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the waiting [1/5]

Steve dropped me off at the zoo and handed me a letter from Brad. I recognized his penmanship on the envelope. And the way he spells my name, with two e’s. The zoo was one of our places in the years we shared in Chicago. Steve sent me to the bench, and though he didn’t know where that was, I did. The bench is on Fullerton, west of Cannon, next to a bike path. Unassuming, actually crumbling, splintering at each end. It’s where I waited for Brad to meet me the day we split up, well over two years ago. It’s where Brad sat long after I walked away, unwillingly, thinking it best. I sat on the bench this time, waiting, as my letter instructed me to do, for the next clue.

Would a jogger drop a package with a tag screaming my name? Would a bus pull up with signs affixed to all the windows? I started to feel like someone was watching me. Like there were henchmen in the bushes who knew I was at the bench. Walkie talkies all over Chicago were crackling, Subject is at the bench. Please proceed with clue. Just as my curiosity piqued, my phone started vibrating out of control, asking all sorts of incriminating questions.

Do you remember… when you used to send Brad messages during work from that one computer? —where you first met Brad? —where is the best place in Chicago to get schnitzel? All clues were pointing to the Berghoff, the restaurant where Brad and I met one another. Industry shifts amidst which we fell in love. A few more messages from my dear friends buzzed in, Go there now, pal! There was a twenty for cab fare in the envelope. Brad must have known I would try, frugally, to take a bus.

I stood outside the Berghoff for a while. I didn’t exactly leave this place of employment all candy and roses, a going away party with streamers and balloons falling from the rafters. A blind man climbed out of a cab right in front of the Berghoff marquee. Maybe he has my clue, I thought.

Finally, I ducked inside, slid comfortably into the corner where I learned a large percentage of what I now know about Bradley. Behind that lunch counter computer I cleverly, coyly, sent blinking, unordered tables in paragraphs to my bartender years ago when we shared everything in this city. There was a note slid under the monitor with my name on the front in familiar penmanship. I was out the door with the clue and a bit of Spanish dialogue.

I walked down Adams, turned at Michigan to head into Grant Park, where our stage was on the corner. We used to play a graffiti game in the city. Wrote couplets, little lyric lines that we penned on sticky labels and stuck to newspaper boxes, light posts, parking meters, following riddle-directions to one another’s words. We have fun. The last graffiti was on this stage. A simple summer outdoor amphitheatre. I found the graffiti in the winter, something like “Every song I sing ees for you.” Two e’s, like the way he writes my name. It was so perfect, my musician. But things weren’t working right then, so it felt so bittersweet. This empty stage, winter snow, standing alone, the words his heart meant, all the time we’d spent.

I wasn’t sure how many clues there would be. Brad was somewhere in this city. One of the clues would hold him in its palm. Maybe it would be this stage. It was supposed to be, I find, but this weekend there was Bluesfest in Grant Park. Brad sent a message, a picture of Buckingham Fountain, down the street. Change of plans, go here instead.

I walked up slowly to the fountain. I thought he was near, wasn’t sure whether to look for him or for another clue. When he slid in next to me on the rail, he startled me so that I gasped. The seconds moved in fast-forward, crawling over one another to happen next. They’d been waiting for this for years, too.

Linda, will you be my wife? from down on one knee.

All brides-to-be everywhere, don’t be ashamed on behalf of me. I don’t actually remember what I said. Yes, of course, only yours. I’ve wanted to be your wife for years. I’m confident that right now, today, this Fall, it’s right and healthy and perfect. I want to spend “the next forty years” with you. I could have said any of that. My heart was spilling over with all of it.

Whatever I said made people clap.  A man took a picture. In the end, it would only be a few short months until we would be the Dennisons.

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