The Long Walk Home

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In the dead of winter when I walk through city streets, I often forget that I do indeed love summer in Chicago. I’m in a hurry for it to get dark, to get home. But tonight, a wonderfully warm evening, my walk home from the El served as the reminder I had been waiting for.

My favorite time of day in the summer is the time between the afternoon and sunset. For a few years I have been convinced this is only a time I can enjoy on the beach in Michigan—the stillness, all the families gone up to dinner, crumbled sandcastles, the sun slipping slowly, the lake, likely still, unable to produce the slightest wave.

Immediately after I descended the El platform, I could smell a winters worth of piss baking on the concrete. I thought perhaps I should be lazy and take the bus the rest of the way home. But the muted activity around me relaxed me in a way that those moments on the beach do. Even the drug dealers that hang out beneath and near the station seemed renewed in a non-chemical way.

And so I walked. I passed two girls talking about boys (idiots, to be sure) in their class. I passed a group of boys at that stereotypical rowdy age when they love to be loud and noticed. But tonight, they were gingerly holding water balloons in their hands and tiptoeing across the street. I thought how nice it was to see a balloon fight, as opposed to the recent gun fights. I passed tree-lined streets, the greenery seeming to have burst into bloom overnight. I smiled at the struggling restaurants—their patios full with patrons.

I passed the tuxedo rental place I have always cringed at. But I didn’t notice the garish dresses in the window which I always assume are meant for events I’ve never attended, such as quinceañeras. Instead, I saw a group of boys no older than seventeen smiling as they picked out tuxedos. I imagined the delight on their date’s faces a few days from now on prom night.

And I thought how I’ve always loved this time of day in the city—didn’t I used to wait with my brother until our dad walked down our block, home from work? It was only then that we knew it was dinnertime and soon, we would have to eat and then beg our parents to go back out until we saw fireflies. Then we’d round up the cats from the yard, determined that they not have a later curfew than us, determined that though it was dark now, the next day was nearer.

I approached the final block of my journey and smelled something that I first thought was pot. But the sweetness overtook the muskiness and I thought I know this smell. I couldn’t place it. And then it smells like grandma’s kitchen. I don’t know what that means, I don’t know how to describe it, I have no idea what it could have been—I was just relieved to be able to place it. I hadn’t smelled that smell in fifteen years and I’m sure if I’d hurried down the block in my usual pace, I would have missed it. The beach in Michigan was far away and I couldn’t have been happier to be tucked into a city neighborhood.

Nearing the end of the block, I maintained eye contact for a moment too long with a man coming my way. His eyes couldn’t focus and although he was not near enough, I could smell a days worth of booze. As we passed each other, he said, in the surliest of ways that only these types of men can achieve: “hey big girl.” I turned onto my block, and just like that, I was home.

Things I Live For: Reunions

Quote of the Day: “Took all winter to get through the summer.” –Tom Petty

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