The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

January 28, 2004

Version 28.0

Originally posted to Diary-X

Just a few days ago, I was a 27-year-old Roman Catholic. Now I’m a 28-year-old Episcopalian. Funny how life works.

John and I officially joined the ranks of the Episcopal Church on Sunday, in a very moving ceremony officiated by the bishop and attended by my in-laws. My parents didn’t come. I don’t think this was out of snobbery or disappointment or a desire to boycott the occasion; they’re just not big travelers, and they have an old poodle that deteriorates rapidly when kenneled, and there was a lot of snow. And anyway, I was simply being “received” into the church (that’s how Catholics and Orthodox who are already confirmed—I was at age 13—make the switch to Anglicanism). John was being confirmed—renewing his commitment to our faith and making the adult pledge to live a Christian life—and that’s a much bigger deal.

The bishop, a somewhat flaky yet reassuringly warm, twinkly-eyed man born in Panama, laid his hands on John’s head, while his parents and I placed our hands on his shoulders and the congregation looked on. The bishop said, “Defend, O Lord, your servant John with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to your everlasting kingdom.”

“Amen,” we all replied.

When John turned away, I think there were tears in his eyes. I know there were tears in mine, and his parents were bright-eyed.

When my turn came, the bishop clasped my right hand in both of his and said, “Amy, we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you.”

“Amen,” we all replied.

And when we returned to our pew, I reflected on the year-and-a-half-long journey that led us to this day. It wasn’t easy for me to decide to leave my family’s denomination, and I imagine John felt a twinge or two as well. It's been a kind of uprooting. But I know that my faith has grown exponentially since we discovered this little Episcopal parish, and I’m proud that we did this together, for each other; that we’re adopting this as our family faith. (I don’t think you need children to be considered a family.) It’s something that we can both share in equally. It’s a place where we can both feel at home. Sunday was a happy day for us.

And then yesterday, I did the whole turning-28 thing. Unlike last year’s birthday depression, my day was actually quite pleasant, largely because I had the foresight to take it off. (I did have class at night, so it wasn’t a full holiday, but I slept until 10 a.m. and if that’s not a holiday, I don’t know what is.) I drank my coffee leisurely, without having to clutch it between my knees on the train, and I read the Travel and Perspective sections of Sunday’s paper. I talked to my mom and my grandmom. I played with the digital camera. I bonded with Moose. I watched the (heaps and heaps of) snow fall. I read Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which I love for making me literally laugh out loud. (Thanks, Al Franken, you national treasure, you!) I climbed around on the Stairmaster for awhile. I ate a chocolate doughnut. I listened to Alison Krauss. When I got home from class, I discovered that someone had placed a delicious chocolate pie, courtesy of Mrs. Smith (venerable lady of the freezer aisle), in the fridge. It was a good day.

My parents sent me a nice little birthday check, which I used to purchase a $160 coat that was 60% off. (Lord how I love January sales.) It is an exceptionally cute ski jacket, perfect for the girl who does not ski yet wants to keep warm and, of course, look cute. It is pale lime-green with a thick white stripe and dark-blue fleece lining. It has a fold-away hood and a myriad of zippered compartments. And while I’m walking Moose or grocery shopping or heading out for coffee, it protects me from the death grip of cold that has been cruelly squeezing Chicago in its fist for a few weeks now.

You know, I feel good about being 28. Is it any scarier than 27? No, not really. As my friend Jess put it, “I think it’s a good age. I feel pretty mature and as if I’m even more settled in to WHO I AM.” That’s not something I could say when I was 22 or 23, and even though back then I was partying, cheap mixed drink(s) in hand, until 2 a.m. on Saturday nights, I would trade those hedonistic days for the wisdom I have now in an instant. It’s a shame that our society doesn't view getting older as a beautiful, rich and rewarding thing. After all, in the end, aren’t we the sum of all the years we’ve lived? The more years you’ve got, the more interesting you’re going to be. And a good gin and tonic is a good gin and tonic at any age.

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January 15, 2004

Big pretty bow

Originally posted to Diary-X... and since many of these entries are now gone, I'm glad this one was cached.

Even when I was young lass, keeping my handwritten journal in a spiral-bound notebook (my keyboard fingers cringe at the thought of all that pen-holding), come January I would always write a “year in review” entry. I don’t know if it gave me a sense of accomplishment or completion or if I’m just a sucker for tying things up with a big pretty bow, but whatever my reasons were, I’m not one to let traditions die. (Okay, I sort of let the tradition die last year with a very vague wrap-up entry, but this year I’m resuscitating it.)

