I'm writing from the house I grew up in, in Chicago, except not really.
My house is in a suburb called River Forest, west of the city.
There are people who will call you a liar if, when they ask where
you're from, you answer "Chicago," and when they ask where, you explain
it's a place like River Forest, right next to but not actually in the
city. "Oh, the suburbs," they'll drawl, as smug as a pretty girl in
middle school. As if they would know where River Forest was, otherwise.
During a hideous college orientation event, I told a girl I was from
"outside Chicago," and she asked if my parents were farmers. In a mean
way, farmers weren't cool yet. The very next girl I met told me she was
from Rockland, New York, and I exclaimed, "Oh, I'm with you in
Rockland," with eighteen-year-old hope. She answered "What," just like
But, whatever. I love being home, but that's not what I'm thinking
about. I hated college orientation, but I'm not really thinking about
that, either. I'm thinking about Blanes, Spain, where I went this
summer. Blanes is a beach town on the Mediterranean, the very beginning
of a region called the Costa Brava, with jagged rock formations out in
the turquoise water. Every night I walked the Paseo Maritimo, watching
the light change.
On the second night a young blonde girl came up to me on the Paseo
Maritimo and asked if I had seen "the flying object." She had a thick
Polish accent, and it wasn't clear whether she had seen a UFO that
evening, or wanted to know if I believed in UFOs in general (I hadn't,
but I do). After we had settled her question, she asked what I thought
I told her I was from Chicago, land of many Poles, wonderful people,
that I believed Poland to be a magnificent nation with a beautiful
national story of struggle and triumph. This pleased her very much. She
used her phone to take a picture of us crouched together there in the
fading purple next to the sea. Then she disappeared.
I walked back to my hotel, happy to have had made a fourteen-year-old
on her holiday happy. I used to think this kind of satisfaction was
facile, suspicious, but that was when I was eighteen; now, I just feel
like a saint when I make a stranger smile.
All around me were elegant couples in shimmering costumes: long, heavy
dresses on the women, blousy shirts and harem pants on the men, sequins
catching the last fumes of the day. I saw these shining people for
three days before I learned there was a folk dance festival in Blanes.
Then I went and watched them shake on a temporary stage.
- - -
Read LL's story.
W i g l e a f