As I drove to work the other day, my life played before my eyes. It does that sometimes, random bits of memories fly into my brain unbidden and I’m back to 26, waiting at a lakefront bus stop beset by wild wind, untethered and lonely, feeling quite like a failure for not being further along in my career. Or an image of me standing on the el platform will come as a jolt, and I see myself clad in a chiffon flowered skirt, black sateen blazer, and platforms, all very itchy in 89-degree weather, on my way to a downtown temp agency to apply for something requiring Excel skills that I faked.
As close to a mullet as I ever came. And I attended college in 1980s Milwaukee, so that’s really saying something.
Most of my life-flashing begins and ends with living in Chicago in my mid-20s because it was a waiting period of sorts, a kind of fun purgatory after which everything began to change. I spent less than three years in the city, then returned to a job in L.A., met the man who would be my husband, and settled in San Diego forever and ever amen. “Real life” began as a sprouted tendril during those post-college midwestern years, I suppose, and I regard the Chicago days as starting the chain of events. I also look at that time as free of restraint, when what was to be next stretched out tantalizingly before me.
But as the memories came quickly during the hour drive, in synapse-firing bursts, I realized that details fuzzed and edges blurred. I could no longer recall in any detail the weight of the el’s token in my hand, the disc the size of a dime, but in light gold, that I’d slip into the turnstile on my way downtown to one of many jobs I’d hold during my Chicago tenure. Or I could remember, but it took awhile, and I was unsure if my mind had it right.
So I decided I should write down those Chicago times. Not exciting recounts these, but necessary so I’ll have them always, for the next time the memories come and the el train token’s dimensions are lost forever in the mind of a woman growing older, and bewildered by how fast it all goes. I was just 26. Only 26.
I expect no one is here in this space anymore, and the few who do read will find the minutiae of someone else’s stories tedious and masterbatory, but I need to put these down because those driving-memory gifts dwindle, and I’m going to grab them from the ether.
So Chicago Stories cross the brain barrier and hobble onto the screen, to show up here over the next few weeks in all their bittersweet purgatory glory.
Because 26 was the river’s mouth.