She stares at the letter on the desk. Weathered and white, traveling halfway across the country finding its way to her. The stamp is some inoffensive design, the handwriting barely better than chicken scratch. It's Tuesday, July 20th 2014 in Chicago, Illinois and Olive Louise Lauriat, blonde, tiny Olive Louise Lauriat takes the white, weathered envelope into her manicured hands with a quiet sigh. Reaching into her desk drawer, a desk strewn delicately with mementos of her parents, siblings, friends, favorite trips to France, Switzerland, Fiji, she procures her letter opener. A peculiar object, a gift from her grandfather when she started working for the family business nearly six years ago. With a flash, a woundless paper gash is created. Slowly, she pulls the letter out. The paper stock must be too big for this envelope. A quick tug or two, and she levels her eyes on the words, words cruel yet not entirely unexpected.
We've been trying for a while, but I'm not sure this is what either of us wants. I can't change my schedule and I don't want to change you. Just be happy, ok? All I want is for you to be happy.
A decidedly impolite sound creaks out of her. The groan of someone all too tired of groaning. Her head sinks gently into her hands. She breathes in the smell of her lavender shampoo, the smell of tears mingling with the various powders and blushes she applied earlier that morning. Anger, that formidable emotion she works so steadfastly to smooth out and prettify, that very un-her emotion wells up like lava daring to spill out of a volcano. Like when she was a child, she plasters the palms of her hands to her face, one over each eye. Exasperation. That idiot.
"Stop crying," she demands. She steadies herself, hands placed neatly atop the black lacquered desk placed at the back corner of her office wall. She didn't deserve any of this. This space so artfully, chicly decorated with pictures of blooms and jewelry and other pieces up for auction. This office, sprinkled with catalogs and samples; everything she has come to know about "work" was bestowed upon her by her grandfather, head of the auction house, giver of things. Even with her stint at Middlebury and even with her finely tuned mind and open heart, Olive didn't need to look further than August Lauriat for a place of employment. Like it or not, she is his gallery girl. A studied, smart, sometimes-funny gallery girl unceremoniously broken up via a letter from her erstwhile pilot boyfriend? More than boyfriend? She couldn't say.
She pulls out a black calligraphy pen, the one she uses if there's ever an invite in need of addressing. She looks at the time and date stamp. Denver, July 18th, 2014. Turning back to the scrawl of Adam the non-committal, Adam the brave, Adam the horrible cook but wonderful friend and deeply funny guy, she circles the words that draw out the most fear. The words that summon tiny points of hatred like sewing needles jamming into a pincushion. She settles on the phrase that draws the most ire: "Just be happy, ok?" The words sting like a goddamn wasp. "Just be happy, ok?" She takes out a highlighter, presses down over the words hard. The lit up phrase cuts even deeper. "Just be happy, ok?" Dramatically, an errant tear falls and makes the letter even more messy.
She picks up her tote, affixes her dark, thick glasses squarely on her nose. Sweeps her hair up into a quick pony tail. Steps into her black heels, not too high, and whisks out the door and onto the streets of the West Loop. It's quiet. It's always very quiet. "Sorry Lauriat Partners," she says aloud, seething. She won't be returning today, certain. Time to take a breath. Time to sort this out.
It's windy on the corner of Lake and Elizabeth street. It's a funny corner of the West Loop, hidden away from the full-to-bursting business of the downtown. Nestled under the El tracks, away from the tall buildings and esteemed architecture synonymous with Chicago. Her grandfather bought the plot of land nearly 50 years ago, when he was still residing in Albany Park. Long before Albany Park shifted and changed into, supposedly, the most diverse neighborhood in the city. Before the West Loop came to be anything more than a shadow. This neighborhood, industrial and under-developed is quickly rising as a refuge for the hip. Chicago, a shell of New York, a terrible winter city. A metropolis that shines daringly bright in the summer and is shrouded in frost and blustering wind for the following nine months. Every year, the same thing. A great summer followed by a numbing cold.
She smarts at the sun, even with those particularly pretentious glasses shielding her eyes. The July humidity works it's magic; she's soon feeling the heat of wearing a black pencil skirt, heels and knit jacket to work in the summer time. Digging into her purse, she pulls out her second-to-last-cigarette. She leans against some faux-industrial building and lights up. Eyes closed, shoulders slumped, relief rushing in. "Fuck," she lets loose. "Fucking Adam."
