We used to walk to the beach in Chicago. A few miles along Grace Street, to Waveland, past Wrigley Field, headed towards the lakefront high-rises, under Lake Shore Drive, along the public golf course, skirting the large concrete shoreline steps, past the marina, to the dog beach.
She was in her mid-20s, probably in inappropriate footwear for the distance. And, she certainly had no water. There were drinking fountains at the lakefront, she thought. She would look both ways to spot if anyone was the type to be disgusted, and if the coast was clear, she let me jump up to drink from the spout.
She didn’t bring money, just me and a ball to throw in the water when we got there. And, of course there were no phones like there are now, or at least she would not conform to owning or bringing a cell phone at the time. There was no iPod for music or podcasts. There were no distractions, just me trotting along and her mind churning.
She spent hours walking, thinking. Off the city streets, along the bike paths and beaches, I was free from my leash. She spoke to no one, not even to me, as we had a way of communicating without words. Her gestures were obeyed without fail. She imagined everyone around us wasn’t there. We were painfully alone. She didn’t smile.
Back late from the beach one evening, we walked along Wrigley during a night game. The crowds cheered, the organ played loudly and the air was electric as we walked past the field. She wished and imagined there was a home run out to the street and that we were caught on television. Hoped that someone, anyone, would see her.
There was nothing really wrong with her life. It was nice most of the time. She had it easy, good. We were together, she had some friends and she was successful in her advertising job. But, there was no man friend. No love. She was too busy brooding. Too busy making plans to move to Portland or Minneapolis or Denver or, during certain election years, Canada. Years of planning, years of fear, and too many years of being stagnant and, honestly, lazy.
One day, while she was busy doing a paint-by-numbers project, painfully aware that she was living with her mother at age 31 and had quit her job without another lined up, she decided to move to Wyoming. A fog had lifted. The fear of change, a move, turned another direction and she asked herself, panicked, “Wait, what if no one ever sees me?”
I think back to those days, and our long walks, and I’m pretty sure people were looking at us. A large, beautiful, athletic white dog trotting along next to a young woman with a frown. She could have been lovely, attractive even, but she was waiting for the right time I guess.
Now that my body is failing and she is that much older, it’s hard for her not to think back upon those years as wasted. She reminds herself, after all, every moment in the past has led to this, now. It would be greedy to have wanted more. Besides, for my part, I really did like to swim in that lake.
And, if we tweak the story slightly, on that airy, magical summer night while we were walking past the ballpark, think of this: the biggest home run hitter was up to bat, the camera panned on the crowd cheering, waiting, as the player did some practice swings, the camera then landed on Waveland Avenue to view all of the home run chasers staged and in position and, right there, in the corner, there we were, me leading her proudly across the screen. He said last night that he used to watch the Cubs on WGN all the time when he lived in Cincinnati. Hey, he could have seen us.