Chicago at night

05 Feb 2015 19:13

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This is a letter I wrote to my mom in April 2012. I had moved to Chicago and was staying Uptown in a house with my old friend Mo. Mom thought I should share it.

Hi Mom,

I want to tell you a story about the context of my life here in Chicago. Not the actions, conferences, trainings, consulting, or mentees, but the world around and over it all, vivid enough that you can fly out your office window and be here with me for a moment.

I live in a beautiful house in a beautiful city with my beautiful mentor, Mo. Beauty is about looking, but it is also about knowing something deeper.

When I look and know, I am looking and knowing from someplace, from a particular position, from a place and experiences, full of blind spots and full of my own truth. My vision and knowledge is partial and incomplete, but it is mine.

In this neighborhood, rabbits hop and wait in the grassy strips beside roads and the grassy lots where houses used to be. everywhere someone seems to be standing determined with defiant dignity. The wind blows my skirt around while I wait on the elevated platform for the train or walk a long way at night or try to get warm by the fire in the half-barrel barbecue pit across the street from the Woodlawn Clinic.

The lake is always to the east, and so are you and dad and Caleb, further east, and then the ocean. That is my geography, how I stay anchored, like awareness of the location of the river in New Orleans. But the lake is broad, a whale, an enormous creature, while the river was a slithering and deadly snake, unsettled and moving against its confinement in artificial levees. I like the silent bulk of the lake, especially at night, and the sleeping breath of it on the wind.

Mom, this city is like when you stretch out and yawn before you get up. It is a spreading pool of slow but living blood. I love its embrace.

Broadway at night

About 5 L stops north of the Loop on the red line, you exit the train onto the crumbling 150 year old platform. The track workers lay straight lines onto disintegrating piers, and later in the year they will tear up that deformed, settled track and lay straight lines again. The woman in the station booth is always there at this time of night, friendly but preoccupied.

On the street, under the nighttime sky, closed businesses hold their ground behind plate glass, not crowding in, just waiting patiently for the morning. Tank Noodle. Trang Viet. Hairdressers and barbershops, corner stores and groceries, Vietnamese restaurants and an asian medicine shop.

Across the wide expanse of Broadway is my neighborhood, quieter and more residential behind the library, with lillies of the valley and trilliums and violets planted at the bases of the trees, and bunnies under the street lights. One of the houses is mine and Mo's, and up a few steps you could find me typing this from my place on the sofa in the first floor apartment. The window behind the radiator is open a little to let in the cool night breeze, and Tiny the fish has pushed himself between an artificial frond and the glass of his tank to rest.


An hour ago, Mo got home from a long day of meetings. I made myself a salad with green leaf lettuce, Italian peppers in olive oil, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and asaigo cheese. I covered a chunk of crusty bread from the oven with butter. I ate my salad and bread while she stepped outside to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette and we talked through the open door.

She told me about the people she stayed with at past actions. The woman in the Cleveland ghetto on 13th street in 2000 who worked from her home doing phone sex. The woman in Quebec who did internet sex. The horribly hot garage in Miami where she slept with bugs crawling on her after a 4 day train ride from Montana and waiting 5 hours in the rain for Mackel to pick her up from the train station in West Palm Beach.

She also told me about her beautiful first husband who she met in Baltimore when she was 20 and he was 28. How much love they had, and how they had to split up after seven years because of the violence a racist society throws at interracial couples, no matter how deep their love.

A lot of what I like about living with Mo here in Chicago is being with her when she is at a time in her life when she is reflecting back over her 57 years. I can listen to her for hours, and I laugh, and my heart breaks, and I wonder about things.

She is in bed now in her room, watching her "trashy British mysteries" on her laptop in her nightshirt until she falls asleep under her wool blanket with the galloping Montana wild horses printed huge and brown on it.

I'm on the sofa, about to roll out my bed and crawl under my old quilts, where I will hug a pillow and sleep.

Love, Grace

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