Looking at the El tracks in the distance, she sees in him in front of her. Three years ago, she's shivering her ass off in whipping, freezing rain. Waiting for the blue line to Lindsay's and John's new house in Wicker Park. A happy shiny house for the happy shiny couple, she thinks to herself. She dropped something, her silver wallet, filled with far too much crap. Inelegantly, she starts to gather the little details of her life stuffed into the wallet. Standing up she elbows someone, awkwardly. Without looking, she blurts, "Oh gosh, I'm so sorry. Pardon my," she lets her sentence hang in mid-air.
"Don't worry about it." Green eyes. About 6 feet tall, maybe more. His most noticeable trait, however, was the accompanying suitcase, the suitcase that would emerge as a major point of contention over the next three years. Wearing a uniform that was more him than most other items of clothing he owned.
Olive smiled warmly. "Where are you heading?" She's surprised at her straighforwardness. "I'm a pilot. A little bit of everywhere, I guess. But today? Today I'm off to Portland," he answers, half-glancing at her, half-staring at the crossword puzzle in his left hand. She tucks a strand of hair neatly behind her ear as she tells him to have a good trip. The loud whistle of the train hurries down toward them, toward the myriad of people waiting for their train to work, home or anywhere. They hop on, each going to a separate car. They run into each other two weeks later at the Damen stop, looking out over the Six Corners intersection. The two chat over coffee at a trendy spot, the suitcase making yet another appearance. Adam, from Seattle, owner of a killer pair of green eyes and a wonderfully endearing sense of humor. Adam the Scaler of Mountains, Adam the Conversationalist, Adam the Distracted, Adam the Daringly Kinky, Adam the Bored. He would come to assume these roles and many more over the course of three years.
Three years wasted? Olive wonders, cigarette smoke billowing into the sticky summer afternoon air. For an admittedly large chunk of her twenties, Adam colored her world and played a wide variety of characters. And before him, there were a host of men (boys, who knows) who entertained her, loved her, didn't love her, but ultimately interested her. Who was she? What roles did she play? Olive the Gainfully Employed by the Family Business. Olive the Often Moody. Olive the Too-Friendly, Sometimes. Olive the Withdrawn, Other Times.
"Don't sell yourself short," Lindsay's voice rings in her head like a bright and wonderful bell. "You are fantastic. You are refreshing." Lindsay and Olive met a summer studying abroad in France, Middlebury sisters always and forever. Lindsay's optimism and Olive's silliness meshed together beautifully, and continued seamlessly as the two grew older in the shadow of the Chicago skyline. Lindsay grew up in Arizona, her go-with-the-flow attitude meshed perfectly with Olive's Midwestern friendliness. Olive introduced Lindsay to John after a concert one typically snowy evening. John was looking to have a painting his grandmother owned appraised at the gallery. Another West Coast transplant, she knew immediately they would get along. And surely enough, after a night at the Map Room they were thick as thieves. If only every date could be like that. One and done. Instant, magic happiness. The road to "let's do this with Adam" was paved with little breaks, more than a little anger and some serious fuck ups before it hit its stride. And now, with an unceremonious letter sent from unceremonious Denver, poof. It felt final. With each puff of smoke, tearing through her pack at an unflattering speed, she felt the weight of it all unload like a bunch of bricks. Enough to seriously harm her. She didn't want to be his cautionary tale. She wanted to love and be loved, no matter what. In this stupid city she hates. That she deeply resents herself for hating. She smashed the last cigarette butt with the bottom of her too-expensive black spike heel and walked toward the Ashland bus, crying softly. In that horribly alienating way, that encroaching claustrophobic feeling that takes hold when crying in public. No one's watching, but it doesn't feel that way.
