Right now I am in Chicago, sitting at home and thinking about stories. Stories are like dreams. They are intimate, revealing, and can transport us to other times and places.
June 5, 2012. I’m in Seattle on vacation, taking the bus to see a friend. When I get on the #44 and ask for a transfer, a homeless man chimes in and gives me almost-correct directions. During the 90 minute visit with my friend we cover years and distance. We reminisce about our Chicago trip ten years ago. We laugh about old and new inside jokes. She hugs me and tells me she’s sorry to hear about my sister. After our time together, I am greeted once again by the same homeless man I saw at the beginning, sitting in the same spot on the same bus. We both went many places by being in just one.
February 1, 1998. I am flying out to Seattle, WA from Louisville, KY with a one-way ticket. My sister says I am brave, but I don’t really hear it.
June 1, 2007. I am moving from Seattle to Chicago. It’s a Friday around 5pm and I’m in traffic in my rented moving truck on Devon—except I’m pronouncing it “Devin” ‘cause I haven’t lived here yet. I pass a street called “Pulaski” and it hits me that I’m going to be living in a very different city—one where maybe I’ll even get to hear Polish being spoken from time to time. I pass a street named “California” and I feel so very far away from the west coast. Later, I will arrive at my new home and load all of my belongings up three flights of stairs with the gracious help of my landlord. Then, when the door is closed, I will sit on the floor and cry and cry. But I know deep down that everything will be okay.
June 1, 2012. I am in Seattle, walking past apartments I’ve lived in, restaurants I’ve dined in, and fields I’ve played Frisbee in. I am raw with memories. A stranger wakes me from my reverie by saying, “Are you a local?” “Ah, I used to be” I reply. I give her almost-correct directions. But her question has shaken me and I worry that I’m in danger of regretting my move. To cure this, I think of all of the reasons I am grateful I moved to Chicago (the lovely friends I’ve met, the way the windy city inspired me to do solo work, how nice it is to be living closer to my family in Louisville). Just then, walking toward me, is a man wearing a shirt with “Chicago” written across it. I think I’m dreaming. But it’s real. Later, I will sit at my favorite donut spot in Seattle, wearing my Kentucky shirt, and hear them play a Sufjan Stevens song about Illinois. Places and times will converge in one spot, in one moment—kind of like they do in a dream.
I dreamt of Kentucky last night. It was a different time. My sister was still alive. We were all in the kitchen talking, joking, and laughing with each other . I was so excited to see her. I got to tell her that I love her, which felt so good. But she didn’t really hear it—I realized I was dreaming before she could respond. It wasn’t real. I guess I was stirred awake by the impossibility of it.
October 11, 2007. I have lived in Chicago for four months. My parents are up from Louisville to visit me. When we go to the lake, I experience a rush of de ja vu. The last few years that I lived in Seattle, I had this recurring dream where I lived in an old hotel on the beach. My mom, my dad, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew were all in the dream. It made me think that maybe one day I’d live by the ocean–maybe even own a B&B–and have lots of good family visits. But here I was, with my mom and dad on a Lake Michigan beach and it all made sense. I will get this de ja vu feeling again every single time a family member comes to Chicago to visit me, like when my sister comes up for a brief visit three years later.
May 19, 2012. I am in Kentucky for my niece’s wedding. As I’m walking outside, I see a key chain lying in the grass. It’s one of those silver key chains with the outer circle and the spinning middle part. The middle part says, “Illinois” and the outer circle says, “Chicago, the Windy City.” I smile and remember the very first time I saw this type of key chain. It was in 1998 when I first moved to Seattle from Louisville. I was working in the gift shop of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. I was in love with my new city and homesick for my old one. In the stockroom I opened up a box of our new key chains. The inside said, “Woodland Park Zoo” but the company had made a mistake and outside said, “Louisville, KY.” I thought I was dreaming. I took them around to everyone in the shop, asking them to read it to me. It was real.
October 1, 2011. I buy myself a purse in Chicago. It looks sort of like an owl. My sister loves owls. It has always been her thing. Deanna loves owls. Laura loves turtles. Amanda is the weird actor one that switches what she likes a lot. If I was younger, I might question if it’s okay for me to like owls. But I’m older and I like the purse. So I buy it. I wonder when I will see her next, because I know she’ll think it’s cute. I see an older man trip on the escalator going into the store. I try, without success, to keep him from falling. But he tumbles and tumbles and tumbles on the unforgiving escalator. It feels like a dream. It makes me think of how fragile we all are. The man kept falling and the stairs kept moving and none of us were able to stop it from happening. That night, I dream about being in a combination city made of Louisville and Chicago. I’m trying to get a hold of my family and my family is trying get a hold of me. But, the buttons on the phones aren’t working and I’m panicking and it seems so urgent for me to see them. I wake up, heart racing. I know it was a dream, that it wasn’t real. But I switch on my phone and see all of the missed calls starting early in the morning. When my mom tells me on the phone that my sister has died, I will cry and cry. It will feel like a dream. But it’s real.
Right now, I am in Chicago, traveling to other places and times while being in just one. May we all be wakeful enough to appreciate the dreamy moments and restful enough so that we are not stirred by the impossible ones.