My Cheatin’ Heart, Chicago

Oct 20, 2012 by

Lights up on CHELSEA, alone on the stage, which is decorated to resemble one of Chicago’s cozy, imaginative bars like The Long Room or The Hungry Brain. She appears alone to us, but is in fact wholly engaged in an intimate conversation with someone we can’t see. She has a drink in hand, her third, which is almost finished. A small plate of some kind of greasy appetizer sits next to her on the bar, untouched. She leans in to her companion and begins to speak furtively, desperately. We are watching something deeply private.

CHELSEA

I shouldn’t be saying any of this, Chicago, I know I shouldn’t. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m unhappy with my life, with my choices, because that’s not the case at all. I love Abingdon, I really do. I don’t know if I’m trying to convince you or myself that that’s the truth, but regardless, it is. Abingdon is beautiful, and steady, and kind. But… oh, I shouldn’t say it… Abingdon doesn’t make me feel the way you do. It never has, not for a minute. When I’m near you, when I’m this close to you, I feel so completely and entirely myself. With Abingdon, I’m probably 85% myself, and maybe that will get better, I don’t know, you and I were together for a long time and I should give Abingdon that kind of chance, too. And I will. This is not a declaration that I’m leaving. I’m not trying to get back together with you. We separated for a reason… it’s just that when I’m near you, those reasons get really fuzzy in my head. All I can see is how exciting you are, and gorgeous, and entertaining, and how much fun we have, and all I feel is compatibility and attachment and… regret. When I’m with Abingdon, I have a whole life that doesn’t concern you, and I don’t think about you at all. Well, hardly at all. But here, now… I can imagine just throwing that all to the wind and never going back. That girl — cooking, cleaning, living a small life in a small town — all that stuff gets pushed so far to the back of my mind that it evaporates. It’s my whole life, and it seems inconsequential, totally deniable, when I’m with you.

God, your smell. I’ve really missed it. I’ve missed everything about you. Your speed, your loudness, your brashness, your possibility. I’ve missed waking up with you in the morning and thinking I’d figured you out, only to wind up somewhere I never expected by nightfall, and begin that figuring process all over again. Your never-ending variety of faces, of moods, I have missed them. Abingdon is constant. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing, and I — when I think about having children one day, not that it’s soon, but when I think of having children with a mystery, a somewhat loose cannon — let me finish! You can be, you know. Well — yes, it has to be Abingdon for that. It may not be exciting or sexy, but for that part of my life, I need Abingdon, not you. But that seems so far off, having a kid, when you make me feel like a kid myself. You make me feel like I can do anything, like everyone loves me, like you’ve, maybe, missed me, too. You make me feel electric. I wish, I wish, that I could get those feelings from Abingdon. My life would be perfect, would be easy. But you can’t have it all, I guess. We make choices. You and I are apart, and we’re going to stay apart. I don’t mean to make you think any kind of permanent reconciliation is actually on the table. I’m not that kind of girl. Not right now, anyway. I’m going to make a go of it with Abingdon. I owe Abingdon that much.

Why did we break up, you and me? I know that when it happened it was mutual — okay, I initiated it. But I think you’d been thinking about kicking me out for a while. You’d been making it really hard for me, near the end. But it wasn’t for the reasons everyone assumed, no, not at all. I didn’t mind your cold spells. I’ve always been independent, and the cold didn’t get to me. You were always so beautiful in those frozen months, and I persevered. It was worth it when you finally thawed to me again, so worth the wait. And when you would really get warmed up, there was no more glorious place on earth. At the beach, in an outdoor cafe, at a rooftop party — when you were on fire, I could not have loved you more. And when you stared to get chilly again, inevitably, I would watch the process start all over with not a care in the world. You always came back around. It wasn’t that stuff. It was — I think you wore me down. I think the constant anxiety, the worry, that I woke up with in varying degrees every day for almost six years — it keeps life exciting, but it made me weary. There were entire pockets of you unknowable to me, they’re still unknowable to me. And with so much going on all the time with you, it was very easy to feel like I wasn’t getting what I needed. There was always too much to really get a handle on. It’s equal parts thrilling and exhausting, but I guess I was focusing more on the latter toward the end of our relationship. Which was really, really, expensive, by the way.

I mean, I never even registered to vote with you, Chicago. I voted absentee in Louisiana the entire time I lived here. I got a library card, sure, but what’s that, really? It took me four years to drag myself to the DMV to get a Chicago license. I don’t know if that kind of thing didn’t seem important to me when we were together, or if you just made me forget all my obligations, period. You know, I’m already registered to vote with Abingdon. Only took me a few months. Got a library card, AND a license, and new plates on the car. Because in an adult relationship, one focuses on adult things. One is responsible, and predictable, and gets things done. I have gotten so much done since we parted ways. I can’t ignore that this calms me, make me feel good in a completely different way than being with you did. Not that one is better than the other, not all the time, but that kind of steady productivity is what I need in my life right now. Abingdon is what I need. Not you. I’ll just keep telling myself that.

Look, I don’t want to fight about this. This conversation is inappropriate, it’s gone down a dangerous path, and that’s my fault. I don’t mean to make you think that you have options with me that you really don’t. I’m going back to Abingdon in a few days, and I want us just to enjoy this brief, sweet time together without anything getting complicated. Don’t miss me when I leave, and I’ll try not to miss you. I’ll try not to dream about you, to wonder what if what if what if and imagine alternative futures with you and me and pretending that would be something we could figure out. We can’t figure this out. I will always, always love you. Nothing is for sure in this life, and maybe there’s a chance for us somewhere, later, down the line, but we can’t think about that now. I make you no promises. But no matter what happens, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.

Please know this, Chicago — you made me who I am. Deeply, somewhere inside me, I will always be yours.

(beat) I’m so sorry. I’ve said too much. I’m going to go.

Lights dim. CHELSEA exits, leaving her drink and the plate on the bar.

SOUND CUE: Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me” begins to play, softly, in its entirety.

1 Comment

  1. Jean

    You never forget your first true love. But people tend to remember more of the good than the bad. I think you’ve got a balanced view of your “love affair” with Chicago. Growing up is hard to do!

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