Sorry, people of the CTA, she thinks to herself. I'm that person today. Crying on a bus. My parents would be mortified. I am mortified. I wish I could make it stop. Sorry, fellow bus riders, I fear I cannot. She picks up the phone, dials the number she's dialed time and time again when shit hits the inevitable fan. She ignores the looks and imagined scorn of her fellow passengers as she whimpers to Lindsay, kind and patient: "It's over." Plump tears roll all the way down to the artfully wrapped black summer scarf around her neck. "I'm so tired. I'm so fucking hot, as in actually, overheating. I wore this stupid outfit today...and...I've just...it's over, Linds. It's really, really over. It feels real. I've got to go." Instinctively, she pulls the cord for the next stop. She's not close to her apartment, but she needs air again. It's as if she needs to force air into her lungs. They're being forgetful. The tightness is unbearable. She removes her pretty scarf, takes off her pretty cardigan. Her life thus far has been curated to be just that: painfully pretty. It never bothered her until this very moment, until the moment that her lungs forgot to breathe. Over a guy. If her 17-year-old self knew this, oh the anger there would be. But here she is, "pretty", human, and about to dump her overpriced work clothes in the nearest trash bin. Walking away from her layers, she feels slightly impulsive, but better. Buoyant again. The opposite of sinking. She picks up the phone, dials the familiar number once more. In a hushed voice, she asks, "Can I come over?"
She walks to Wicker Park, a somewhat impressive feat. A couple of miles, at least. The path changed a great deal along the way, the industrial/abandoned-chic aesthetic of the West Loop trading in for a slew of Mexican grocery stores on quiet streets, followed by lush trees surrounded the lovely, albeit completely gentrified areas home to the wildly unaffordable house Lindsay and John call home on Wabansia Avenue.
What did John even do for a living? Olive often wondered. Trading, that's right. At the beginning of it all, he worked the office of Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and over innumerable beers they marveled how he was working for the man. The Berkeley grad, the quasi-communist mellowed considerably after college. So had Lindsay and Olive, for that matter. Olive's staunch veganism relaxed in the past few years or so. Adam played an integral role in that, but secretly Olive thought it helped to make her less stuffy. She'd grown tired of feeling disgusted of everything else everyone ate. She had been very principled about so many things for a very long time. A few years were spent as a fanatical recycling advocate. She and Lindsay volunteered for worker's rights senior year of college. She should have gotten in on the ground floor of a "green start-up company", suddenly all the rage in Chicago. Lauriat Partners always seemed like the right thing to do. Sure, she could join a board or a club or something, but something about it felt too collegiate, felt un-adult. Her once heightened sense of do-good-ness dulled, to her dismay, but at the same to her delight. Being that righteous all the time was exhausting. Live and let live, right? Or at least that's what she told herself as she bit into her first juicy, delicious, awful cheeseburger accompanied by Adam a few years ago. He grinned the silliest grin as she gave it up. And he kissed her, a sweet, funny kiss. He laughed at her as she continued to make faces, suffering through and savoring this utterly foreign experience. It's interesting how novel life can feel when you return to something you vowed to give up. Nothing is forever. Beginnings have tend to have an end, in the smallest or most significant instances.
Lindsay opens the door and her arms opened wide. "Oof," she exclaimed as Olive tumbles into her arms, still tear stained even after an hour of ambling around. "It's ok." The two women shuffle into the house like girls. That was the enviable quality of their relationship. Olive felt like she was 22 again every time she saw Lindsay. Approaching thirty, this rush of feeling drew them that much closer. For all intents and purposes, Lindsay gradually blossomed into an full-fledged adult. Early on, it was clear John would be in the picture for a while. Their sensibilities aligned in a goofy and imperfect way; they were cute and happy and didn't offend anyone with their overt contentedness. They weren't a couple that people rooted for, but who the hell roots for a couple anyway. They were normal, and that's why Olive adored them so. They picked up Alistair the puppy. Scruffy happy thing. Slowly, Lindsay's dreamy chats with Olive shifted from the next great vacation to having a baby. She'd been working for the same boutique advertising firm for the past five years. Arguably, both girls had settled into their lives nicely. But where Olive carried on with a woefully silly, dramatic relationship with Adam the Pilot, Lindsay and John put down roots in the city neither of them were native to. They made it work in industrious, hard-earned way. That was the thing about the couple. Nothing came terribly easy to them. John got into trading after losing a job he loved, Lindsay moved away partly to separate herself from family out West and still regularly dealt with hiccups from that situation. Neither of them liked to talk about it, but they were out here pretty much alone, with the exception of Olive. Who had gotten by pretty easily. So let them have the beautiful, pricey, expertly decorated house, Olive often thought. They deserve it.
Lindsay placed two brightly colored tumblers full of water on the table. She lovingly squeezed Olive's shoulder as she took a seat, folded her hands in her lap and prepared to listen.
