I step off the orange line to find that I am lost. With no one in sight and nearly every store closed, I am at a loss for directions. I walk a block in what I hope is the right direction. There is a map of the Loop, here of all places. The chill from an ill chosen wardrobe and a building combination of anxiety and rejection obscure the words in my vision. Gibberish. Continuing down the street I find my way to Michigan Avenue and follow it towards the park, hoping that some half-lit store or street will become a landmark to guide myself by.
There is a knot in my gut. A chill in my head.
As I make my way past the comic store, donut shops, and convenience stores a memory begins to trigger, each landmark wired to a nerve. As I cross the street beside a Japanese couple, a negative tide rises around me. A realization that the psychic and emotional detrius packed into this street, this route home, is about to make my walk back into an unwanted return to memory. It’s the chill, the lights of the night. My other reunions with this street, warm and sunlit, among crowds of others sheltered me and warded off the scent of sweet romanticism.
Now, my hands are numb with cold, my ears keep only the company of the dead activity that is 11pm Tuesday. A gut irrationality latches onto my dejection and a I fear that the last train out will have already left when I arrive at the station. I’m struck with the image of myself outside the closed down Metra, battered by the winds of the city until the sun return and the station reopens. The thought of spending hours in my own company opens the floodgates to bitter memories and hopeless alternate realities repressed. Glass and steel behemoths at my side cloak me in their reflected shadows. Tears ache to be let loose. I manage to escape them by focusing on the uncoordinated rhythms of my steps.
Then the opera house comes into view, and when I’ve finally taken the last step over the bridge and reach the corner of Clinton—the tide of collective memory surges upwards and submerges my mind.
The warmth of her hand. The points along the street we mapped with our kisses. A brilliantly timed secret phone call, setting off a ringtone to deliver the punchline. The way she tiptoed for an item right above her reach in the store on this very corner. The goodbyes I always dreaded as we’d sit there holding hands in our absurdly matching sweaters, waiting for her train.
I buy my ticket from an uninterested attendant at the window and take the quarter that is my change. The train is already boarding. Memories of family waiting at the station, an anxious return to my place at home. A somber face stares back from the reflection of my window. This time there will be only sorrow songs of intimacy and brisk drive home waiting for me.