At three years of age, my mother moved us up to a tiny suburb outside of
Chicago so she could pursue a relationship with an undetected drug
addict. That’s all I remember about him. That and how it felt to come home
to coke on the counter and everything my mother had worked for, gone.
The best thing about him was his family; particularly his niece. She taught
me how to love. How to pronounce a few words in Spanish. How to say the
Lord’s prayer. How to build mounds of Autumn leaves tucked in the corner
of the yard against the fence for jumping into. She also taught me how to die.
She was five when the doctor diagnosed her. Stage four Cancer. Even
through the chemo, I remember how vibrant and full of life she was. When
she left the city after her last treatment, a drunk driver ran a stop sign killing
both she and her mother instantly. I knew then that Chicago didn't love me.
Years later, I found myself speeding down the highway well past midnight. We
met in college, and although you had to take a train from her house to get there,
she swore she was from the city. Instead of bright lights and roaring street sounds,
I found silence on an air mattress in their rural guest room. I couldn’t help but notice
how much she looked like her mom in those photos. I recall the steady sense of normalcy
that rested in the house the next morning. We ate eggs. Together. She curled her hair in an
antique mirror, her mother read out on the deck, her brother was busy somewhere still being
a kid and I couldn’t for the life of me understand the fairytale I’d stepped into.
I think that she really did like showing me the city. It was tall. Bright. Beautiful.
Something my sheltered self had never seen. My neck broke as I stared up at the cloud-laced skyscrapers. I couldn’t keep up with her brisk city gate. Maybe she didn’t like showing the
city to anyone. Maybe the city was her secret. See, Chicago never loved me.
The heart plays games. When people say things, I listen. And when they ask me to
love them, I do. I let myself get caught up in the poetry of it all, so close to sharing four
letter words with a figment of my imagination. No matter how many mediocre lines I
write for her, she will not forget how big the world is. I would never ask her to.
Sometimes, I give her everything I have. Even when she isn’t sure yet what she has to
offer in return. She is not a vending machine. I cannot push things in to pull others out.
Instead, I take her as she comes, with split ends, snagged threads, dimples and half smiles.
Her beauty is not validated by whether or not she is loved by me. Maybe she is
still learning to love herself. I know that I am not her greatest victory. That is what I love about her. I receive another picture. And another text. She fills my heart with lyrics and my mind with clouds. Then she stops. Because she has to wake up early, and Pacific time is not universal. Even time is against us, and I know Chicago will never love me.