did not. And that was her.

I knew Jess would be arriving shortly to pick me up at the motel. We had agreed that she would come over early so we could have breakfast and spend a few hours in the city before I left. After a lot of hesitating I was finally able to get myself out of bed. I hit the shower, put on my clothe, and crumpled all my belonging into my book bag and suitcase. I turned on the TV, sat on the edge of the bed and waited for the wifey to arrive.

I was scared. I’m not clairvoyant. But when you are a bit of an introvert, you spend a lot of time observing people. You live a little through them. You become pretty familiar with human behavior. And after a while you end up observing people so much that you can come up with some pretty good assumptions on how certain situations will play out. For months Jess and I had been talking on the phone and chatting online. For almost 5 months that had satisfied us. It was fun. It was something that we kind of did to fill the time. But after spending the last few days with each other, a new reality was born. Going back to chatting and talking on the phone would no longer suffice. We knew exactly what it felt like to be in each others arms. To be in each others presence experiencing life together. To try to go back to the status quo would be impossible. Perhaps we could make a long distance relationship work for a little while. I had no doubt we could make it work for a few weeks. Maybe, just maybe, if I was able to muster a few return visits every few months I might be able to make it last a year or two. But the cold reality was that our love would be to strained by the distance. Eventually Jess would tire of waiting for me, and some other guy would come along, someone that wouldn’t love her as much as I did, and would be willing to sacrifice as much as I was willing to sacrifice for her, but at least he was there, in the flesh. Or perhaps I would meet someone that was nowhere near as special to me as Jess had become. Someone that wouldn’t laugh at my jokes like she did. Someone that didn’t actually find me kind of cute like Jess did;  but who would allow me to play with her tits every now and then whenever she needed some attention. The writing was on the wall. It would only be a matter of time before the relationship that meant so much to me would be over. Unless I figured out something soon. It all felt hopeless.

******

After the wifey arrived, and I checked out of the motel, we followed the itinerary by going for some breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, but I was feeling devastated, which in turn made me want to eat. We drove toward the city and stopped at an IHOP along the way. We shared some more laughs while we ate our breakfast. I had gone with some type of omelet. I’m almost sure the wifey went with some fruity pancakes of some kind. We were both trying our best to hide the sadness that was slowly coming up from within. We reminisced and laughed out loud about the events from the past few days as if we were recalling an old memory from another life. It all felt bittersweet.

It was another beautiful day in the city. Jessie suggested that we should spend the last few hours by the lake. I thought that would be perfect and agreed wholeheartedly. We traveled down Lake Shore Drive that sunny morning. Music was blasting from the car stereo. Not much was being said. My mind couldn’t help but continue trying to predict the future. We pulled of on the Montross exist and found a parking spot right across the street from the entrance to Montrose Dog Beach.

We passed through the gate that is meant to keep the dogs from running away and walked down the concrete pathway that led onto the beach. Once there I was surprised to see dozens of dogs running around, playing and chasing each other as their adopted parents talked amongst themselves. I had never seen so many dogs just being free, with their goofy dog grins and wagging tales just having the time of their lives. The blue sky and equally blue waters of the lake just made for the perfect back-drop. We watched the dogs play for a little while. Laughed at some of the silly things some of them did. It made me wonder if their were any dog parks in NYC. I mean I was certain there had to be. I just didn’t know of any. There was so much about of my home town I had never bothered to see. Never went into the twin towers. I never visited Lady Liberty at Ellis Island. Never saw a Yankee game at the old Yankee Stadium. I never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m not even sure if I had even been in a car as it drove through it. The thought made me feel like NYC was even less of a home than it already was.

After a while Jess suggested we walk down the length of Montrose beach. I took turns between holding her hand or placing my arm around her as we slowly made our way towards a building that was built to look like a grounded ferry boat. It may sound funny to you, but the fact that I was holding her hands and hugging her as much as I did really shows how much I loved her. I’ve never been big on public displays of affection. Holding hands and hugging always made me feel a little anxious. I read somewhere that folks with ADHD don’t like doing those kinds of things because it make them feel a little trapped. It brings on some anxiety. Off course I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to hold on to her for as long as I possibly could.

I knew we didn’t have much time left, but I didn’t want to go to Union Station yet. So I asked Jess if it was O.K. if we drove down to road and see if we could find one last spot to chill until it was time to go to the station. We hopped back in the car and made our way down Sheridan Road. We drove past Loyola University and hit the hipster part of Rogers Park. I’m not exactly sure how exactly we came across the secluded patch of beach known as the Rogers Park Ave Beach, which was was hidden behind a row of apartment buildings right off Sheridan Road, but we both deemed it a worthy spot to spend our last hour together.

There we so many feeling bubbling up from within. I could feel it coming. It started like a little a trickle of water coming through a crack in the soil. At first it seem small and insignificant. But ever time I took notice of what I was feeling the emotions became stronger. It was if years of frustration, and heartbreak where being unleashed. And I had no way of containing it. The trickle turned into a pool, while the increased pressure building up down below threatening to unhinge me on the spot. This would be 5 years before I suffered my first anxiety attack. 5 years before I would know what it was like to lose control of my senses. When my grandmothers, my grandfather, my dog, my homeboy Angle, all died I failed to shed a single tear. I sat there and watched the events of 9/11 unfold like so many millions of people that day on the television. I saw the dark grey smoke rising in the horizon as the towers collapse and the fire raged in ground zero. Yet my eyes did not allow a single tear to be dropped. I’ve had terrible fights with my father, had suffered a number of self inflicted humiliations, and up to that day I never once cried. I could show anger,and rage. I could yell with the best of them. I could hurt myself in all different manners. But I could never, ever make myself cry. Yet as we walked into the little secluded Rogers Park Ave Beach that sunny morning that was about all I could think of doing. I wanted to weep. It would be only a matter of time.