Shuddering, child-like sobbing begins. "He just wants me to be happy," she starts, she sneers. "Are you fucking kidding me. One, he sends me a letter. I haven't seen him for a week. And it's a letter. And we talk every day. I've poured so much fucking...time...and love into this. I deserve so much more than this. I know I do. And you've tried to be polite about it, and I love you for it, and I thought for so long that this WAS what I wanted. I'm so fucking dreamy and I live in this world that doesn't exist...dreaming of people who don't exist. He was this ghost that I was sleeping with and dedicating buckets and buckets of my twenties to. I loved him so much. I loved him so much that I think it just masked how much I hated him." She stopped. Surprised.
"Listen," Lindsay begins. "Adam is a good guy. Adam is what he is though. He wasn't really here. But you guys went away. I wasn't being polite. I really, really liked him, you know that. I think you are being a little dramatic, don't you? Not about the letter, because that was idiotic and that's on him, of course. But the stuff about your twenties. You loved him, and you are allowed to love somebody. You knew this might happen with him, but a letter? He loved you so much. You are so young, so very Olive - and by that definition, irresistible in nearly every way," she smiled, waiting for Olive to continue.
"Maybe I wanted to fulfill this greater - I don't know - something with him. Lindsay, it was three years. Given, three very on and off years, but I could have been married by now. Hey wait, in what way am I not irresistible?" she shook her head, laughing the way she did with Lindsay, forgetting for a second to cry.
"I know, Linds. I just feel like it's sudden. I feel like I wanted it so badly. It feels like the end. It's been an hour, and it's frightfully sad."
"Not frightfully sad. Not that! Oh Olive, I'm sorry. Does work know you're gone?"
"Well then. You can hide out here." Alistair bounds out down the stairs, as if on cue, to hop into Olive's lap. "Nothing's forever, Olive. Even the things that are." A mess of white and brown fur, he's just as adorable as the day they brought him home.
Olive tugged on her pearls, looked down at her lap. She looked at this friend, this person who she'd shared countless meals with, encouraged to move to Chicago, shared everything with, with a glazed-over expression. She knew Lindsay was right. Nothing's forever. Not even the things that are.
The phone had gone silent. No desperate pleas from Adam, no frantic declarations sent by Olive down the pipeline. What an age we live in, she often remarked to herself. At thirty, Olive fashioned herself quite the luddite. Complete with an iPhone, a Mac computer, all the bells and whistles. A hypocrite seduced by the delights and ills of her generation. What else was there to do? Her parents supplied the computer promptly after graduation. She often lamented that "this month will be the month I shut off my phone." What an adorable little lie! That phone was a lifeline between her and Adam. It was their good morning, good afternoon, good night and all of the minutia crammed in between. At times, she craved silence. To have weeks on end with him at the hypothetical apartment they would share, no trips, just sitting together like an absolutely positively normal couple.
After a few hours at Lindsay's she feels calm, she's returned to equilibrium. Slight pangs of regret at disposing of some of her clothes? Not her finest moment. Like everyone in her life has ever let her know, she should have been an actress. Her flair for the dramatic, her outlandish personality, stems further back than she can even remember. She was the stars of scores of community plays, forever singing and dancing in her family's house in Lincoln Park. She threw epic tantrums at each and every department store, her mother delighted in reminding her. The older she got, the easier it was to reign it in and more difficult. As a child, she had so many outlets to enact the feelings that swam in her head. She was industrious, she was an ever-moving flutter of light prone to darkness every so often.
As she grew, her parents indulged her whims of a life onstage and shipped her off to Vermont. John and Hannah Lauriat didn't mind that their only daughter wished to pursue something so fleeting. Their two younger sons, Henry and Max, carried the weight when it came to serious pursuits, intellectual or otherwise. Olive was suited to work in the gallery, the lightning-bright girl who tended to live in a fantasy world. What better than to be surrounded by her passions - art, beauty, all of that. It was the proper environment to entertain her sense of curiosity; always wanting to know so much about every person she met. That's how things started with Adam, didn't it? A delightful curiosity that ended up sprouting up in every direction like a weed, tangled like the forest vines of her treasured childhood fairy tales.