Last January, I thought 2003 was going to be sort of a jogging-around-the-track kind of year… no major changes, just bobbing along, doing my thing. A year later, to that I say: ha.The year 2003 started off, truth be plainly told, kind of shitty. John disappeared into the black hole of tax season, and I was left holding the leash of a very troubled dog. I discovered that it was quite difficult being Murphy’s single parent five days a week. There were some days when I dreaded coming home from work…dreaded facing the barking and the inappropriate object-stealing and the growling and the threats of biting. I turned 27 last January, and even my birthday was somewhat depressing. Let’s move on.

In February, we saw David Gray and Richard Shindell in concert, which I now realize were the only two concerts we saw all year. John gave me beautiful pink roses for Valentine’s Day. We spent Sunday mornings at dog obedience classes, ending up with an exceptionally well-trained (although still mentally disturbed) dog. At the end of the series, Murphy could sit, stay, leave it, lay down, shake, come, roll over, and circle. However, he never quite mastered “stop being so freaking aggressive and just chill the hell out.”

In March we took Murphy to a $400 behaviorist who essentially told us that once a dog bites, there’s no guarantee he won’t bite again. We attended a wedding (the only one of the year) in which I had to deal with the Blonde Posse, and the U.S. attacked Iraq, which freaked me out more than I expected it would. Many Chicagoans were caught up in peace protests, even going so far as to close down Lake Shore Drive, one of the city’s main arteries.

In April, tax season ended and spring came to the city. Wintry pale people began emerging from their apartments, squinting in the sun. (This is my favorite time of year.) I saw the Joffrey Ballet perform at the Auditorium Theatre downtown. John and I participated in inquirers’ classes at our church and decided to officially join the Episcopal Church.I spent a long weekend in early May visiting Rachael in Washington, DC. We dutifully looked at war memorials, visited some free museums, and ate a hell of a lot of food. I am blessed to have friends who live in interesting cities and know how to make killer caramel fudge brownies.

In the spring and summer of 2003, we started thinking about housing. As in, when did we plan to enter the ranks of adulthood and buy one? Our talks about the future were spurred on by our landlady’s announcement that she was considering selling her condo, our apartment. In June, we snooped around in the suburb of Oak Park, and came to the conclusion that we just weren’t ready to leave the city yet. We started spending more time on our rooftop deck, just in case this was the last summer we’d have one.

July was not a good month. We went on an ill-fated Fourth of July camping trip in Michigan (sadly, the only camping we did last summer), during which Murphy morphed into a really scary, snarling, Cujo-like dog. We finally, painfully realized that we couldn’t keep him. One thing led to another, and euthanasia became our only option, as we and our vet saw it. We mourned. We struggled to adjust to life without our dog. It was a help to leave on our vacation, a trip out west to Colorado for some hiking and relaxation. God’s country out there—I’ll return. Even now, when I’m feeling sort of wide-eyed and frenzied, I think of our little whitewashed cabin in Twin Lakes and instantly feel better. Just knowing it’s out there, nestled among the aspens in all its peaceful, mismatched-furniture beauty, is a good thing.

August. The Great Home Search ensued when we discovered that our apartment was being sold. In the span of three weeks, we looked at Chicago houses that we could afford, realized we didn’t want to live in the ghetto or in a tiny brick ranch 45 minutes from the lake, decided to buy a condo instead, toured about fifteen of them, made a bunch of spreadsheets, stared at said spreadsheets for hours, and finally made an offer on a two-bedroom condo in Uptown, which was accepted. I didn’t sleep much during August.

September. The Move. I was stretched thin and stressed. We considered adopting a retired racing greyhound. We said goodbye to our old neighborhood. The Cubs went to the playoffs.Two of my best friends had babies in October, prompting me to realize, once again, that I’m not interested in spawning any time soon. I explored our new neighborhood and liked what I found. The leaves were changing. We visited the greyhound kennels and met Moose. With the aid of my delicately honed nagging skills, I persuaded John that cream-colored walls were definitely not the right look for The Home, and we painted. The Cubs did not go to the World Series, and the North Side wept.

Moose came to live with us on November 15, and we promptly fell head-over-heels in love with him. We got back into the rhythm of dog walks and met many of our neighbors as a result. November 30 marked our two-year anniversary living in the Windy City.

And December was the flu, and lots of freelancing, and Christmas shopping, and some general suckage. But my sister and her husband came to visit, and our relationship was really strengthened by that. And Moose started to become family to us. And we saw lots of family and friends and babies in Michigan over the holiday.

