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.

December 28, 2005

To be living in December of the year 2005

Originally posted to Diary-X

I want to write something that, years later, will make me remember what it felt like to be living in December of the year 2005, one month before my thirtieth birthday, in the city of Chicago with my husband and my dog. I am reading The
Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I am watching The Daily Show and Rome and Sopranos re-runs on television. I am listening to the new Coldplay CD and Sufjan Stevens and the Harry Connick Jr. Christmas album. I am eating Lean Cuisine lunches and yogurt and apples and chicken curry and my mom’s Christmas cookies.

I want to remember what it feels like to be sitting in my office facing the windows, the room glowing with lamps while outside is all gray and thick with clouds, the skyscrapers’ points hidden in the fog. To be wearing my favorite size-8 jeans and a gray and red button-up sweater, the gorgeous silver and marcasite earrings that John gave me for Christmas. The photos on my desk are of me and John on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland; a group shot of our wedding party; Moose sitting tall and regal in the grass; my parents, me, and my sister smiling on the back deck; my college friends and I laughing on graduation day; and a
close-up of John on the beach at Cane Garden Bay in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, smiling into the sunset.

Sometimes I feel like I still have one foot planted in the sand on that beach. This makes sense when you consider that
we were there just three weeks ago. I had never been really interested in the Caribbean… an island vacation seemed so cliché, somehow; I thought of people’s computer screensavers with palm trees on them, about frozen daiquiris and drunk, pasty middle-aged Americans in sun visors, and I shuddered a little. But John really wanted a warm, relaxing getaway before tax season starts, and we have a friend who goes often to Tortola. She’s very outdoorsy and adventurous and considers volunteering with orphans in Guatemala to be a fun vacation, so I respected her opinion. We decided to spend five nights in Tortola during the first week of December. And it was heaven, just heaven, and I firmly intend to return.

No high-rises, no chain stores, not too many tourists (and not all of them were Americans)… just blue-green bays and beaches and mountains and palms and sea-grape trees and sailboats and goats in the road and dogs running in the sand, and seafood roti and coconut rice,
painkillers and rum punch and Carib beer, and the two of us in a little apartment on Cane Garden Bay, eating homemade breakfast on the balcony and sleeping with the windows open at night, eschewing the air conditioner for the trade winds. I’ve never taken a trip like that, one so centered on relaxation—even the days we explored the island in a Jeep were slow-paced and stress-free. A trip that made it so easy to focus on my spouse and why I love him and how much I enjoy being with him, without e-mail and computers and laundry and dishes and meetings and dog-walking and, well, life getting in the way.

So I’m still remembering that trip quite vividly during these last days of 2005. I’m marking my one-year anniversary at a job that I love, and I’m keeping up with my freelance work, and I’m starting my second-to-last class in my master’s program. I’m volunteering at church and working out at a gym. I want to see “Brokeback Mountain” and “Munich.” I recently cried while watching “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” one of my favorite books of all time finally brought to the big screen.


Sometimes I scroll back in this journal to 2002, 2003, and trying to determine how I’ve changed since then. I think my voice is different, but I can’t quite put my finger on how or why. I write less often than I did then, and I wish that wasn’t the case, but I can’t seem to discipline myself to change it.

Back in 2002 I was in awe of this city and the fact that I’d gotten here. I still feel lucky to live in Chicago. I still want to put down roots here, raise my family here, grow old with John here. I’m not as wide-eyed about the city as I once was, although I still find poetry in the oddest places. Last week I found it on my regular commute home. I was waiting for my Red Line train to arrive and vaguely wondering why the platform was so crowded. There was a definite buzz in the air… a few people were wearing Santa hats and clutching cameras…and then, what should pull into the station but the
CTA holiday train!

Every year, the Chicago Transit Authority decorates one of their el trains with colored lights and runs it on all the train routes according to a set schedule. The train pulls a flatcar that carries Santa, his sled, and his reindeer (Santa’s real, the reindeer are not). I’ve caught glimpses of it a few times before, running on the tracks between buildings, a blur of colored lights and Christmas music, but I’ve never seen it pull into a station. I have to admit that I was pretty excited to ride this train, so I boarded with all the other people and found a window seat.

The inside of the car was festive and glowing with white lights and silver garland, the poles wrapped up like candy canes, the usual advertisements for divorce lawyers and newspapers replaced with silly Christmas jokes and holiday pictures. Bing Crosby was crooning over the loudspeakers. “All aboard Santa’s train,” the conductor said, as we pulled out of the station. I looked around at my fellow riders: commuters with tubes of wrapping paper in their bags (that included me), parents holding the hands of young children, a few shabby, bundled-up elderly people, a group of excitedly loud African-American teenage girls, a few Hispanic gangster-looking guys (baggy pants, tough expressions), a tall blind man with a cane. It was the usual cross-section of Chicago public transit riders, but the difference was that every person on that car was smiling, looking around happily and making cheerful eye contact with other riders. This is not my usual experience on the el, where sullen expressions and middle-distance staring are the norm.

Each time we pulled into a station, the conductor announced, “This is the CTA holiday train, all aboard!” And at each station, the eyes of people waiting on the platform lit up when we arrived and a smile came to their faces, no matter who they were or what they looked like. I just could not get over those smiles, the excitement of all those jaded city people boarding the train. Bing Crosby gave way to jazz Christmas carols, and then gospel. A CTA employee dressed like an elf entered our car and moved slowly down the aisle, giving out candy canes. And I don’t know why, but suddenly I was fighting back tears at the sheer urban beauty of it all, this unexpected gift that pulled up on the track in front of me during an ordinary commute home. This motley crew of Chicagoans all smiling at each other and eagerly accepting candy canes from a transit worker wearing a ridiculous pointed green hat.

In December 2005, I was a person who could be brought to tears by the CTA holiday train. I’m glad to be that person.

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