I am back from Chicago. I made it through alive, a lot less sane, but still breathing. This isn’t a travelogue. This trip was much less about where we traveled, but much more about our experiences while we were away from the safety and routine of home. This trip was about change, opening new chapters, and continuing to work on silencing the lingering strains of old memories.
Once again, Andrew and I stayed at the Palmer House. If ever there was one thing that helped ease us through our fears of the city, it was the staff at the Palmer House. They were ever helpful in answering my endless questions about navigating the city. The weather was beautiful as we set out for our first solo trip on the L.
We didn’t even know how to pass through the gates. The only transportation I have ever had to pay for was a cab. That’s easy. Just look out the window, watch the meter, and let someone who knows his way around drop you off at the door. We stood in front of the ticket kiosks as hundreds of people passed by around us. I watched a few people put in money and take their cards. I watched for a few minutes, but I still had no clue what they were doing. I read the posted instructions. It might as well have been written in a foreign language. I looked for a brochure! 🙂 Of course, there was no brochure, “Mass Transit For Dummies.”
Finally, I went over to the ticket booth where a CTA employee sat behind glass. I knocked on the window and asked her to help me out. With obvious impatience, she helped us put in our money and take our cards. She asked us, “What line? How long will you be gone? Is this round trip?” I suppose all of those things mattered, but I’m not really sure how they affected the amount of money we put in the machine. There was no ATM nearby. They don’t take credit cards. If you put in a $50, then by God, you would not get change back, but you could ride and ride!!
The confusion didn’t end even once we had our cards in hand The poor over-worked woman had to come back out of her glass cage and show us how to pop the cards down into the machine that activated the turnstile gates. I must say, Andrew and I were both impressed with the spunky pop up of the cards. That was most satisfying!
Once we were through the gates, we descended down to the platform. Andrew’s eyes were huge as he saw the subway for the first time. Everyone around us looked preoccupied. Everyone looked like they knew what they were doing and where they were heading. There were tracks on both sides. We knew that we wanted the red line, but which side was right? I knew the address of our apartment finder, but I still wasn’t sure which train to take. Once again, I wished for a brochure with maps. Instead, I found a man who looked trustworthy (and I am NOT a good judge of character!!!) and I asked him which train would get us to Belmont. I was pretty happy to discover that my hunch had been right. We were in the right spot, and within moments a train whizzed up to the platform.
There was no place to sit when we boarded, so we stood holding onto poles. Andrew’s eyes were huge. He looked pale, almost sick. At the first stop, people got off of our car, and I grabbed a couple of seats for us. I was scared to death that I wouldn’t know when it was time to get off the train. Thankfully, I found the map of the red line on the wall above Andrew’s head. I was happy when the next stop was announced, and I could see that we were indeed headed in the right direction.
We made it to Belmont and from there it was an easy walk to our apartment finder’s office. He turned out to be a very nice man. He asked us questions and made a few phone calls. Soon, we were on our way to the first apartment. It was located in a fantastic old building in a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood. I loved the feeling and history of the place. I was excited as we climbed up six flights of stairs. He unlocked the door, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw was on the other side of the door. This was a studio apartment? My God! This “apartment” was smaller than my bedroom! I could not stop laughing and saying, “$895 a month for THIS?” I had never seen anything like this in my life. Luke’s dorm room was bigger than this apartment. I mentally cut the list of furniture I had planned to send with Andy in half. Still, there was something so cozy, cute, urban, and exciting about seeing this tiny little place tucked under the eaves of this beautiful building. By the time we went to the next listing, I was prepared for the shocking lack of space in a city apartment. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to look inside each of the buildings that we visited. The vestibules, tiny courtyards, iron gates, and ancient elevators charmed me. I envy Andrew the chance to get to experience this new way of life.
We knew that we would have to act quickly or we would stand a chance of losing any one of these listings. The list of available apartments near his school with a September 1 move in date was tiny. Andy made the final decision. I should say, he decided the moment he walked into the third apartment. I could see it. He felt at home in this one, and it was the one he finally decided upon.
We had done it. We rode on the L. We figured out where we needed to go. We looked at apartments IN THE CITY! Andy filled out the paperwork, and signed his name in a hundred places. We even found our way back to the Palmer House. By the return trip, we knew what we were doing. We bought our tickets, popped them into the jaunty machine, and found our seats. By the return ride, Andrew had lost his look of panic. I could see it in his face. He was imagining himself as a part of this hustle and bustle. We had a great night of celebration. We had a fantastic dinner sitting outside along the river. As I talked with my son, the lovely Tribune building decorated the front of the skyline over his shoulder.
I had looked forward to my morning Chicago walk. Before bed, I told Andrew not to be alarmed if I was gone when he woke up. I planned on heading out for a walk as soon as I woke up. He could go explore on his own for a while, and we could catch up with each other later. I knew he wouldn’t mind the time alone, and I knew that I needed some time for myself as well.