I don’t know how to sum up this year. Buying our first home, going to Colorado, getting to know Moose—those were all really good things. Losing Murphy was a really, really bad thing. I guess all I can say is that 2003 contained more surprises than I expected, if one can ever expect surprises. But the important things in my life—John, my family and friends, my job, my health, our church—all of that stuff remains unchanged, which is a lot more than many people can say. For that I’m grateful.


January 6, 2004

Dispatch from Antarctica

Originally posted on Diary-X

Cold. Very, very cold. Finger-aching, sweater-and-coat–penetrating, nose-hair–freezing fucking cold. Today’s high will be 16 degrees. Very smart idea, breaking up with the college boyfriend who eventually moved to Alaska. It hurt at the time, but did it hurt as much as my face did this morning, after 15 minutes spent waiting for the damn train on that unprotected wind-magnet of a station platform? I think not.


Of course, once I boarded the train, I was rewarded for my suffering with the sight of a shabby older man, sitting with his briefcase in his lap, carefully applying a nice shade of coral-red lipstick to his cracked lips. He followed that up with a few coats of mascara, then attached a gaudy, dangling clip-on earring to his right earlobe. It all matched perfectly with his rumpled men’s clothing and week-old beard.


I witnessed an attempted mugging a few days ago. Nothing says “2004 is gonna be a great year!” more than seeing a crime committed at 6 p.m. on the sidewalk two blocks from your home. I was walking home from the el station after work, and I wasn’t the only one around—the neighborhood was fairly busy with pedestrians and cars. Suddenly, less than a block ahead of me, I saw three people bundled in winter coats jostling each other. One person fell into the street, and the others—they looked like teenagers—took off sprinting toward a nearby alley, into which they disappeared. The person lying in the street was crying “My God! Why, God? Why?” I jogged over to find a middle-aged woman—maybe 60 years old—clutching her large purse to her chest and struggling to get to her feet. She was unhurt, and they didn’t get her purse, but she was very shaken and upset. I put my arm around her and helped her up. I told her to call the police and report it. What else could I do? She spoke in a foreign accent—something Eastern European—and kept saying “My papers! They could have gotten my papers!” The whole incident left me pretty disturbed; I never thought this sort of thing would happen during rush hour so close to my quiet neighborhood el station. I’m gripping my bag a little tighter these days.


John and I made two Big Purchases last weekend (thanks, freelance work!): a digital camera and a loveseat. Post-Christmas is when the monster sales take place, so we timed our shopping accordingly. Our shiny new digicam (I keep seeing the words “digital camera” abbreviated in this manner, but I can’t say I like it) is a Canon Powershot A70, 3.2 megapixels. It’s a little bit point-and-shoot, a little bit SLR, and we love it. It provides me with a deep, abiding sense of glee, being able to take pictures of anything, at any time, then immediately view (and delete) them. I’m looking at everything differently now—as soon as we read the instructions and install the big memory chip that we bought, I’m bringing the camera to work, to capture all the sights that have illustrated my commute for the last two years.

The loveseat will finally solve the seating problem we have in our living room. As in, when we have two or more people over, there isn’t enough of it. The loveseat is made of dark-brown leather, and it was on sale, and it is luscious. It’s very modern, with clean, spare lines, and it’s a dream come true for John, who’s been pining away for a leather armchair since God knows when. (He would always point out the chairs in the Restoration Hardware catalog, which were priced around, oh, $1,300, and I would laugh and laugh. $1,300! For a chair! One person can fit in a chair. I’m sorry, I would say, but the comfort of your snobby ass is not worth $1,300.)


Simon, Garfunkel, and I took down the Christmas tree on Sunday. I placed their greatest hits in the CD player (how I love the song “America,” and of course “Bookends”—Time it was and what a time it was it was/A time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph/Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you) and slowly took down all the tree ornaments, boxing them up for next year. Snow was falling outside, big blowsy white flakes. Once the tree was devoid of all decorations, John picked it up and took it outside to the alley, the tree shedding its path of needly tears through our apartment. I took down our stockings, the red and green candles, the wooden nativity set. I always feel a bit hollow when the Christmas season ends—I remember feeling that way even as a girl. The living room seems so empty without that lit-up little spruce. Now begins the long, slow march of winter, and of tax season, and of no holidays until Memorial Day. It’d be easy for a girl to get depressed if she didn’t have a girls' reunion and her birthday (the big 28!) to anticipate in the coming weeks.

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