This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 17}

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Montrose Harbor Dock

They call him for this gig now

I come, walk the beach

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 16}

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Back in the city

Honeymoon was a haven

Moving awaits us

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 9}

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Bachelorette Round Two

Evening on Lake Michigan

I’ll always love this

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 8}

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It’s moving out day

This place was so good to me

Thank you, Humboldt Park

~Natalia

Splashing

It rained on the night of our first date. Light, soggy drops that fell past the towering Chicago high rises all around us and made my hair frizzy, plastered his to his forehead. We walked down Lasalle to Gino’s East before the rain began, emerging later onto a late fall night slick with water. The streets shone black, the streetlights reflected in the puddles growing along the curbs.

We didn’t have an umbrella. I didn’t- still don’t- believe in them. Instead, we walked side by side towards the lake, stepping under Chicago Avenue awnings wherever we could. More often than not, the steady drip from the awning’s corner hit one of us, a trickle of cold water running down head, ears, neck.

We walked everywhere that night, as the rain waned, only to pick up once more. He bought me an ice cream cone that I couldn’t finish at Ghirardelli, and then we slipped into the Dunkin Donuts under the train tracks. The same train tracks we’d stand next to, kissing, for our engagement pictures five years later.

The rain had finally stopped as we walked to his car at the end of the night. Huge puddles rippled at each corner, tiny murky ponds at the intersection of street and sidewalk. I jumped over these puddles, my legs stretching wide in an exaggerated leap.

His car sat resolutely in the visitor lot, rain water on the windshield glistening in the bland yellow glow of the streetlight above. One crosswalk away, I picked my foot up, swung my cracked boot though a puddle. For an instant, I watched the spray of water fly from the puddle, from my shoe. Then it landed, leaving the dark marks of moisture on his jeans, his sweater, the sleeve of the arm he’d thrown up to protect himself from my barrage.

We were still caught, then, in the uncertainty, the unfamiliarity of a relationship just barely beginning to form. I didn’t know, as my foot skimmed the puddle, gathering water and momentum as it swung, how he’d react. He laughed, of course. Laughed and came after me, his body shifting towards me, moving across the puddle, through the puddle.

Moments later, I had fled beyond the reach of the puddle and his own splashing feet. His jean hems were wet, his shoes heavy with an evening’s worth of rain water accumulation. Our laughter faded in the hush and lull of goodbyes, tentative agreements to text you later. Minutes later, I had watched his little car disappear around the corner into the big city, and I could feel the stiffening cold settling around my sopping toes.

I know him more now, five years later. Exponentially more. I tease him, still, and sometimes remember the text he sent me later that night, after we’d both gone home and changed into the welcome warmth of dry clothes. My mom loved that you splashed me, he had said. I had grinned then. Chuckling to myself that it was my silly, impulsive moment of daring flirtation that garnered this response.

There’s a weight that comes with knowing him more, now. A responsibility. I’ve a copy of Sacred Marriage on my desk, bookmarked halfway through as I prepare for marriage to this same puddle-splashing man. Speaking about marriage’s knack for reflecting our own sin, drawing attention to flaws we may previously have been able to hide, Gary Thomas challenges readers to not only renounce that sin, but to take steps to do the very opposite thing.

I sat in my kitchen today, unfocused eyes sliding towards the sunlit living room, as I thought about Thomas’s charge. Where do I see my sin most just now, when it comes to this man that I love? And then I knew. In the same way I knew he wouldn’t be mad when I flung that cold puddle water towards him, I knew the way I needed to grow. I knew what my opposite was.

Selflessness is the word I wrote in the book’s margin, tucked alongside the myriad other notes I’ve written there in blue ink. The kind of selflessness that lays down my anger, even when it feels justified, and I can almost taste how good it would feel, just for that fleeting second, to let my temper go. The kind of selflessness that opens my gripping fingers, spreading the palms where I’ve gathered tightly all the things I feel I’m entitled to from my fiancé, and drops them right there on the ground. The kind of selflessness that might still sigh when I see him wrestle with hard things, not because his struggle means less attention, less time for me, but rather because my heart hurts for him, and his pain becomes my own.

There will be more rain for us, in the days and years to come. Real rain, bringing the fresh green of spring, and sometimes the floodwaters of a late summer storm. And figurative rain, bringing blessings we didn’t know we would have missed, and challenges we can’t imagine now. But I can say now, and I’ll say again on my wedding day, and in the days and years after, he’s the one I want to splash with, the one I want to laugh with, the one I want to be selfless with.

~Natalia

A Bottle of Water

There are hundreds- thousands- just like him.

Standing in intersections, sometimes holding a cardboard sign, sometimes not.

Red light, they walk the yellow-lined aisle between cars.

Wordless, usually.

I don’t have a rule, a standard, a constant choice.

