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.

March 25, 2004

Images of mid-March

Originally posted to Diary-X

There is a pigeon nesting in the alcove above our neighbor’s back door. When I bring out the recycling, I always pause to greet her. She built that rounded tangle of twigs so that her plump gray body would fit perfectly inside it. Her tail feathers push up against the brick wall behind her, and she stares at me, head tilted. Moose doesn’t seem to notice her, as he follows me out onto the deck and gazes longingly down the winding wooden stairs that terrify him so much. (Not even a “Pupperoni” strip, the kind that smell so good I want to put them on my pizza, will lure him down that treacherous staircase.)

Last night, when I stepped outside to feel the warm night breeze and recycle the Tribune, I found half of a smashed eggshell at my feet. The pigeon was in her nest, silent and staring. I wondered if she knew.


In the morning, I’ve taken to sitting in one of the two seats on the bus that face backward. I watch the downtown buildings receding in front of my eyes, shrinking smaller and smaller, and my head whirls slightly at the strangeness, the newness of the view. (I think of riding in the back of our old wood-paneled station wagon, making faces at strangers in the car behind us.)

So after more than two years of the same commute, rumbling past the same buildings on the same streets every day, I discovered something. There’s an old, rusty water tower in the South Loop, just west of the Pacific Garden Mission, and on it someone has spray-painted, graffiti-like, the words MAKE A WISH. I noticed it out the back window of the bus, and I watched it—a public, yet somehow secret, message silently offered to thousands of people in this huge city—until the words became too small to read and the bus turned the corner.


My downstairs neighbor is loved. It said so, right there on a scrap of looseleaf taped to his front door: “I love you,” scrawled in red ink. On the welcome mat were a pair of men’s running shoes and a pair of black high heels, jumbled on top of each other.


Our friends R. and J. came to visit us last weekend. They brought their eighteen-month-old daughter, Annika, with them. They bring her everywhere, even to Malawi, Africa, where they spent the last two months. This was their second trip to Africa; R. is a doctor and has done two medical residencies in African hospitals, while J., a nurse, volunteers at an orphanage.

Annika walks and explores, moving from room to room with surprisingly quick steps, blowing on unlit candle wicks and pressing the buttons on the TV. She learned Moose’s name in about three seconds: “Mmmmmoosh!” She gets up at 6 a.m. every single morning. She doesn’t like highchairs. She does like her momma, and her face lights up whenever J. walks into the room. She is long and thin, with light caramel-colored skin and an unexpected pot belly. She makes your arms itch to hold her, but she does not like to be held.

After Annika was in bed, the grownups sat in the living room with March Madness and two bottles of good red wine from Napa, and R. pulled out his laptop to show us photos from their trip. We saw elephants, and the wide, clean shoreline of Lake Malawi, and Annika playing in the dirt in a green sundress, surrounded by small African children with impossibly gleaming white teeth.

The last photo was actually a short video that R. took with their digital camera, a video of nursery school children singing a native welcome song when R., J., and Annika visited. (They knew the person who’d started the school—a rare establishment in such an impoverished village, where grandparents raise scores of children whose parents have died of AIDS.) The children’s loud, high, exuberant voices, their hands clapping in rhythm, filled our living room. The camera panned around on their beautiful wide-eyed faces, the cracked plaster schoolroom walls, the sunlight shining through the open windows. When it ended, I asked R. to play it again. I don’t know why I had tears in my eyes.

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March 17, 2004

Sometimes it's past midnight

Originally posted on Diary-X

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with vegetarian potstickers in a nice wasabi sauce (thanks, Trader Joe’s!) and the scratchy Anthology recordings of the Beatles’ White Album. A far cry from 2002, but it’s all I could manage this year, what with dog-walking duties right after work and a severe disdain for drunken hordes of twenty-somethings wearing green plastic beads and shamrock stickers on their cheeks. I’d love to be sitting in a small, dark pub right now, sipping my first stateside Smithwick’s and tapping my toes as traditional Irish musicians do their thing, but alas. This year ’tis not to be.

It’s probably best that I’m going beer-free this evening. Lately, I’ve had a nagging suspicion that I’ve gained a pound or two. We don’t have a scale; I’ve always judged my body by how it looks, not how much it weighs. I honestly don’t care about the numbers—if my jeans zip, I’m happy. And they still zip; they just feel a little…tight. I will admit that I’ve been making some poor food choices lately, and my workouts have been subpar. Hence, the scare of the week: After work today I popped into Old Navy to procure a pair of shorts for the summer. (Yes, it snowed all morning, but still. I will continue to focus on shorts-wearing weather.) I grabbed a few different styles in size 6, 8, and 10—I’m usually an 8, but one never knows with these cheap retailers. When I got into the dressing room, I grabbed a 10 and slipped them on, expecting bagginess. But no—the cute blue shorts fit perfectly. Like a glove, only, you know, over my hips. I began mentally hyperventilating. Size 10 shorts are not! supposed! to fit me! like a glove! I whipped them off, checked the label, and breathed an audible sigh of relief upon discovering that I’d actually grabbed the size 8 pair. I guess I do care about the numbers.

I’m not sure how to creatively segue into my next subject, so I’ll just dispense with creativity and say that yesterday was election day in Illinois. The good Democrats of this state gave John Kerry the final delegates he needed to gain the nomination. (You’re welcome, John Kerry!) Since we just moved a few months ago, I wasn’t quite sure where to vote, so I had to do a bit of trekking around our neighborhood after work. It was cold, and I was wearing my cheap uncomfortable boots from Payless, and I began to silently whine as I waited at a busy intersection: It’s windy, and that freak guy across the street is staring at me, and I just want to go home and eat a pound of walnut-gorgonzola tortellini (see poor eating choices, above), and when will these stupid SUVs stop blowing their stupid horns at each other? Suddenly I realized what I was doing, and I shut myself up, aghast. I know it sounds cliché, but I thought of all the women in the Middle East who want to vote and can’t, and who would gladly walk six blocks on a paved surface to get to the polls, faces free to feel the air, and I was mortified at my behavior.

Sometimes I suspect that perhaps I am not the world’s most selfless person. Sometimes it’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep, and I lie in bed listening to the husband sighing in his sleep and the dog kicking his back legs against the dresser as he races around the track in his dreams, and I think, I wish I was a better person. I wonder why I don’t want a baby—is it pure selfishness? would a better person want a baby?—and I wonder if I’m really a good spouse or if I just haven’t been tested yet in our blessed, peaceful marriage. I think about how cynical I can be, the sharp sarcasm of my tongue when I’m commenting about politicians or the news. I worry that I am a faker Christian, a Sunday-morning-only Christian. Why aren’t I volunteering at our parish’s weekly lunch for the homeless? Why aren’t I praying regularly every day, reading my Book of Common Prayer that sits, covered in a fine layer of dust, on my nighttable?

This is the hole I dug myself into last Friday night. It’s a lonely feeling, lying awake in the dark while your spouse sleeps, wondering if, perhaps, you are a shallow person. Eventually I fell asleep, and in the morning, I decided to try on a new coat of patience and humility and kind speech. And I’ve already failed a few times since then, but you know, I’ve also succeeded a few times. Maybe the fact that it’s Lent helps. I don’t know. But I suppose it’s a lifelong project, trying to be better, moving toward light, and the important thing is to not forget to try. (Note: It would be a lot easier to succeed at the kind speech part if there wasn't a general election in seven months.)