Monday, December 3, 2012

No. 549 – My Last Breath

Performer: Evanescence
Songwriters: Amy Lee, Ben Moody, David Hodges
Original Release: Fallen
Year: 2003
Definitive Version: None

Laurie’s invitation in California in September 2004 was one of those things that’s said in the heat of the moment and promptly forgotten the next day: Hey, we like a lot of the same things. You should come up to Chicago so we can hang out.

But this time the conversation continued via email and then after I headed up to Torch Lake for the fall via the telephone, when plans were formalized. I wanted to watch all of the playoffs and World Series, as per usual, so I could write about them for BaseballTruth. I’d come over the first weekend in November.

I was eager to see Laurie, of course, but I prepared for any scenario. I mean, we weren’t kids, so the possibility of a sexual hook-up was very high. I was going to stay at her place from Friday to Tuesday—four nights, for crying out loud—but I wouldn’t presume anything. I decided to take a pillow in case I spent the weekend on her couch.

But, I also wouldn’t presume that NOTHING was going to happen either, so I made a little hospitality gift. I fished some particularly colorful stones from Torch Lake and found a glass dish at an antique store in Bellaire to put them in. I wasn’t going to cheat myself, but given that, what’s the worst thing that happens—I spend a weekend visiting old haunts in Chicago. There’s no downside to that.

Unfortunately, my digestive system began to act up that week, and I was making frequent trips to the bathroom. It was nothing I wasn’t used to, so I knew it would pass, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Finally, it was time to depart. I boarded Maile at her vet’s in Bellaire in the early afternoon on a crisp, sunny fall day and headed south with a CD of tunes that included this song on my car stereo as I began my epic journey.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as epic as I had anticipated. I made the drive from Chicago to Torch Lake years before, and my recollection was that it was a nine-hour drive. However, that was before 131 had been completed all the way north to Cadillac. My drive back then consisted of two-lane roads through towns where the speed limit dropped to 25, not a four-lane freeway with a 70-mph speed limit.

By the time I reached Benton Harbor, I knew I was in trouble: It was only 5 o’clock … Eastern time, so I was going to be insanely early. I also was continuing to have digestive troubles—having stopped at a rest stop twice—which only increased my anxiety and created a vicious cycle.

OK, so I needed to do something to relax and kill some time. The choice was obvious—a little detour through my past. I got off the freeway at Bridgman and drove down Red Arrow Highway through the heart of Harbor Country.

I hadn’t been since Christmas 1990, and I was pleased to see that everything looked mostly the same, even in New Buffalo. Jackson’s Market was gone, which was a shock, but the old drugstore on the corner still was there. I parked and hiked through it, realizing I hadn’t been in that store since I moved away in 1988. I then hiked down Whittaker Street to the train tracks.

New Buffalo was a bit more built up than it had been but recognizable. Brennan’s books was gone, as was the open lot where I used to park across the street from my apartment. Lyssa was gone, but my apartment was there, and from the outside, it looked just the same. A wave of 1988 memories crashed over me.

I then headed west on US-12 to Michigan City. It was pitch black, and considering that I frequently went to the News-Dispatch at night, the drive was all the more familiar. But when I got to Michigan City, right where you cross the river to the newspaper, I noticed a major change—the Blue Chip Casino. So Michigan City got a casino. Hmmm … What better way to kill more time than to check it out?

I couldn’t find an Austin Powers slot machine, alas, so I settled for video poker. I figured I had an extra $10 to blow and input a Twenty. When that dropped to $10 in credits within five minutes, I cashed out. That was a time injury.

I drove by the newspaper, which looked the same, and followed Franklin Street back to the freeway. Before I got there, I stopped at Steak & Shake for a burger and a call to Scott to at least let someone know of my wild goose chase and Maile’s location, just in case. I also stopped at a Meijer to go to the bathroom, again, and pick up some flowers for Laurie.

My little side trip had been interesting, but I still was well ahead of schedule when I reached my favorite city in the world. Now what? I drove up to the Wrigley neighborhood—we were to meet at a place called Uncommon Ground, which was a coffee shop that served food—and found a nearby Kinkos. Perfect. I could get out the computer and do some book work.

From the location of everything, I figured that if I left at 10, I would get there before Laurie showed up. I left at 9:30, and I was at Uncommon Ground for some time before Laurie showed up, looking, more or less, how I remembered her. I presented her with her flowers, and she showed me that I made just the right impression with a kiss. We’re off to a good start.

Then Laurie said, let’s go. I was a bit curious, because I thought that she chose this place so we could have some food after she arrived, but I said nothing. We drop off the flowers at her car and then walked to a bar on Clark called the Gingerman, which was a mere block from Wrigley Field. I’ll never forget the first thing she asked me as we sat in the front room of the pie-piece shaped tavern and reconnected: Have you ever been married?

I couldn’t believe it. I seemingly always made the mistake of talking too much about my past—take this blog, frinstance—and determined on the drive down that I would say nothing about Debbie or my past life in Columbus beyond what was absolutely necessary. Let’s keep it light and firmly in the present. Then, right out of the box, she asked me for my history. Crap.

Well, I wasn’t going to lie, so I told her about Debbie, briefly, explaining that I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to bring up that subject. Laurie felt embarrassed, but I laughed. No, no, that’s fine. It was ironically humorous.

We talked for hours and played a little pinball in the back room. Laurie introduced me to her drink of choice—Jameson’s. I never had it before, and it had been years since I had last had a nip of whiskey. But when in Chicago …

Then it was time to go to her place. I was hungry—all I’d had to eat since leaving Torch Lake was the single steakburger in Michigan City—but my hunger for food was overwhelmed by my desire for something else. Meanwhile, the alcohol had settled my stomach, and by the time we got to her place about 2 in the morning, I wasn’t nervous.

We sat in her living room. Laurie lit candles and put on the jazz radio station. I gave her the stones, and my gift went over even better than the flowers had. It blended in perfectly with her apartment’s décor; Laurie was amazed that I had thought of such a thing.

The conversation started anew until it came time to no longer talk, and Laurie asked whether I wanted to see her bedroom.

I did, and I didn’t spend a single night on her couch.

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