I said that I looked forward to the morning walk? I looked forward to it in a way, but I knew that it would not be easy, carefree moments. Once again, I would retrace steps from my past. Bit by bit, I would release a few more pieces of that past. I wandered. I remembered. I touched the handle of the door at Miller’s Pub. I touched the lions at the Art Museum. I touched The Bean once again. I found my favorite little park tucked in next to the museum and sat on a bench for my “Chicago cry.”
I am beginning to understand now that some things in life follow no reason. People don’t always act in good conscience or in good faith. Life is not fair. Oh, I have known that all along. After all, I have buried two children. I almost lost Andrew. I have suffered the unfairness of life many times. Those thing were random, though. Bad luck, horrible luck. Never before, though, had I ever encountered the cruelty of human nature. Sure, I knew it existed, but for some reason I had thought that I was safe from human cruelty. After all, I had already suffered way too much unfairness in my life. Why would any person knowingly add to that pain? I had trusted. Misplaced trust is truly the worst pain of all, and I think that I am a pretty good judge of pain. Perhaps I am an expert.
I sat there in that peaceful place in the big city thinking about my Chicago Morning Walk, the revisiting, the remembering, the loss, and the pain. Why do I do this to myself? Of course, it makes little sense to set out on this path knowing the painful memories that will hold my hand, my head, and my heart as I make my way down memory lane. Why? As I sat there and thought about it, I realized that it is little different than visiting a cemetery. We revisit the memories so that eventually, we are able to let go.
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us. ~ Joseph Campbell
The sadness couldn’t last long. I wasn’t in Chicago to be sad. This was a time of planning and moving on to the next stage. Andrew and I still had a lot to accomplish while we were in the city. Our next step was a visit to the school, which actually meant I had to write a giant check. It was exciting to see him entering the doors as an accepted student. What a program this will be for him! He will have the opportunity to experience his dreams. We finished up our business and headed to Millennium Park for a late lunch. With The Bean in the background, we enjoyed the BIGGEST hot dogs I have ever seen.
We had a great evening with friends. A dear friend (and co-worker) was also visiting the city with her sister. Her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend had recently moved to a great apartment on Lake Shore Drive. We all met for cocktails before a fantastic night out on the town.
This friend of mine “knows all.” We have no secrets between us. When we met, almost four years ago now, we knew there was a connection. We recognized something in each other. It wasn’t long before we both knew why. We were both survivors. Years ago, my friend had lost her young son to cancer on Christmas Day. Even though many of the people around us don’t know of either of our losses, we recognized the survivor in each other. It is a deeply, deeply hidden knowledge. There is something in our eyes that never truly clears away no matter how much time passes.
Last night, as we sat sharing beer and ribs with each other and the children we are so very proud to claim as our own, she leaned over and whispered to me, “This is good, isn’t it? Are you doing OK?” I hugged her. I hugged her, because I love her and because she truly does know me. Change is not easy. Letting go is not easy. Good people are out there, and she is one of them. Sad memories can be replaced (or at least minimized) by other good memories. Time and new experiences are the stepping stones to healing.
It was very late when they threw Andrew and I into a cab back to the Palmer House. It had been a long day, and Andy was asleep within minutes. My mind was still racing from the events of the day, and I ran a hot bubble bath. I grabbed my phone and called T while I soaked. We had so much to talk about in these quiet moments without kids observing our discussion.
So many changes were happening all at once. So many changes. My emotions were all mixed up. It was now official. Within the next two weeks, both boys would be gone. I felt exhilaration and loss all at once. I saw the big blue eyes and soft cheeks of my baby sons all mixed up with the huge shoes and whiskers of my adult sons. How did this part of my life end so quickly? I am not ready. I want to push Luke in the swing again. I want to watch hours of Thomas the Tank. I wanted to make roads with bulldozers in the sandbox. On the other hand, I am tired of waiting up for them to come home at night. I am tired of laundry, cooking for so many, and girlfriends over all the time. I needed to talk to T to sort out all of these conflicting emotions.
He listened to me. It was 1:30 in the morning, and he patiently listened to his weepy wife on the phone. In his calm way, he asked me if I remembered the times when I felt overwhelmed when the three oldest were little. We had multiple kids in diapers. We couldn’t catch our breath some days. Yes, I told him that I remembered. He reminded me that we got through those times just fine, then we had a number of years when things had settled down. Now, here we are again. Our lives are so crazy that we can’t catch our breath again. He said this, and I think he is wise. He hit the nail on the head. He said, “This is the infancy of our boys adulthood. It’s like they are back in diapers again, and it’s overwhelming. It will be over soon, though, and we’ll catch our breath once again.”
I asked him what that would mean, though. Where will we be once the dust settles? Will we have enough of ourselves left after all of this? He said, “God, yes! We will have each other once again.”