As a matter of fact, many of Olive's relationships commenced this way, romantic or otherwise. "You're just so, so friendly," her mother often sighed. It was not meant as a compliment. Hannah possessed a warmth her children admired and emulated, but Olive's way with people seemed over the top to her mother. Not-so-secretly, she wished that her eldest daughter didn't feel the need to try to so hard. It isn't necessary to extend oneself to everyone, in that superficial way. Hannah wished a lot of things for Olive, a lot of things that simply weren't coming to fruition as she rounded the 30 bend. Maybe in the next decade. Maybe in her lifetime. Olive thought of this often. The hopes and dreams of her mother weren't unreasonable. Not in the slightest. "Get married". "Be happy". She often worried that she worked discreetly to disobey these simplest of ideas, ideals. Or maybe she felt out of place, out of her element, nearly constantly.
"How lucky I am," she thinks to herself as she opens the door to her apartment, painted a cheery red. The door transforms her to London; she often imagines the door is a portal to her vivid parallel universe life in Covent Garden. The red door sold her on the sunny Ravenswood space, her tiny refuge, her nest away from the embittered winters and other discontents. Gently wiping any tear residue beneath her eyes, she reaches for her key chain adorned with European favorites. A rubbery Pilsner Urquell keychain swiped in Prague, a tiny approximation of windmills picked up in Amsterdam. She sniffles and smiles at the gaudy french poster hanging in the kitchen, the famous Chat Noir. He's been with her since college, he's been a room mate all along. She drops her bag on the hardwood floor, makes a beeline for the hot water heater in preparation for her daily cup of tea. She preens on her tippy toes, procures vanilla rooibos from the top shelf next to about another dozen loose leaf varieties she picks up from shops scattered all over the north side. Vanilla tea, a pinch of comfort on this utterly piece-of-shit day. The odd little water heater, no bigger than any of the myriad teapots she has in her collection littering her kitchen counter, hums petulantly; she unplugs from the wall. The ritual soothes.
"I have the opposite of an addictive personality," she tells Adam on their third date. She's puffing coolly on a cigarette, outside of Hopleaf on a sweaty summer Friday. After work, after a particularly stressful phone call with a buyer who needed far more convincing than she as capable of. "You're silly," he hates cigarette smoke, but he's drunk, so he bums it off of her. "If you don't watch out, we'll love each other," Olive warns, without thinking, she fusses with her skirt. Allows him his first glimpse at the prize, so to speak. A prize he wouldn't full win until about a month later. "Well," she continues, mildly plastered on quality Montreal beer, "I get obsessed with things. For a minute! Just a minute. I love them with my whole goofy little heart until it bursts! Kapow!" She gestures in her cutesy way, huge grin affixed to her kind face, hands interpreting whatever she takes to mean "explosion" to be. "And then it's done. I'm done. I leave things in the dust, man. I can smoke a cigarette once every six months. I can smoke a cigarette once a year," she flips that blonde hair; she's aware of her rapt audience. The attention deeply sates her. His green eyes are grabbing her, pulling her into his orbit. "You'll get addicted to me. But you see," she places her hand, adorned with deep-red manicured fingernails, lightly on the scruff of his neck. He smiled back, crooked teeth augmenting whatever oddball appeal he was cultivating. "I just don't have an addictive personality."
Three years later, she sips her daily tea. She still thinks she can quit cigarettes, if she gives it an honest try. Her whole life became so much more fun and so much more unhealthy with his entrance. His exit? Well, maybe it would all resume. Her obsessions would be fleeting, again. Her habits hardened her. It had been a long time since she felt fleeting, amenable to change. It had been a long time.
She jumps quickly, the phone vibrates. "Yes," she picks up, plasters on the cheeriest voice she can possibly muster. "Yeah, I'm home. I'm fine. I'm fine. You don't need to come over. Please don't worry about me. I'm already concocting a move-on measure, so you have not a thing to worry about. Yes, I know you're still worried. I'll call you tomorrow."
After a quick meal of pasta and red sauce, she ambles into her bedroom. She'd strung twinkling lights above, with his help of course. Thirty years old with the bedroom finishes of a small girl or a deranged old woman. It was a cross section that rarely bothered her. Falling into bed atop the white tufted comforter, she unclasps her necklace. A tiny gold teardrop. "It's over." The words eek out like the door of an old, rotting cabin. "Enough now."