Working in the city meant semi starvation rations, living in the city meant free days at the museum of art, tranquil walks even in the coldest winter months. My worst day was when Pristina died. She came with me to the city when I moved from my parents home in the suburbs and the community college that taught me nothing. They tolerated both of us (yes the college as well).
I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat. We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age. In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.
After I found myself awake beside the man I didn’t know, my longing for Pristina grew – she was just across the hall all alone. I crept out of bed, gathered up my strewn clothing and crept along the hallway to my own studio apartment. I cried and petted my cat telling her that I would not leave her again. I fell asleep, the next day I was late for work though refreshed. I received a promotion, raise as well as a corner office in the basement that year for my diligence.
I didn’t go home for Christmas that year. In the new year my parents wrote me from Florida encouraging me to visit them in the new retirement community they had found. I started working a second job in the evening and for two years Pristina and I worked and slept in a studio apartment and the writer across the hall slipped us poetry under our door.
I paid off my last college loan on November 16th and that night I ordered out and shared a rare New York Strip with soft wedged potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and vinegar for myself and Pristina. Pristina sneezed over the potatoes and licked her lips each time she swallowed a dainty piece of meat. She taught me the art of savoring a meal.
Pristina and I moved to a one bedroom apartment with wooden floors and an ancient looking bathroom which depressed us both. The kitchen was dark green with brown linoleum and I told myself we would get used to it because the skyline of Chicago was worth the depressing dark interior. It wasn’t and one year later we moved into a renovated old brick factory. The writer who turned poet lived on the bottom floor with his wife and their golden retriever. The writer turned poet’s wife would tap on my door; she had long dark black hair and her face was smooth but she would smile at me and invite me to their apartment. “No worries, no worries, I’m not jealous. Come and eat with us.” I always refused and Pristina would sit upon an old heat register meowing at the poor dog who lacked exercise.
I left for work one frigid January day and was late coming home because the CTA was running slow and the sidewalks were slippery. Pristina was alone and in the dark when she died without me.
Her funeral expenses set me back financially, and I had to miss a day of work but I came home with a jasper jar with her ashes in it. I called my mother to tell her and after explaining that Pristina had not died years ago I hung up and sat in the dark. I understood the coldness of a smooth jasper jar.
The writer turned poet, turned writer showed up in February with a great framed painting of Pristina for my brick walls.
“You need color up here. Pristina, her dark fur and golden eyes will make this place feel like home again.”
I said nothing to him while he drilled and worked and swept up the dust of his labors.
“Why don’t you have dinner with us?”
“No thank you.”
He slid the wide door of my apartment shut and tip toed away. I sat in the dark for another night with my back to the painting.
April in Chicago can be violent. The wind slammed and bounced against the tall buildings and tumbled down to rattle old brick ones sheltering poets, writers, wives and administrative assistants. The dog below howled in a low whimper when the lightning was replaced by the thunder. Pristina lept down from her perch on the wall and walked, her tail perpendicular, to the register and sat to mew in the old register.
There was calmness.
I thought of making love one more time to the poet before I had my picture painted and hung next to Pristina but thought no, I did not want to surrender again to my needy self consumed psyche which was only fodder for the deceitful. You see, I spent so much time imagining my happy ending I discovered I loved being relieved it never happened. In fact I realized that there was no such thing as poets, painters or writers only a terror of being alone.