|Katherine Page revisits The Nightingale with a lovely portrait of a healing through traveling. She writes of finding strength as a survivor when she returns to Chicago, a city full of both positive and negative memories. She’s able to meet these memories, good and bad alike, with grace and love, both for herself in the present and for herself in the past. This response to The Nightingale’s November prompt on gratitude is an ode to all the ways that, for survivors, a place can hold meaning, healing, and memory–and how often we find the intersection between all three.|
Thank You, Chicago
by Katherine Page
I live in the Rockies now, but as I drive across the cornfields of Nebraska and into Iowa and then Illinois, as the land rolls then flattens and the sky broadens and dulls, something settles in my chest. I’m heading home. The morning after I arrive back in Chicago, I run down to the lake, so high this year, and hold my hands beneath the cold gray water until they redden and numb. The color of the lake is never twice the same. I think of the accidental mouthfuls of it every childhood summer, how it’s still in my blood, from every swim when we’d dive under with goggles, looking for pretty rocks, the ripples on the sandy bottom, turning my body to face the sky, still underwater, seeing the sun’s glitter dance across the surface above me, floating, rising up to the air and breathing it in, droplets entering my smiling mouth.
I see some friends, walk down busy streets so different from the small mountain town where I currently reside, visit my brother’s new apartment in Humboldt Park and meander along paths as the sun pulls orange shades to the horizon. The skyline glistens to the east. It’s late and there’s little traffic and as I drive back to my parent’s house, I detour, passing through the haunts of my twenties, writing a love letter to this place where I ached and broke and longed and grew. I notice everything for the first time and also feel everything I’ve ever been, the pockets of past bursting open like slow motion popcorn kernels blooming and then shrinking in rewind. I drive past old apartments and bus stops where I waited in the cold and that restaurant I haven’t been back to since we broke up. I pass a big park where I’d walk the dog at night, a cut in the fence to the tennis courts through which I’d squeeze, then lay on the cool pavement in my puffy winter jacket and feel an empty spinning and try to see the pinprick of even just one star. Memories of the lonely years are locked up on late night train cars and through illuminated apartment windows and in familiar intersections with so many strangers, their own weeknight routines and circles of friends and little and big dramas and pains. Nobody lives where they used to be. We thought the decade would be like the TV shows, and in some ways it was. We got that tangled laughter and all the bright lights, but also more outtakes, the solo scenes when you’re growing but you won’t see it that way until much later on. The quiet stories buzz. My sadness once untethered me. I floated above my body, just beyond the street lamps and powerlines, watching as I moved, just another stranger, from place to place. I drive by my old therapist’s office and look up to the shadowed window where I’d once told her that she’d saved my life and she said, “no, you did.” My last stop brings me back to the water, where I’d stood on the edge of the breakwall, the darkness crashing, splashing beneath me, where I’d thought about sinking into this massive reflection of sky.
I click left my turn signal and pull out of the parking lot and onto Lakeshore. I turn on the radio and want a song to come on that will make me cry in a way that will satisfy my nostalgia. It doesn’t happen, and know it’s because after it all, through it all, in spite of it all, because of it all, I am sturdier than I once was. I’m more solidly strapped to the now, this present current, my eyes peeled outward to the lights bobbing in the distance. The skyline in my rearview, this place I can always come back to, the deep gratitude I feel for all of it, fills me up like stones, like water, like love. So it’s just me in the soft, scarred silence, my pulse a quiet vibration of thank you thank you thank you as I continue on my journey home.
Katherine Page is a writer and elementary school teacher currently living in Leadville, Colorado. She has had writing published in Open Minds Quarterly, Bluestem Magazine, Awakened Voices Magazine, and Chanter Literary Magazine.