“Can I sit with ya’ll?”
I ask the two men on the right side. I’ve walked just a few short rows up the Southwest plane headed out of New Orleans, but this is where I’m parking it. These guys both look like they’ve showered in the past 24 hours.
They say almost in unison and stand up.
The one closest to the window is an older gentleman, a grandfather I later learn, who just got back from a family cruise.
“What’s your name,” I say politely to the man on the other side of me once I’m settled in.
He has a manicured beard and a watch with a large digital screen for a face.
“I’m Laura. Where are you from?”
My eyes light up in a way I’m sure his watch does at night.
“I love Denver! That’s where I want to end up!”
He smiles. He’s 43, was a baseball pitcher in college, and does something with computer software now. He’s divorced—has been for six years—and has a thirteen-year-old daughter. He moved to the New Orleans area to be near her.
“That’s really cool,” I say, thinking of my own childhood. “I’m really glad you did that.”
He’s flying to Chicago to…
“I’m visiting my brother. He’s working and I’m going to meet up with him later tonight.”
“Oh, cool. I’m flying into Chicago, then taking the train to South Bend, Indiana tonight. My brother’s picking me up when he gets off work later.”
He pauses, then looks at me.
“I don’t mean to sound creepy or anything,” he says, “but do you want to hang out today in Chicago?”
Our plane gets in at 9 a.m. at Midway. My train doesn’t leave until 5 something that night. I had planned on adventuring by myself today. And to be honest, this man is not usually the type I go for. He’s too…
“I do CrossFit,” he’s confided to me earlier. “I just don’t like to tell people because they think it’s a cult.”
And our conversation; it isn’t exactly riveting. It’s more polite than anything.
But his watch looks cool—the big screen reminds me of a large digital compass—and I like the way his shoulders feel next to me on the plane. They’re so big they almost sit on mine the entire trip over, in a rather comforting way. And something tells me to say yes, so I…
“Sure,” I say. “Let’s hang out.”
We land at Midway airport and take the train into downtown Chicago. I have to go to traffic court to plead my case for a parking ticket I got back in June—“I am so sorry,” I tell him. “It’s so embarrassing; you don’t have to come if you don’t want—we can always meet up after.”
He wants to come.
But when we get off at our train stop, I spot a large church.
“Is it okay if we go in?”
“Sure,” he says.
Ever since I spent a summer in New York City and stumbled into St. Patrick’s Cathedral early one morning, to me, there’s nothing quite as calming as sitting in an empty church as a busy city whizzes by.
We walk inside.
The church ceilings steal my breath away. They’re monstrous and made of wood, and whenever I look up, I get that feeling you get when you’re at the ocean and the breeze hits your face just right.
Neither one of us say a word as we head toward the front of the mostly vacant church and slide into a pew. Wedding music plays from the large organ behind us—practicing for the weekend most likely.
And we simply sit there in silence, his shoulders near mine. For hours or minutes; I’m not sure. It’s just so peaceful.
god, i wanna put my head on his shoulder. can i put my head his shoulder? should i ask him if i can put my head on his shoulder?
I put my head on his shoulder, and with it brings the fresh scent of his soap.
He doesn’t say a word or object. Just continues to sit there calmly with his hands in his lap.
In that moment, I don’t ever want to leave this place or him and this feeling that I have with sitting beside him.
But we gotta go.
I have a court date with the city of Chicago.
He smiles and nods.
We roll up downtown Chicago with our luggage in tow, and head to the building on Superior Street that handles parking tickets. I plead my case to the judge with the glasses, and manage to get $60 knocked off my ticket.
“That was kind of impressive,” he says.
“Ha! Hardly!” I smirk. “Okay! You ready for this?”
I’ve lived in South Bend, Indiana for nearly three months now, and have wasted no time in getting up to Chicago any chance I can.
There’s some place I want to show him…
in chicago, there’s a beach near navy pier. there’s a park overlooking the city, too, but the beach is the thing that stole my heart from the moment i saw it. there’s sand volleyball games going on. lifeguards in row boats. a little shack where you can rent kayaks. it’s like a scene that was stolen straight out of carolina and plopped in the middle of downtown chicago.
we roll our luggage across the beach and find a spot to set-up camp. i pull shorts out of my suitcase and slid them on under my long, white skirt—i’m a swimmer; I can change anywhere. i then take off my skirt and lay it on the beach for us to sit on.
