Keep in mind that transformation is uncomfortable. If you want to thrive in a new life, you’re going to have to change, too. It may feel like you’re breathing different air, but trust that you can adapt. Press on. Keep moving.
-Maggie Smith, “Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change”
The first thing you hear after the judge bangs her gavel that day in court is “Congratulations.” The judge looks at you over her glasses, barely smiling as she says it. It’s the end of her day. Your case was very nearly bumped because the paperwork was wrong. She didn’t get a full lunch and you know this because she told you so earlier in the proceedings.
The clerk has bright orange fingernails, a bright orange sweater and brilliant, glossy, black hair, curled exquisitely. She wears glasses too, big frames, tortoise-shell. She, too, tells you “congratulations.” You simply nod, a little confused. It seems the wrong word for this day, but you let them say it without correcting or questioning.
Your attorney hugs you. It’s been a long journey. She is smiling and hopeful. She says, “I know you’ll be okay. I know you’ll bounce back.” Over coffee just before the appointed time, she tells you about her life. She asks you more about your own, things you were sure she already knew after a year of this. You give her a copy of your memoir and joke that you hope she remembers you fondly in hers. She tells you that you were a good client and that you are a good person, and it means the world in that moment.
You leave the courtroom with a pile of papers, handwritten additions in the margins that you can barely read. You stuff them into your bag and try not to crush them more than necessary. You might need them later. You have no idea, really.
The subway stop is Washington. It’s cool down there, a kind of pungent breeze blowing through with each train that arrives or departs. It’s been forever since you took the subway but it’s the best way to and from downtown. You step into the train car, choose to stand instead of sit, hold tight to the handrail and stare out the window that shows your reflection as well as the subway walls.
You remember how you liked to ride the train when you first moved here from Cincinnati in 1989. How Chicago traffic had surprised you, the cars and the cramped streets and the mass of people on the sidewalks downtown around rush hour. And you remember being pressed into the bodies on the crowded train. You learned to move differently then. You learned to shuffle through the crowd, to find your way in a new city, a new life. Adapt.
Clark, Grand, Chicago, Division, Damen, Western. Sun streams into the subway cars as the train breaks free from the confinement of the underground stops, the surfacing feels like breaking free, rising from the grave, making an escape. Press on.
Western is where you would get off before you were divorced. Lots of stops, but all bunched together somehow. It takes less time to get here than it would take to get out of the Loop in a car. You could tell a story about every stop on this route. Your history in this city is punctuated by people and places. They are broken into “before” and “during” and “after.”
California, Logan Square, Belmont. Belmont is your sister’s stop. Your sister who has gone through her own divorce not long ago and still was able to show up and walk alongside the whole time. You look at her struggle, her transformation, her healing. Her journey hangs before you like the map of the Blue Line above the door on the train. You study it, not wanting to miss anything.
You know there will be good moments, when you will feel like you are flying toward your destination. You know that there will be moments in which you feel you are stuck, like the train on the track, waiting and waiting, more bodies shuffling onto the platform. You know you’ll get to your next stop. You tell yourself you’ll get there even if you have to walk the track. Keep moving.
Addison, Irving Park. Here, the new stop. The platform seems higher than your old one. The walk to the apartment seems longer, the air seems clearer, cleaner than your old stop, the one you had before you were divorced. You breathe it in, still thinking about the ride here, the “before” and the “during” and now the “after” that began with the first word uttered when the judge’s gavel struck the desk.
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling, and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, “Nearly Orthodox” and “Garden in the East.”
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