So I took this walking class with Jesse Ball, partly because he’s something out of a fairytale, and because I thought I should be able to take more from my environment—that is, I should get better at observing the world around me.
It wasn’t what I thought it would be. Turns out I get very much in my head on my own, sort of melancholic, and since the winter was long and cold, I spent most of the semester staring at the sky in the lonesome, sighing fashion that a woman in her mid-twenties with a romantic disposition is inclined to do.
Since returning from England where I spent a summer getting to know Sam and his world, I’ve taken to going for walks in the darkness, or near darkness, the firefly hour though it’s nearly fall now and the fireflies are gone. Days were longer in England. No fireflies. The hour containing twilight is marked by a delicate tension, the system of weights and measures where I can’t relax as a woman in the world at night but can only feel peace in the velvety down of shadow. I like that if I start crying from the stress of having an unfinished thesis and no job prospects to speak of, no one will really see me.
Ambling through the darkness while the world moves around me is a physical manifestation of the mess in my head, the mess that’s always been there. I forget how to interact with people.
In Chicago, everybody has something to say. Everybody has eyes that are looking for you or at you. Everybody wants something. A minute of your time. A glance, a word, a complicit return smile. Here I have given this to you, now you must return it to me. Answer back. Look back. Smile back. Don’t you know how this works? What’s your problem?
What’s my problem? It’s exhausting.
And the men, cooing in soft voices—“Come ‘ere baby”—the way you might coax a scared cat down a tree.
One day I am walking and two men in a car follow me for half a city block. “Hello, what’s your name? Will you talk to me? Hello? Hello? Are you mad? What’s your name?” Over and over, past the gate to my house, which I pass without stopping. I hide behind a truck until they drive away.
Another day I am walking home from work and a man pulls over in his SUV and gets out. He stands in front of me, trying to convince me to tell him my name, to give him my number. “I want to see you somewhere,” he says. “You look like my mother.”
“Look, you’re creeping me out. I need to go,” I say.
“Come on, girl. I’m good-looking, you’re good-looking. What, I’m not good enough for you?”
Yet another day, a man spreads his arms in front of me, smiling, blocking my way down the sidewalk.
And another: my roommate comes home, throws her purse on the ground, and tells me a man on the train requested a blowjob.
Another day still a man leans out of his car, flicking his tongue and grinning until I throw my middle finger in the air.
I don’t know where to put my eyes so they don’t touch the eyes of passersby. When I walk, I navigate pavement cracks and pretend I’m unsure of my feet so as to give myself an excuse to look at the ground. Or else, the sky strikes me as suddenly beautiful—and very often it is—and I find reprieve there, in between the clouds.
“People will try to talk to you,” says Renee. She’s a family friend, one who’s only ever been from the Southside. She wears musky perfume and her skin’s the color of Dijon mustard. “Just say hello, smile, and go on your way. Any more and they’ll keep talking to you. You don’t want that. If you ignore them, they might try something else.”
She laughs, almost apologetically, and puts a cold hand on my shoulder.
“There are all kinds of crazy people here. But that’s living in Chicago.”
Lori Waxman commented, “You know what I tell my Renée when she’s mad at not getting her way? ‘That’s life in the city, kid.’”
Continue reading » don’t fucking look at me
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.