The ex I never got over, a Chicago bar, and a random Universe
I’d been back in Chicago for 72 hours, but I’d already had lunch with a congressman, interrupted a drug deal, and been “moshed” by a mob of Gen Z’s at my son’s hip-hop rap music performance. Given my gift for attracting chaos, when I wandered into one of my former haunts — a hole-in-the-wall bar in Bronzeville — I should’ve expected to see my ex.
And there he was. Lookin’ better than a … well, you know the song.
This was the guy who — two days after we broke up — called his bank and reported that the $250 charge on his Visa (a donation to my nonprofit) was fraudulent. I spent days juggling embarrassing phone calls with my board of directors. Even 10 years later, I can still feel the humiliation of that conversation with the police.
So you’d think I’d steer clear of the guy. You’d think I’d go back to my car, find some trendy brewery serving lemon-basil beer, and make fun of random Cub fans.
You’d think I’d remember that night with the cops, being falsely accused of theft, instead of a different night two years into our relationship. A night when he called me in panic, begging me to come sit with his sick mother. He’d missed so much work his job was in danger, and she wouldn’t allow the home care aides in the house.
“She can barely move.” His voice was thin and flat; the sound of a man conserving his energy. A man with no siblings and no other family, who knew these daily storms about aides and feeding tubes and meds were just drills, just tests of the system, for the coming tsunami.
I got there as fast as I could. The usually polished hardwood floors were dusty and dull, but nobody had time to clean them. The Oriental carpets, the Sam Cooke albums, the sterling candlesticks that had belonged to her mother — all limp and resigned.
I cracked the window open hoping for a breeze, briskly tended to her feeding tube and her diaper, then settled myself into the puffy flowered chair. Her eyes opened, wobbly little slits. “You’re here,” she slurred. She patted the bed and I scooted in beside her, gently.
She dropped her head against my shoulder like always, the oily-sweet stink of her hair reminding me of other nights in this room. Nights I borrowed her mink wrap or her diamond earrings, nights she poured us all Veuve Cliquot because I’d sold a story. Nights she swirled off to the symphony or her favorite piano bar, her hair styled and spritzed with Chanel.
I pulled her closer, stretching out, settling in.
And then she died.