It’s raining. Pissing raining. And dark. The snow from the storm which renamed this place Chi-beria is melting and I’m certain the city will flood.
And what look like parking spots in Rogers Park are a siren’s calling mix of ice, snow and deep water. My wheels are sliding under me. And then my feet, unsteady in the rain boots I never wear. The ones I bought a few years ago. That I thought could pass for winter boots as the shaft is made of grey flannel. I was mistaken.
I walk gingerly into the tiny theatre and choose my seat from the 25 or so, covered in red velvet. I lay my gloves, scarf and hat on the chair next to me to dry.
I smell like wet dog.
Eric Warner sent me an invitation to his performance –“A Life in Tending,” Artist Date 56 – on Facebook, just after his last performance, where he shared the stage with my friend Clover. Artist Date 45. The same night I realized I have danced with his fiancé years.
So I kind of feel like I know him, even though I don’t really. But he greets me at the door like I do. Even though Clover isn’t here. And neither is his fiancé.
He takes me into The Purple Hotel on Lincoln Avenue with him and his friends – long after it has closed. When the ground is grown over with weeds and the swimming pool is filled with black algae. When they snuck in, several years ago. Or more to the point, when they committed a felony in the name of urban excavation. Of bearing witness.
Which takes him into his grandmother’s home.
And he takes me there too, introducing me to the fierce, loving, tough-as-nails matriarch whose only rule was “Do whatever you want but don’t burn the house down.” Who, when informed her grandson’s classmates call him “fat” and “stupid,” asks, “Do you think you are those things?” Adding that people will tell him he is all sorts of things, what matters is that he knows who he is.
It is no longer that place since his grandmother died several years ago – even though his grandfather remains. He has taken to sitting in her chair, instead of staring at the empty space, where she used to be, from his own.
Her walker, commode and oxygen tank sit, as though waiting for her to return. Tsotchkes line the kitchen table, sold for a song to feed his Keno habit. And perhaps also as a way of emptying the house, so his family won’t have to when he dies.
I think of my birthmother’s home, a place I visited just three times. Once to meet her. Once to say goodbye. And once to bury her.
On the first visit, I noticed the oxygen tanks in the kitchen – she was just 56. When I returned a few years later, a walker, shower bench and commode had been added.
On the third visit, we got rid of all of it. Me, my “aunt, uncles and cousins,” all of whom I’d never met until now. Except for my aunt. And her, just once, on my second visit.
I tossed reams of paper into large, black garbage bags – notes on an unsolved murder mystery she was following, years old credit-card statements, meeting minutes from the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
I remember standing back as my cousins fingered through her jewelry. My uncle telling me to “get in there.” I didn’t want anything, but I took a brooch anyway.
A few weeks later my aunt sent me my birth mom’s fur hat and coat –her name embroidered on the inside lining. It had belonged to their mother, my “grandmother.” I have never worn fur in my life. I cannot decide if I look like a pimp or an Orthodox Jew in it. It hangs in my coat closet still, even on the chilliest of Chicago days.
This morning, my birth mom’s son, my “half brother” friended me on Facebook. We have never met, or even spoken. A few months ago his daughter wrote to me. We exchanged a couple of emails where I filled in the blanks, explaining exactly who I was.
The timing is not lost on me.
I want to tell Eric all of this. To share my story, because he has shared his. Because I feel like I know him. To say “me too.” But I don’t. I do not see him on the way out and I am anxious to get home.
When I arrive I look at the calendar hanging in the kitchen – a gift from my “real” mom, the one who raised me. I’ve written just two things for January. The anniversary of my spiritual teacher’s passing, and my birth mom’s birthday. They are the same day, January 12 – this Sunday.