There was this man that we saw every day. He was neither young nor old, tall or short. Slightly balding, with a mustache, the kind of man that would blend into the background.
He walked up the four steps to his elderly mother’s house, sometimes with bags of groceries, unfailingly polite and slightly shy. The five women of our house knew who he was, but only one or two of us ever found out his name. He brought his mother outside, gently unfolding her wheelchair on the sidewalk and guiding her into it.
The old Italian neighborhood still looks the same. There is fresh paint on some of the houses, including ours (it is still “our” house, even though none of the original roommates are there). The prices have gone up at the old hot dog stand and there are new buildings over by the hospital, but the streets end in the same places and the sidewalk still leads to the train.
Wandering with a purpose. Even when I have nowhere in particular to go, I have a hard time sitting still. The idea of park benches and peaceful afternoons is appealing in theory, but in the five years of residence there seemed to be little opportunity.
Going back to the old haunts is too painful, still. There is too much attached to those places, little moments that eat away at me if I let them stay too long. Unwelcome guests, they settle in the corners of my brain.
I remember the clack clack of boots on city sidewalks, it is comforting to hear when there are hundreds of people swarming to get home or drown their sorrows or listen to the latest podcast or watch the football game or eat dinner or hug their three children.
Chicago in the rain and fog is a heartbreaking place, the buildings are stark and bright against the glow of sky. Invest in a warm coat and a strong heart, and a comfortable pair of shoes.