Four years ago today I met my husband. I was reading at a series at a bar in Wrigleyville and we were on the bill together. I'd just gotten back from two weeks abroad in the U.K. My head was full of image and idea about being an American away from home and I was tingling with joy from seeing my boyfriend--I had no idea that my relationship with that guy had already expired, and wouldn't find out for several more days. Nice guy that he was, he didn't dump me until I'd been home a whole five days, but whatever. I was still excited about being home, and having been totally inspired by my time abroad, and now being one of the featured reader's in one of Chicago's most beloved reading series.
I read a story about a woman who'd broken up with her boyfriend (oh! the irony!) and felt like the city was tainted for her by the memory of their relationship together. It was April, and I had on this great skirt I'd bought at Marks & Spencer, and it was finally (!) spring and I wanted to write about it.
The stoplight is about to change; people are leaking into the intersection in anticipation. But I am glued to the concrete by your memory. I am tortured by the taste of you that floods my mouth with the tangy, green bite of spring. Your laugh is in the wind, your hands are the hot breath on my legs as I walk across the subway grate; your shoulders are the shoulders of the man who stands in front of me, also waiting for the signal to cross the street, checking his watch. I reach out to touch him, already knowing it isn’t you, and when his stranger’s face looks expectantly into mine, I stammer an apology and brush past him, hoping he isn’t watching me walk away, thinking what an idiot I am. The whole train ride home I rumble past Grand, Chicago, Division, and Damen, jammed between a bored-looking businessman in a gray suit and a student with an IPod and a tube full of architecture plans sticking out of his bag. Neither of them notices me. My breath is shallow, a brick of anxiety weighing down my chest. I feel heavy and unready for spring. Your smeary fingerprints are still all over it, and I do not know how to wipe them off, or even if I want to.
They make you drink at this reading series. Well, they don't make you drink, but it's customary to, to have a shot before you read published work that you brought to share as fodder for trivia, and another shot after. Between the two shots of Jameson's I had that night and the bourbon and soda I'd had to quell the shakes before I read my own stuff, I was pretty lit by the end of the night. So all I remember about his work is that it was a first-person story about a jackass of a narrator who has sex with a girl who passes out with her head in the closet. The story is about more than this; he hates it when I describe the work like this. But honestly, I have the tolerance of a nine-year-old; after one drinks the room's a little soft focus and after two it spins. I was wasted, and that's all I can remember.
He came over to me at the end of the night, and we talked. About what, I've no idea. I don't remember; all I remember thinking is, Jess, this guy is talking to you, don't blow this, you can't let him know you're wasted. Keep smiling and nodding, and try not to sound too stupid when it's your turn to talk.
Less than a week later I was single and heartbroken. A month later I ran into him at a school reading, and a couple weeks after that I saw him again at another reading. At one of those I gave him my card, and he emailed me to ask if I like jazz and when we could get together.
I had no idea who was approaching me; I'd been pretty soundly shattered by a mediocre guy who'd treated me badly and I was sure that all men were pigs or dogs, determined to use you and then cast you aside: the story's always the same, it's only the name that changes. And then I met this guy, a writer who wasn't threatened by me and my writing; he talked as much or more than I did about visual art and theatre, and what it meant to make a thing, and he had this amazing perception of art as a sacred act; he was interested in me; he flirted with me without making me feel dirty; he reminded me I was smart and funny; he held me when I was sad and lonely.
It took me six months to fall in love with him. It took another woman to make me realize that he wasn't just the next guy to toss aside. It took me a year and a half to decide I wanted to marry him. I'm lucky that he picked me; I'm even luckier that I picked him.
photo courtesy of Grayscale Studios