I came home to an empty house.
It was usually full. Full of train hoppers in black Carhart coveralls who she had found sitting with their pitbulls on some corner near Belmont. Of ravers with fat pants, little stuffed animals pinned to their T-shirts, half depleted ring pops sticking to the carpet where they had finally passed out, gelatinous strands of pink and purple hair pointing emphatically away from their heads. Of taggers who were too ghetto to find good jobs, but too smart too really become thugs. Of thugs who were running away from tougher neighborhoods. Of spoiled punks who were running away from less tough ones.
I got off work at the diner at 7am, and usually got home around 7:30.
The party would just be winding down. I would have a reluctant beer, force a smile and head to bed, trying to ignore the sounds of techno, video games and manic conversation from strangers who may or may not be prepared to rob and kill even for our disposable possessions.
no one was there.
I walked through the hall that smelled like stale smoke and rancid bologna. I walked to the back room where on a normal morning there would have been at least one body strewn out on the couch, a smiling face bobbing intoxicatedly on its shoulders.
There was no one.
Just the lingering film of a hundred spent butts and a sticky patch near an overturned bottle of Malibu.
I’d like to say the silence was a welcome change, but when you grow so accustomed to the noise, it’s something you need all the time.
I opened our bedroom door, but she wasn’t there.
I called her mom’s house, but no one answered.
I walked briskly back down the stairs, not so much in the hopes of finding her as in the knowledge that to ignore the anxiety of not knowing where she was, the anxiety of an empty house that should have been full, the anxiety of month after month of moving from the bustle of a busy all night diner, serving pancakes to the drunken drag queens leaving the 4 am bars in Boys Town, to the parties where all the waiters, bartenders and unemployable others clung tightly to each other’s momentum, would be impossible.
The February Chicago air was a reward after too many hours awake. My insatiable fingertips were steeped in nicotine and hidden under wooly mittens. They moved like the hammers in a piano playing Beethoven, or maybe Stevie Wonder. Silent for Ludwig and invisible for Stevie.
Cabbies cupped their hands around white styrofoam cups in the Dunkin Donuts lot. The neighborhood exhibitionists, the clerks of the sex shops, head shops, Tattoo parlors and heavy metal T-shirt vendors were unlocking the shutters in front of their stores.
It was strange to see them out so early. At night, in the bars, they made sense. But here, fresh from bed, mohawks at full-attention and well-tended. Something was amiss. Remove the ungodly tight black jeans, reattach sleeves to their vests and shirts and they might have been any seasoned bakers opening shop.
I walked and walked hoping to see someone who could give me a clue as to what had happened to the distraction that was my home. Why the silence? Where was she?
Bjorn, the Swedish guy who owned the coffee shop where I spent my afternoons recovering, stepped out of his shop as he saw me walking past.
His look was always severe.
“Stop,” he said.
I stopped. I lifted my arms and pursed my lips.
“She was in the street. I don’t know. She said something about pills and ran screaming into the street.”
My fingers stopped.
Every centimeter of my nervous system became aware that it was inseparable from the static in the air that stretches from here to the bubbly edges of the universe. They say it protects you. But it seems more to expose.
“I called an ambulance.”
“Where’d they go?”
I didn’t have any money. I ran a mile to Lincoln and almost four miles to Foster. When I got there they said I couldn’t come in. It was weeks before they would let me in to the ward. She never let me in again. Not really.
I found a quiet place to live.