Roger Park Ave Beach reminded me a bit of some of the small parks that I would frequent back home. It had a few benches where old folks would sit on and spend a couple of hours loading the local wildlife with an obscene amount of carbs. Where back home there would have been a fenced in black top, basketball court or a couple of handball courts, Rogers Park had a tennis court, including nets. Off course that was where the similarities came to an end. Because I knew of no park in NYC that had a rocky beach with an unobstructed view of an inland ocean that went as far as the eye could see.

There was no one in the park that morning. It felt like the entire lake was ours. We watched the gulls fly about without a care in the world. Just allowing the winds to guide them to wherever it deemed fit. I envied those feathered bastards. They could go wherever they wanted. They could stay if they choose to. I wished I could stay. We sat on steps leading to what I imagine was an old pier that had rotted away at some point in the distant past. We sat there and talked. It was the first time that either of us dared to admit that my visit was coming to a close. I remember looking over to Jess and thinking that I might never see her again. I told her that I would miss her more that she could ever understand. It was at that moment, as I heard myself say those words out loud, that the small emotional spring that had been developing within me for possibly years, exploded into a full blown geiser. I couldn’t catch my breath. The more I looked at her the more it hurt. The first tears came rolling down my cheeks.

*******

I had been a bit of an emotional wreck as we made our way to Union Station. I was trying my best to compose myself. But it was all for not. Something had taken hold of me. Something deep and primal and far beyond the reach of logic and reason. Whatever this was it needed to come out, and it would not cease until it felt it was well and done. I had a complete breakdown when we parked the car outside of Union Station. The waves of emotion were so powerful that I had no hope reigning it in. I probably hadn’t cried that hard since I was a small child. Imagine a 6’1 450lbs man crying uncontrollably. Sobbing as if he was mourning for the passing of everything that he held true and dear in his heart. I remember looking into the wifey’s eyes and she was both startled and yet very moved by my pathetic display. She hugged me as hard as she possibly could. I told her how much I loved her. I told her how much she meant to me. I told her I didn’t want to leave her. That I needed her. We kissed as our tears streamed down our faces like rivers of sorrow.

Time was speeding up. We only had a few minutes left. We made our way toward the line of passengers that were waiting the board the Lake Shore Limited. I had gathered myself just enough to keep it together while I was out in public. However my eyes were beyond watery, puffy and red. I looked as if had spent the morning trying out different blends from Seth Rogen’s secret gonja stash. Thankfully I was wearing a beyond unflattering pair of prescription sunglasses. I didn’t look cool in them, but at least I could see the world around me without the world having to see the sorry state I was in.  We held hands until I got up to the line. They would be allowing us to board the train momentarily. We kissed one final time. It wasn’t like one of those kisses that you see star crossed lovers share in the romantic film. It wasn’t a passionate one. It was very short. Very sweet. The kind of kiss you reserve for someone that you love but know you must let go. It felt like the kiss you plant on a lovers lips right before they close the casket.

It was then I told Jess that maybe I would be back in a couple of months. Hopefully before Christmas. She smiled sadly. We both knew I was laying. I didn’t have the means to make it back in that short of a span of time. But I felt the need to say it anyway. Maybe it would give her the glimmer of hope she needed, and buy me the time I required to come up with a way of coming back to her. I told her I loved her. She said she loved me too. Then she walked away.

I looked on as Jess walked away from me. She was steady and her step had a certain level of determination. I watched her. I could see that she had brought a hand up to her face. My guess was to wipe away a tear. I waited for her to turn around one last time. I wanted to be granted one last glimpse of the face that had made me so fucking happy during my time in Chicago. But she never did. She walked straight on and eventually turned a corner. And just like that she was out of my life. I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment. I turned around and waiting patiently for the boarding call to be made.

20 minutes later I sat alone in a partially filled train coach on the Lake Shore Limited. The seat next to me was not occupied so I was able to just plant my book back next to me, hoping that it would discourage anyone from sitting next to me. I wanted to be alone. Just me and my thoughts. I pulled out the discman. Popped on my ear phones and played a CD that Jess had made for me some month earlier. As much as it hurt me that day to think about her, I made sure I bathed myself in her memory. I wanted the hurt to course through me. I wanted to make sure that I never forgot that feeling. That pain would be my inspiration. It would become a spark. I would use that hurt that was tearing me and half and make it my own personal defibrillator. It would spark my fat ass back to life. I had something to work for. Something to strive. I had someone in my life that I didn’t not want to let down. I was going to be back with her. I didn’t have the slightest clue how I was fucking going to do it. Again, I had no job, no degree, no prospects. But I convinced myself I would figure it out. I would be seeing Jessie again. And when I did, there would be no goodbye’s.

To Be Concluded: Sweet Home Chicago: “Part VIII – On The Road Again”

Last day of my first trip. Rogers Park Ave. Beach. September 2002.
Last day of my first trip. Rogers Park Ave. Beach. September 2002.

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