Sometimes, music still playing, brake lights glowing, I roll the window down.

Extend a hand.

Extend support.

Extend what I have.

Sometimes I don’t.

It’s Sunday afternoon, pleasant but not quite warm.

I’ve never seen him before.

But it’s usually late, far beyond sundown, when I idle this intersection.

I see him, signless, standing there three cars ahead.

In a moment, I swipe an arm behind my seat, pull a water bottle from the case.

Give water, I read somewhere once, they’ve no place to go for just water.

I roll the window down more, my hand holding the bottle forward, towards him.

It’s a race then, between his staggering limp and the impending green.

But I’d wait.

He arrives, takes the water.

I glance up at him, where he stands so near my car.

Thank you for your kindness.

His accent is heavy, surprisingly Middle Eastern.

I don’t have any cash, I say. My voice comes out flat.

Was I trying to apologize? Explain?

But at least you gave something, he says as the light turns green.

I accelerate, slowly. Roll through the odd, y-shaped intersection.

His words ring in my ears. Humbling.

At least I gave something.

Comfort and kindness, encouragement from the man in the street.

And all I gave was a bottle of water.

~Natalia

 

The Valentine’s Gig

The bar is half full when we arrive; pushing through the door, trading the Chicago streets and swirling snow for the pounding swing of live jazz music. We move slowly, almost aimlessly, towards the cluster of small round tables just beyond the band. There’s a pause as we glance at one another, eyes vaguely questioning, before sitting down.

We’re barely seated when the band takes a break. They’re an hour on, thirty minutes off, and here in this thirty minutes, we’re greeting old friends, shaking hands all around, grinning nice to meet yous to acquaintances just made.

There’s a door in the wall behind us; the kind of half-door they have in church nurseries, with a menu fastened to the top half. We stand in the gap, scanning menu items, pondering between catfish, perch, wings, nuggets. The pizza puff, we’re told, is amazing, and I order one, standing there in that half-open door.

The food comes with three minutes left in the band’s break. Paper baskets of fries, fish, chicken, with little containers of homemade barbecue sauce, fill the tiny table in front of us. I’m hungry, and curious, and the pizza puff burns my tongue; the price of not waiting for the rest of the table to be served. The drummer, the bass player- the reasons we’re here, really- rush a bite or two before returning to their instruments, their own pizza puffs emitting steam from where they’ve been bitten.

The band’s leader, a man named Greg, grabs the microphone. We sit at our table, munch our fries, while Greg’s easy manner as an entertainer fills the darkened bar. He introduces the band again; the same titles, intonations we heard 30 minutes prior. He invites a guest musician- a bright-eyed woman holding a flute- to join the group on the stand, and stand catches my ear, because it’s not a stage, but the wooden floor, the border lines of black amp cords delineate the stand as their own place- the place where music is born.

The bar fills slowly, almost imperceptibly, as the next set unfolds. The opening ceremony for the All Star game plays soundlessly on the two TVs over the bar itself, and a small ring of men has formed there. Their eyes flick to the screens occasionally, but it’s their conversations that grip them; swapping words, nods, stories, over the drinks they grasp in crossed arms.

There are two couples at the bar, their backs to one another. One woman, the outline of her black sweater almost fading into the dark behind her, gazes calmly around her, her eyes most often falling on the screen beyond her man’s head. He faces her, his hands resting on her lap, and she holds them, gentle fingers curled into his. I can’t hear their voices over the roll of the band, but I watch her look at him, listen to him, nod, speak.

Behind her, another man sits at the bar with his love. Unlike the other’s crew cut, this man has long hair twisted into locs and pulled back, away from his face. His shirt is bright red, like the woman’s beside him, and holes that have the distressed look of intentionality fill both their jeans. They must speak, I know, but I don’t catch the movement of their mouths, or the flick of recognition in their eyes. Instead, this couple moves. Seated atop her bar stool, the woman swings her shoulders to the beat of the jazz, her movements sultry, loose. He moves, too, his hands swaying, beating the air in front of him with the same easy drive.

Beyond both couples, the bar has filled as night falls with the snow outside. Men drinking beer, watching the game above. Couples out for Valentine’s Day, leaning into one another over drinks, across the tiny clothed tables. Women in red, hair neatly coiffed, out with friends, sisters, aunts. The light is dim, yet not threateningly dark, and the music rises, consumes, but never overwhelms.

Later, I step into the bathroom only to be accosted by the shouts of an angry woman. She’s in the far stall, screaming into a phone at a man I can only assume to be her boyfriend.

Later still, the band stand empties and I stomp snow off my boots outside, haphazardly brushing snow off the drummer’s car while he loads a waist-high stack of equipment into the trunk.

Not much later, he pulls the car onto the snowy street, leaving the bar- with its dancing, laughing, shouting, listening, arguing, loving people- far behind.

~Natalia

 

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