“There’s a fertilizer spreader outside of Chicago that I want to go and look at. Do you want to go and we’ll make it an anniversary trip?” Rich asked.
“With the kids?” I responded.
“No, I was thinking we would leave them with my parents and have it just be us. What do you think?”
I paused as I think about seeing the city, mostly for the first time. Six years earlier, when I was six months pregnant with Rhett, we had driven from Montana to Ohio. We stopped for lunch, deep-dish pizza, of course, and to walk around “The Bean” at Millenium Park.
“If your parents are up for keeping them, let’s go!” I said.
Three days later, we were sitting on an airplane at 6 a.m., preparing for take-off. It wasn’t lost on me that 10 years before, my friend, Katie was still alive and living in Chicago. As we prepared to land at O’Hare, I sighed, wishing she was going to be there to meet us. Despite feeling sad, I was excited to see the city she loved so much.
The next day, as we walked down the busy downtown streets and onto Navy Pier, I silently wondered, Did she walk these same streets, to these same places? Who was she with? It was a windy and drizzly day, which seemed fitting for the ‘The Windy City,’ and I imagined her dark hair blowing into her face, the water splashing up onto the pier from Lake Michigan.
Sometimes we know a good thing when we see it, even at the age of five. Katie and I met when we were in kindergarten. I don’t remember a time before her or what drew us together–likely it was that we went to a small school, and our class was small. But it still felt special to us. She moved after second grade, leaving me heartbroken. We kept in touch with letters and pictures throughout the remainder of elementary school. As time passed, her family and her made more moves, while I continued to stay in the same place. Toward the end of high school, we slowly lost contact, other than exchanging senior photos and announcements.
At the end of college, we reconnected in a digital world. Thanks to a quick search on Facebook, I instantly caught up with her life. Our contact became more frequent, and we both realized we had thought of one another over the years but hadn’t reached out. We continued to keep in touch through messages and emails, liking one another’s photos and being able to see each other in real-time.
Many times we talked about meeting up. She lived in Chicago, working as a dance instructor after college. Her life appeared full of excitement, city adventures, and friends. I had always imagined living in a city, and at times I envied her life. By then we were several years past college, and I was working full-time and going to grad school, the fun of undergrad college days behind me.
On an otherwise normal day in April, I answered a phone call from my sister. Her calling instead of texting in the middle of a workday made me take pause, and I felt uneasy as I answered the phone.
“Katie’s gone,” my sister softly exhaled after I said hello.
“What do you mean? How?” I asked.
I quickly went to her Facebook page, confused as the last messages I saw were her friends and family wishing her a “Happy Birthday!” We didn’t talk on a daily basis, so it wasn’t unusual that I hadn’t talked to her in a few days—since I had wished her a happy birthday. We were only six weeks apart, and now we were both 25. As I scrolled down her page, I saw the posts I had missed, “I can’t believe you’re gone.” “You were such a light, and your smile lit up every room you entered.” And the posts went on. How had I missed these?
I went home after work and curled up in my bed. Guilt and anger, but mostly sadness, filled me that we hadn’t set a date and planned a trip together.
I never thought there would be a day that she wasn’t there anymore. I took time for granted.
In one of her last messages to me, she said, “I always knew I picked a good one back then.” I did too.
I’ll always be sad I never saw Chicago with her, but I’m grateful for the time I spent there—imagining it through her eyes.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
So sad, very good! You two were very competitive about your grades. Her mom sent us a picture of Katie laying on the floor missing you. Do you remember that?
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Yes, I remember that. But don’t remember the grades thing.