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 (L) Lake Michigan
It’s May, 2008, and I’m visiting Chicago for the third time since I moved to New York less than 8 months ago. May is tied with October for my favorite month here and the colors at the lake today are a big reason why. I’m with Chad who took a day off from work and we’re the only people here. We run around and cartwheel with our shoes off and do a photo shoot on the spread of bright green grass between the water and Lake Shore Drive and for a moment it feels like I never left.
I don’t feel at home in New York yet, not like this. From the lake I can walk to three of my old apartments in less than 15 minutes. I can peek into the windows from the street below and imagine the lines of my bookshelves, the curve of my couch, the shape of my cats peering from behind the pane. These images are like lifelines across a palm, filling the gaps between stories I tell, the moments between the events.
At Lake Michigan I can see half a dozen summers stretched across the beach, and countless rides through falling leaves all along the bike path. There’s a grocery store a few blocks from here and if I went there right now and bought some cheese to have back at Chad’s, the cashier would ring me up and ask where I’ve been. I could stop at the Middle Eastern Bakery and pick up some baklava and pita and hummus and the beautiful Palestinian owner with the black eyes and raven hair would hand me my change and say, “Thank you, my friend.”
One time, when I still worked at the flower shop, I took home a small bouquet of white roses. Chad picked me up from work and we stopped by Bi-Lo Liquor to get some wine. When the owner eyed the flowers, I told him we just got married and he raised his eyebrows at Chad, who flung his arm around my shoulder, kissed my cheek and said, “It’s true, we did.” For months after that, every time we’d go into Bi-Lo together, we’d call each other “hon.”
At the lake today on the grassy part between the water and the road there’s only one tree that’s in full bloom. The first weekend Drew came to visit, we lay on a blanket under that tree and he told me New York had a lot of stuff, but it didn’t have anything like this.
Over the next year, I went to the lake more than ever — every day when the weather was warm, usually in the mornings, sometimes in the late afternoons, always on the weekends. Sometimes I’d go alone, sometimes I’d meet friends for happy hour and we’d sit on the beach and hide our beers in bandanas until the sun went down. In September, the month I moved, fall took its sweet time coming. Each day we’d head to the beach and think it was the last, and the next day it would still be warm enough for bikinis. I moved on the final day of the month just as the leaves were starting to turn.
It hasn’t been warm enough for bikinis since.