I interviewed the merchandisers in the shadow of the Bean. That’s what Chicagoans call it, but its official name is Cloud Gate. You look up and see all of these images of yourself. Of the whole world.
Afterwards, I remember standing in Millenium park in downtown Chicago amidst the flowers and people everywhere and impulsively deciding to stop at the Art Institute next door. I had some time before I had to get back home, and I never went anywhere any more.
It was 2004, and I had just had my second child a little over a year ago. I was returning to work as a merchandising supervisor since my husband was losing his Airline pilot job as a slow result of 9/11 and had been at the park to interview potential merchandisers.
My marriage was not doing so hot, and I was having panic attacks left and right. I was terrified of how I was supposed to function in large stores training new merchandisers because the lights and people and expanse of the stores always set off the panic. I just figured I would concentrate one step in front of me and just keep moving and somehow figure it out.
I went to the Art Institute and walked through the visiting Toulouse Lautrec exhibit looking at the pictures of ‘life’ – dancers, prostitutes, writers, intellectuals, painters all vibrantly shown in the Bohemian movement in Montmartre section of Paris in the 1890’s, and I had a ‘Wild Woman’ moment – not that I knew it at the time.
But all those cells that were dead and had been for so long, were all of a sudden alive again and calling to me.
And I said to myself, ‘holy cow, you have forgotten how to live, Karen’.
Or maybe even, I never knew.
As I said, my husband and I were struggling. In hindsight, this is SO NORMAL when you have small children especially without any sort of support system in place as we had just moved to Chicago where we knew no one.
And we are opposites. My first husband is a ‘keep it simple, clean, black and white’ type guy. I.e. He would not let me have a garden as he did not want to destroy our perfect lawn. In hindsight, he met and married chaotic, messy, gray me so obviously he was seeking some sort of ballast to his personality. I should have been more myself – cut up the lawn, put in the garden and focused less on always trying to please him.
But instead, I bent over backwards trying to make him happy, when his personality wasn’t to ‘be happy’ anyhow, so of course, I did not succeed. The only thing I succeeded at was making myself miserable.
You know, it is a funny path that has led me from there to here. And I have learned oh, so much – the majority of which was the hard way through personal experience. SO many things I would do differently on the next go around.
But I am fairly certain that I have been learning what I am here to learn. And I have tried to follow my heart and gut and intuition.
For instance, before that day, I had never given two thoughts to anything ‘French’ other than feeling the general stereotype that French people are snobby and aloof and want nothing to do with us friendly open Americans.
But here I sit ten years later married to a French man.
And here is my story. Much to my family’s chagrin, I feel drawn to write as it is my creation, my life, but also, my genuine wish that my story finds its way to another girl’s heart who will not have to figure all of this out the difficult way.
In other words, I am digging up the lawn and planting my Garden. As my two year old proudly says, “I am making a mess” with dirt clumps and garden tools everywhere. It is far far from perfect and a great deal of the time, I am winging it as I go, weeds and chaos erupting and false starts and mislabeled plants.
But there is Beauty, too.
And every once in awhile, the perfect flower pops up, and I pause and just stare.