South Commons

Tommy Intervenes

"Why wasn't I consulted?"

"You're dead; you don't get a vote."

My late husband had taken advantage of my middle-of-the-night bathroom break to jump in the empty half of my bed. It was just enough time to rouse me from sleep and to get him chatty.

"Since I live in your head, you're taking me with you, right? Whether I like it or not."

"It's an experiment, sweetheart," I said. "Two weeks, in an apartment separate from Jilly, to see if I can live independently in L.A."

"I never liked L.A."

"That's because we didn't drive on our visits; you hated being stuck in her house while I clung to my grandkids."

"So, are you really going to drive in L.A? I read on your blog that you might lease a Honda?"

I paused on the dialog bouncing in my brain. Honda. Did that vehicle stir unpleasant memories for my deceased husband? Was he still rankled because I took away his car keys when his illness made it unsafe for him to drive?"

If so, he didn't bring it up, but went on to say, "The hills in Silver Lake, the 110? Are you prepared to deal with those?"

Boy, my hubby of 14 years sure knew my tender spots. Had he picked up on my own anxiety as I boldly wrote my intent to be a driver in L.A.?

"And, 'adopt a dog'? You sure know how to hurt a guy. I thought we decided that after Buddy died, we wouldn't get another. Too expensive, too much potential for heartbreak. Weren't those your words?"

"I was only daydreaming," I said. "My readers like upbeat. If I had admitted my fears or hesitations, I'd lose the readers who count on my positivity."

"So, why bring me into this conversation that you're surely going to write about?" he said. "Talking to your dead husband isn't a ray of sunshine."

"You're wrong. My readers love it when I bring you back. It lets them know, that with a little imagination, they can resurrect their dearly departed."

"Glad I can be of service."

"So, are you mollified, sweetheart?"

"One more thing," he said. "If my numbers are correct, this would be your fifteenth move since 1960 and your first marriage. Right?"

I paused to count, and as I did a slideshow glided past my closed eyes. See the walk-up apartment in Rogers Park, one- and two- bedroom apartments in Prairie Shores, captain's quarters in Massachusetts, a Glenview bi-level, a South Commons townhouse, condos in Streeterville and Michigan Ave., a LaSalle St. townhouse, an Old Town rehab, a West town loft, a Lakeview townhouse, A Geneva country house, a Dakin Street single family, and now, a River North rental.

Each image carried its own emotional high- and low-points. There's the bright-eyed newly married couple. Two giggly girls born 18 months apart.  Feeling fish-out-of-water in suburban and country homes. A surprise divorce. A happy remarriage. Shocking death. Resilient widowhood.

"Sixteen," I said, correcting his math.

Instead of judging, he said, "Remember I told you I'd only leave Dakin Street feet first?"

"You kept your word."

"But, here I am, with you in a high-rise, where I never wanted to be."

"Couldn't stay away? Miss me as much as I miss you?"

"Of course. And, I saw you during Chicago's last winter. I was relieved you weren't still in our house dealing with icy sidewalks, frozen pipes, and a snowbound garage."

"So, along with me being able to see much more of my family, you can appreciate the advantages of sunny California." I said. "Golf for you, year-round."

"Sweetheart," he said. "Up here, we not only have golf year-round, but also twenty-four seven, no green fees, no reservations, and never a foursome ahead. Why do you think it's called Heaven?"

"Okay, honey," I said. "I apologize for not consulting you sooner. So what's your verdict about a possible number seventeen?"

There was a pause, then this: "I see that the Tommy Bahama clothing store has some cool golf shirts. Can you pack me a few?"

"Done," I said. And with that last word, I drifted off to sleep. The image of my hubber garbed in a colorful, Hawaiian shirt, golf club aloft, and his Cubs baseball cap shielding his brown eyes from the California sun was as soothing as a lullaby.

Holiday Parties

"Is this seat taken?" The question was from one of two handsome, smiling young men who approached the high table where my friend Diane and I had perched.

We were at a holiday party hosted by the management of our rental building. Both of us are single, and we had jokingly referred to each other as wingmen, encouraging one another if a viable male came our way.

"It's open," we replied in unison, waving our hands across the empty seat to prove there was nothing to stop either one of their nicely pressed trousers taking occupancy.

"Great, then we can leave our coats here," the other said, as he draped his outwear on the empty stool.

Diane and I laughed. Our next encounter was more heartening. "Good to see you both," said our building's chief engineer. He reached over to give each of us a hug and a few of his maintenance staff followed him and the sweet gesture.

Despite the sounds of chatter from the 30-somethings who are neighbors, and the booming music from multiple speakers, the hugs sent me back to another holiday party. And in that long ago celebration, it was also embraces from maintenance men that were springing up in my memory.

It was sometime in the '70s, let's say Christmas 1975, when my first husband and I, and our two daughters, were living in South Commons, a planned urban community on Chicago's near south side. Back then; I was both a townhouse resident and a secretary in the management office.

Mellowed by wine, and with Diane conversing with a friend, I closed my eyes and slipped back to that earlier holiday scene, stocking it with my long ago coworkers, and the music and mood of the times.

I was 38 years old, struggling in a marriage where both my husband and I competed for the title of unhappiest. 

"You're never home," was his complaint, and one I couldn't deny. What I understand now was that he really meant, what happened to the woman I married?

I wondered that, too, for after I landed in this social experiment that integrated races, income, and ages, I transformed from housewife to activist. I shifted from a wife who had dinner on the table every night to someone who wrote the community newspaper, produced the musical theater, and volunteered for every alluring cause.

Fortunately, while my husband rebuffed his revamped wife, the South Commons residents, and the staff, treated me as if I were queen bee.

While the 2013 party was held at a sports bar, the 1975 event occurred in an apartment of one of the staff. "You're welcome to come," I had told my husband, "but I don't think many spouses will be attending."

"No, you go, have a good time, be sure someone walks you home." (Despite our friction, at 39 he was very much the responsible man I had married 15 years earlier.)

As I entered the party site, Barry White's "You're the First, My Last, My Everything" greeted me. The lighting in the room was turned low, smoke rose from cigarettes, and muted conversations floated in the shadowy air.

My coworkers were already dancing and drinking; I was eager to join in and shed my winter coat and my conformist life. I sipped JB & Water,  danced to tunes like "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul, "Midnight Train to Georgia," from Gladys Knight and the Pips, and White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Baby."

I stayed at the party well past midnight. One of the guys walked me home and at my doorstep, I stretched to give him a kiss on his cheek for my safe passage.

My husband and daughters were asleep as I tiptoed in. As I prepared for bed, I hummed the playlist from the party, and the Stylistics "You Make Me Feel Brand New" was the first tune that popped in my head.

"How long do you want to stay?" It was Diane, possibly misreading my dreamlike state for boredom. I woke from my reverie and looked at my watch, 8:00 p.m.

"Ready whenever you are," I said.

In our building's elevator, before my friend exited on her floor, I kissed her cheek and thanked her for being my wingman. "My pleasure," she said. "Hope you had a good time."

"I had a great time," I said, as the door slid closed. Alone in my private sound booth, I couldn't resist crooning lyrics from Knight's "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me:" I've had my share of life's ups and downs, But fate's been kind, the downs have been few, I guess you could say that I've been lucky.