Last Wednesday, it was pretty apparent that I was in the wrong. Downtown Chicago, dusk thickening, my cute, best-friend Z. shifting sleepily in her stroller – a few yards away, I watched a rat scurry across the street and wondered what terrible decisions had brought me to this moment.
So let’s rewind…
7 AM, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25.
I am baking. Baking furiously. Baking with a clock lodged in the corner of my eye. Baking for Mom J’s retirement party in a few hours. A surprise. And I still have two more batches of biscotti to go.
I arrive to Mom’s astonished exclamations. She is covered in sparkling luau leis.
Camera flashes are going off. An endless parade of doctors and hospital directors are walking in, to thank her for over 45 years of service. They congratulate me, too. They tell me I must be so proud, and I agree. Side note: the spread is killer and I eat so many sandwiches.
At work, I thank my bosses for letting me come in late. We talk about Mom J and how awesome she looked, how faithfully she worked and for such a long time. More patients arrive, suddenly. We sip our teas hurriedly and scatter to work. In passing, I text a friend who I am meeting later, to tell her when I will swing by.
While I hide behind a pantry door, my friend packs her backpack. Her 3-year-old, Z. is looking for me. “Where are you, sillllly girl?” she calls. I cover my face to resist shriek-laughing as she hmmmm’s loudly. “Where is that sneaky, sneaky girl?”
When Z. finds me, we jump up and down giddily. My friend asks me how we should get downtown – by car or by train? [SPOILER ALERT, HERE IS WHERE I MAKE MY FIRST MISTAKE:] “Let’s take the train,” I smile.
Carrying Z. while my friend unfolds the stroller, I think quickly of impending events. Short itinerary = pick up tea at Tea Gschwendner, followed by a stroll up the street to Haberdash, to pick out a birthday present for my lovely boyfriend. My friend lives in the city, and navigates it more frequently than I do. She also knows her East from West, North from South, which is a talent I don’t always have. [SPOILER ALERT, SECOND MISTAKE IS COMPLETE LACK OF GEOGRAPHICAL WHEREWITHAL]
At the tea shop, Z. smells teas while I ask the resident connoisseur what Nepalese oolong is all about. With Haberdash closing at 7, I hurriedly agree with his recommendations, and throw in an additional request for some kashmir kali-kahwa (the only chai you should drink in cold weather). Meanwhile, Z.’s head begins to shake back and forth, in resistance of a sudden sleepiness steadily overtaking her.
Cursing has replaced thoughts of gift possibilities as I realize Haberdash is much further than I remember. Worse is that my sweet, patient friend, is doubling her efforts to get us there in time. Night descends, much quicker than it has in recent summer months. Z’s stroller parts waves of people – appearing now in droves – and bumps up and down curb after curb of city street, graying to black in the setting sun.
The full realization of my epic wrongness comes at me in ALL CAPS and exclamation points. I wonder, how could I do this to my wonderful friend, knowing her wonderful Z. would be with us, and close to 7 at night? And, why did I stop for tea again? Why am I so set on extravagant Haberdash to buy this present? GROSS WAS THAT A RAT—WHAT IF WE HIT ONE?? Typically when I am berating myself, other grievances rise from the dead of my mind. Suddenly I’m all, And why did I spend all of yesterday watching Hulu, when I could have been writing the next great American novel? Why am I not writing the NGAN tonight? Mom J would. Mom J would be writing the NGAN NOW-RIGHT-NOW if she was me. What am I doing? What am I doing with my life? Seriously! Seriously!!
Three Haberdash men pose, as if set like mannequins, in the store as we arrive. I immediately throw shoe sizes at them, ask their opinion on various textures and textiles. Z. startles to full attention as the men pull boxes from shelves. “Oh!” she exclaims. “Can I try that?” she points to the display of wood grain ray bans. Her enthusiasm is a forgiveness I bask in. After Z. chooses what I am buying, her decisions supported by the men there, I start breathing again. What a good, good girl, with excellent taste in grown men’s fashion. What an angel.
6:30 AM, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4.
I sit down to blog this blog post. I think of how much can happen in a week. What changes, and what stays very much the same. There was the killer carrot cake that fed a multitude of friends last week:
There was the sudden cognizance of leaves yellowing, and falling ever so slowly. The last of crops harvested. This giant:
And admittedly there has been some sadness and seriousness. Much gravity, shifted from heart to head to heart again. I am making my peace. A process with no two artisans alike.
Today is Mom J’s last day at work. The end of an era, of much of my childhood memories – of delivering Easter eggs, and high school volunteering, of leaving newspapers at the doors of patients, and bringing cookies and cakes to her coworkers who make up large parts of my subconscious. It is a blessing that she will finally put her feet up. A blessing. A blessing. A great happiness. I foresee dance parties, amazing cook outs, and endless discovery. Plus, her being home [with Dad J] will also provide some space for me to finally carve out my own path, of work and personal meaning. And admittedly, I’m excited for the opportunity to finally express how useful I can be.
Today, it has been equally gratifying to recollect the goodness of my sweet friend, from a week’s past, while sipping on tea from our adventure. Sometimes lining all the things that are good in one’s life is like lining soldiers for battle with a world that is ever dark and perplexing. And I expect we’ll win. I really do. Because, isn’t this world a little better when we love somebody?
In other news, I’m truly sorry for standing you up last week. I cannot wait for tea and apple cider and autumn joy with you next Thursday. Till then, rooting for you and all your great endeavors.