“there we go!”
and then i run to put my feet into lake michigan.
i look back at him.
“do you want to go swimming? i have my suit in my bag.”
he watches our luggage while i go change in the beach restrooms, and then i watch our stuff while he changes. i try not to stare at his arms and chest.
we spread out on my picnic blanket skirt and take out the lunch we bought at whole foods.
he starts to eat, but i just can’t. the water is calling.
“i’ll be right back.”
i run out into lake michigan.
he comes in after me.
“can i try to knock you down,” i ask.
i try. he’s got 100 pounds and four inches on my six-foot frame; pushing him with all my weight in the water does nothing.
“this just makes me want to pick you up.”
he does. and then puts me down as my arms stay around his neck.
“i know you live like a million miles away,” he says, “but i wanna see you again before i go.”
i laugh and lean away.
“what,” he leans towards me. “just say it.”
too many reasons and they all flash in my head as i try to figure out how to form them into words.
he’s moved away from denver.
i’m trying to move out there.
and he’s here to visit his brother. i can’t take over that trip.
but mostly, our worlds and our energies are different ones. he’s an athlete, through and through. and i’m an artist and a wordsmith. whether i like to admit it or not, we’re different.
“okay,” he says.
“someone this past weekend told me about a landmark relationship,” i start.
“you know, like when you’re driving to l.a. and you see mount rushmore, and maybe you wave to it, or maybe even get out for an hour or two, but you eventually have to keep going. because you still have to get to l.a.”
“ill be your mount rushmoore,” i say.
our mouths are terribly close to each other.
“okay,” he says.
“okay,” i say.
and i look at his brown eyes and let my lips fall against his. i pull away after a second or two.
“what’s wrong,” he asks.
“nothing,” I say with my eyes closed looking off to the side. “i just can’t think straight when I’m near you.”
we spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach and me unsuccessfully dunking him in the water.
“could you just go under the water once for me?
he obliges and i call it a success.
“oh! and i want to show you the park.”
i throw on my george dickel t-shirt and jean shorts over my bikini and we head to the park overlooking the city scape of chicago.
the sky scrapers jar into the sky with the beach we were just at in the foreground.
“is this real,” he asks as we sit on a bench, wrapped around each other, mouths meeting when people aren’t passing by.
i find myself asking the same thing.
god, i don’t want to–
“i gotta go,” i say.
we gather our luggage and make our way towards michigan avenue.
“well, i head that way,” he gestures to the right. his brother lives a few blocks up.
i nod and throw my arms around his neck.
the 5 o’clock chicago crowd pours past us: black suits and speed walkers and leather briefcases, and we stand in the middle of it all. my wet t-shirt and damp hair hang from my frame, and my arms cling to his shoulders.
“i don’t want to say goodbye,” he says, “it’s too sad. I’ll just say, i’ll see you later.”
and with that, he crosses the street and i continue up michigan avenue.
without his last name. without his number and he without mine.
and i turn off michigan avenue and i catch my train.
the days disappear between the colorado man and myself.
the skirt we sat on at the beach gets washed. i breathe it in before i wash it, taking in mostly the scent of myself, but i think i smell a hint of his soap somewhere.
the pink water bottle i brought to the beach, i put to my lips over the next few days. sand slips through, taking me back to him.
weeks go by.
it’s september now and it’s bedtime for my five-year-old nephew. he’s picked a book about a girl with a crayon who goes on a journey.
except there are no words, just pictures, so i narrate as i turn the pages.
“oh wow…look at that…she’s drawing a boat…”
eventually, the girl in the story meets a boy with a different colored crayon. and they ride off on a bicycle they draw together.
“she went on a journey and she found a friend,” i say as i close the book.
“just like you,” my nephew says to me.
“when you were in chicago. you made a friend,” he continues.
my heart stops. and a smile spreads up my face that i can’t push down for anything.