The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
Alphabet: A History (I) Icy Steps
It’s the middle of January and I’m 27 years old. My boyfriend of four years is moving out today and I’m in the kitchen packing up his plates. I’ve negotiated a lower rent with my landlord for a couple of months while I look for a place of my own. Ben says I can keep his two cats until I move out. He thinks I’d be too lonely without them, and he’s probably right. But the truth is, I think I’ll be lonely even with them.
As I try to remember which plates, what silverware, which glasses were his before we moved in together three years ago, I imagine what it will be like when we finally say good-bye. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been imagining it as long as we’ve been together.
The night we first kissed, I saw 18 shooting stars and convinced myself I was falling in love. There was a meteor shower that night and we drove out to the country and he let me wear his fleece sweatshirt while I shouted numbers at each falling star: “One! Two! Three! Fourteen!” On the way back to town, Ben opened the moon roof of his black Nissan Maxima and I watched the sky all the way home.
A week later, I crashed my car on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on my way to a friend’s Halloween party, and when Ben came all the way from Missouri with me a month later to pick it up from the shop, I knew he was worth keeping around. We spent the weekend there together and I showed him my favorite neighborhoods and told him my plan for moving there soon.
Back home he told me he was ready to skip town too, to go somewhere else, to start a new chapter, and I said he should think about coming with me. Eight months later, he sold that Maxima with the moon roof and we packed up a Ryder truck with our cats and plates and beds and headed east to Chi-town. I followed behind him in my trusty Ford and watched until Springfield was just a dot in my rearview mirror.
“This will be an adventure,” I said to him before hitting the highway.
Our first apartment in Chicago was tiny, overpriced and freezing in the winter. We bought three space heaters just for the living room and I wore tights and two pairs of socks for four months straight. As soon as our lease was up we moved to this apartment on Winthrop where we painted the kitchen green and I made curtains from remnant sari material that I found in a bin on Devon street. If we could just make a comfortable home together I thought we could learn to be happy. But now I’m in the kitchen dividing our things and wrapping his plates in old newspaper.
All of a sudden, I hear a noise just outside the kitchen door and when I open it, I see our upstairs neighbor on the stoop, holding her baby in her arms and screaming. The steps are icy and she’s slipped on them carrying her baby down to the car to take him to day care.
“I fell on him!”” she screams, “I fell on top of him!”
I call 9-1-1 and help her back up to her apartment, carrying the baby in my arms as carefully as I can. We lay him on the floor, propping his legs on a small pillow, and I rub her back as she strokes his face and cries. When the baby hears the sirens, he suddenly smiles and I think to myself he’s going to be okay. I ride in the ambulance with them and stay at the hospital long enough to learn he has a broken leg, but everything else is going to be fine.
Back home in the kitchen, I finish packing a box of Ben’s stuff. Later that evening, after he fills his new car with one last load, he hands over his keys, kisses me on my cheek and promises to call me later. I struggle for something to say, something besides just “see you later” or “so long.” He takes the houseplant I offer him, opens the back door, and as he walks out I call after him, “Hey! Be careful on those steps. They’re really icy today.” Then I shut the door behind him and go looking for the cats.
EmmieEm November 11, 2011, 12:22 pm
Your words are so rich and vibrant that for a moment I’m convinced this story is a memory of my own. I love it. And, not just because I’m a fellow Chicagoan – Rogers Park, Woo!
Addie Pray November 11, 2011, 12:42 pm
I love Rogers Park. Do you ever go to Heartland Cafe? That place is my favorite. Or was my favorite. Until that one time I went there for brunch, very hungover, and, for a reason only God knows, ordered the salmon and kale special. It was the yuckiest, fishiest-smelling/tasting salmon and kale I have ever had, and I ended up puking. That was the day I learned never to eat salmon and kale when you are hungover.
Wendy November 11, 2011, 1:42 pm
I loved the Heartland Cafe when lived on Chicago! Just last week, I stumbled on a cafe in brooklyn that reminds me so much of it. New favorite!
Addie Pray November 11, 2011, 12:35 pm
I sound like a broken record here, but these vignettes are the sweetest. Every Friday I forget we’ll get to read a new one, and so every Friday I’m pleasantly surprised.
cporoski November 11, 2011, 1:44 pm
HmC November 11, 2011, 1:54 pm
I really like these, Wendy. It’s amazing how much our experiences teach and shape us, and how we can look back at certain times in our life with entirely new perspective from what we thought at the time.
TaraMonster November 11, 2011, 2:02 pm
Loved this! Your personal essays always incorporate the theme so well, and they’re so beautifully written. Do you write fiction at all? I think you should. 🙂 Since I can’t shut the editor in my brain up I think you meant “Ben” in paragraph 3, not “Brian.” I do that all the time when I change character names.
Wendy November 11, 2011, 2:14 pm
And, no, I don’t write fiction. These pieces are as close to fiction (in style, anyway) as I get, though it’s a genre I would like to tackle eventually.
TaraMonster November 11, 2011, 2:30 pm
You definitely should tackle it when the little squirt gets older and you have more time. It’s actually National Novel Writing Month right now. The goal is to write 50K words in one month… I always crap out at about 15K, but it’s lots of fun!
SweetPea November 11, 2011, 2:36 pm
I must be over-emotional today. This brought tears to my eyes. That being said… I really loved it.