Every year for Chanukkah my mother sends me a wall calendar. I always know it is coming. It is understood.
More often than not, my mother’s gift mirrors where I am in my life. Like the year that I bought her the book “Mothers and Daughters,” and she sent me the calendar of the same name. Sometimes the calendars are about food — always a safe bet. Or spirituality — ditto. One year it was “School House Rock.”
“Conjunction junction, What’s your function?”
Every December I transfer birthdays to the new calendar.
This year I am a little late. And in transferring the birthdays and anniversaries, I am also privy to a chronicle of the days before I left Chicago.
I’m not sure why these occasions are marked on the “family” calendar hanging in my kitchen, instead of in my day planner. Perhaps because I wanted my husband Lee to be on the same page as I. So much was happening, beginning in June.
June 3. Lee’s graduation from residency. My mother and stepfather drive in from Tennessee. And my cousin and his partner make the trek from Minneapolis. We don’t know for certain where we were going to yet. I remember lunch at Le Creperie on a sunny Chicago day, and holding my cousin Andrew’s hand as we walked through Lincoln Park.
July 15. Lee’s last paycheck from Rush. July 23. My 15-year-old niece comes to visit. Our first solo trip. Five minutes after walking in the door she asks, “Has my father told you what’s going on in my life?” I respond, “Why don’t you tell me yourself.” Miraculously, she does.
We go to Shabbat services at the beach and for gelato with my girlfriends Pam and Kristen. It rains so hard overnight the architectural boat tour is cancelled as the river has swelled too high for the boats to clear the bridge. We take a Double Decker tour of Chicago instead. We ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier and eat more ice cream. She leaves me a note telling me, “I will always trust you to tell me the truth.”
July 30. My last day in my office. My office, the one with the placard that reads “bodysherpa.” The high brow address off of Michigan Avenue. My durga sculpture — a gift from my therapist when Lee and I were married — comes off of the wall. Lee’s nearly 20-year-old massage table is folded up. I close the door on the pale green walls and load up a trolley with my belongings. Most of them are sitting in my garage. I haven’t brought myself to unpacking them yet.
August 5. We drive to Kalamazoo for a final midwest visit with Uncle Bob and Ann and their new dog, Libby. August 6. We meet my oldest and dearest friend, Julie in South Haven, along with her husband and son, Jaron. I was there for Jaron’s birth. He is four now. August 8. I mark Tisha B’av services on the calendar. A dozen of us sit on the floor in a circle with candles between us. I read one of three poems that Rabbi Brant has chosen. Rochelle tells me that Seattle is a healing place. Even though she has not been there, of this she is certain.
Two days later Lee and I meet my client and “Chicago Dad” for dinner. He holds court at his favorite restaurant. When Lee is in the bathroom he looks me square in the eye and says, “So kiddo…how are you really?” I cry and tell him I am so sad. He pulls me to him and kisses my forehead.
August 11. My friend Lisa has a potluck at her house for some of my closest girlfriends. They give me a prayer shawl that I picked out with Pam a few weeks earlier at Spertus. I cry. No one is surprised.
August 12 I lead my last Weight Watchers meeting in Chicago. 11 a.m., Friday at the Century Center. I read to them what was read to me a few weeks earlier by a Weight Watchers member at a going away party. From Jane Howard’s Families: “…what E.M. Forster called ‘an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky,’ whose members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.’ ” My throat catches. I receive a standing ovation. Cards. Gifts. And lots of tears. I receive in August.
August 16. Brandi. I have no idea what this means. Who this is. I am lost.
August 19. The final JRC Shabbat service at the beach of the season. Friends meet me for a potluck. It is the first time Stuart has been to synagogue since he was a child. He is middle-aged.
The next day Lee and I host our own going-away party. The rain stops and 70 of our closest friends take over our tiny greystone condominium and shared backyard. Colette rewrites “You’re So Vain” about me and sings it to the crowd. August 21. A brunch in my honor.
August 22. Lee’s board exams and Rachel’s PET scan. Rachel receives good results — No evidence of disease. She is far away in Bali.
August 23. Packers. Five of them arrive and have us packed up and moved out in three hours. Lee and I sit on the back stairs. It is raining. I book a ticket back to Chicago for the High Holy Days on Lee’s United Airlines vouchers. ($400. He received them when he was bumped off a flight from Seattle to San Francisco and flew directly to Chicago instead. It seems poetic.) I pick up lunch at the Birchwood. Daniel, one of the owners, won’t let me pay. I have ceased to cook. Daniel and Judd are feeding me almost exclusively now.
August 24. Walk through with our new tenant, Jeff. I hire Melissa to clean our home. We spend the night with Pam and her daughters in the “high house.” They give us a mezzuzah. Charlotte finds the seemingly “missing” screws we will hang it with at our new home. She hands them over without a word. Crisis averted. Juliette and Charlotte perform a dance for us. Pam makes Lee an egg and cheese sandwich for dinner.
August 25. We go to our condo in Chicago one last time to pick up our cats. The Thule rack doesn’t fit right on the roof. Lee rigs it best as he can and we pray. Inside, I pray too. I drop to my knees in the back corner office, the room with the best sun, and sob. I thank God for this home. For my time in Chicago. For my life.
We leave for two nights in Minneapolis, staying with my friends Peter and Janice and visiting with my cousin and his partner, Ryan. August 26. It is my birth father’s birthday. I do not send a card. I trust he understands.
August 27. We are slated for Bizmark, ND but decide to tick off two more states (Wyoming and South Dakota) and stay in Rapid City, SD instead. We have dinner at the Golden Corral and fall into bed. We have driven nearly 12 hours. We stick our free Wall Drug bumper sticker on the 2000 Honda Civic, next to Amoeba Music.
August 28 Bozeman. Maxwell and his girlfriend, Annie are in the garden. We met Maxwell in Mexico many years ago and have seen him only one time since — when we drove to Chicago from California. He gives me a few books to read. We eat dinner in the backyard on a picnic table with a red and white checkered tablecloth. Pasta with tomatoes from their garden. In the morning Maxwell pulls us cappuccino and sends us on our way.
The next night we stop in Missoula, instead of Spokane, and stay with my college friends John and Karin, their two sons and dog. We arrive on the first day of school. They don’t mind. We go for a hike out their back door and John reminds us that the road behind his house leads to Canada. I eat cardamom ice cream at Big Dipper even though I am not hungry. I am not sure when I will be back.
August 30 we arrive in Issaquah. The 31st we drive into the city, receive our keys, and see our view of Elliot Bay for the first time.
The calendar marks little else after this. Some birthdays. Julie’s father’s yahrzeit. Dinner at Matt’s house when I return to Chicago for Rosh Hashanah.
Lee’s 30-year class reunion. He goes without me, and I stay in Chicago for Yom Kippur. Our 10-year wedding anniversary. Dinners with cousins David and Lois, Stuart and John. My sobriety anniversary. Surgeries: my stepfather’s and my friend Stephanie’s. Both go well. A Chanukkah party. Cat sitting for Jessica.
I cut out a few quotes from the calendar before I toss it in the recycle bin:
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” Buddha. “I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” Confucius. “He who is contented is rich.” Lao Tzu. “From caring comes courage.” Lao Tzu. “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Buddha.
And finally, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I want to be.” Lao Tzu.