Feet First


Tommy so loved our house on Dakin Street in Chicago's Independence Park neighborhood -- with its front porch, back deck, and his vegetable garden -- that he vowed he'd only leave, "feet first." And sadly, that's how my second husband departed the home we had shared for 12 years. I'm reminded of his declaration because now, in my latest apartment, I'm having similar feelings about permanency.

Tommy and I met in 1996 on Henderson Street where he had lived for several decades, and where I had landed during my separation from spouse number one.  Soon, Tommy transferred his clothing and other possessions down the block from his apartment to my townhouse, likely thinking he'd settle in still near his longtime friends, and the YMCA where he had been a 40-year member. Alas sweet Tommy didn't realize he had married a serial mover.

 Like a felon forced to confess, I admit that the pretexts I offered on my abrupt decisions to pull up stakes were mostly false. Now, at 80 with 18 different personal addresses crossed out in my contact list, I'm weary of all of the transfers and the tasks they entail. I now recognize that my escapes were likely caused by boredom and a need for a time-consuming project.

 In my first marriage, we moved nine times during our 30 years together. I clocked two more on my own until I infected Tommy with my decamping disease. After only one year on Henderson St., I declared, "I want to see trees before I die." Honestly, I don't know where I came up with that, perhaps imagining countryside drives with cows grazing on the right and rustic barns on the left. The image led to research on "Best Small Towns in America," a virtual flirt with Ashville, N.C., and eventually, a move to Geneva, IL.

 While there was much to love in that bucolic small town, before our first year ended, I begged to move back to the city. We did; and our house in Independence Park was picture-perfect with the aforementioned amenities, blessed by block parties filled with the clamor of children bouncing in inflated houses, and the aroma of potluck arrayed on tables.

After Tommy died in 2012, I sold our house because I couldn't handle the memories, or the maintenance. And, I could resurrect my itch to move closer to downtown. I remember how that decision -- a River North highrise, a few feet from the East Bank Club -- was salve for the loss of a dear partner.

But it didn't take long for wanderlust to return. This time with the pathetic excuse, "In my aging years, I want to live closer to my family."That experiment lasted nine months; Los Angeles was not a suitable fit for a city gal who treasured walking, public transportation, and who missed her long-time friends in the place of her birth.

 When I returned to Chicago, I landed in a Lake Shore East studio with an indoor pool and a swim coach, who after years of my failed attempts taught me how to do the freestyle stroke. I could finally enjoy the long-desired view of a bathing suit and swim cap hanging to dry above the tub, and the scent of chlorine on my body, as coveted as a pricey perfume.

 But within 18 months, the hunger for a change of zip code resurfaced, so I returned to River North and the East Bank Club with its three pools. Because I envisioned out-of-town company staying over, and I heeded a warning that I might one day need space for a caregiver, I chose a beyond-my-means apartment with a bedroom. But like a hapless innkeeper, the extra feature failed to lure visitors. 

On September 22 of this year, I moved again, but this time staying put in the same building. By downsizing, I save several hundred dollars per month in my 27th floor large studio facing south and its awe-inspiring panorama of the Chicago River and the Kinzie Street drawbridge. With a doorstaff that welcomes me home, a maintenance crew that zips to my every request, a landscaped terrace, and a fireplace-enhanced lounge, where I meet friends for wine time, it's as if I'm in senior citizen housing, sans walkers, wheelchairs, and a homogeneous population.

 Which brings us back to dear Tommy's declaration. When it's my turn to depart this earthly realm, please let it be feet first from my current abode.  But if perchance, within a year you hear any murmurs of real estate restlessness, please bar the door until I come to my senses.