Letter to Sari

For a chunk of my 20s, my focus was on traveling. If I wasn’t on the move, I was dreaming or writing about traveling. My mode was shoestring, solo. I was chasing the drug of discombobulation and the scrambled-for view, the circumstances where just getting to the post-office could be an eye-popping adventure made possible only by staggering vicissitudes. (You lost your bearings in Bangkok and now the street signs only appeared in Thai script. Amazingly, you found the water taxi port after all. More amazingly, you got on the right boat and off of it in time. You managed to pay the fare. You mailed your letters! You made it back to the guesthouse! This calls for a celebration! The combination of humility and confidence bordering on cockiness that was won in such battles was a potent brew.)

Then I met someone similarly minded, and after a joint trip or two we got steady jobs, a mortgage, and pregnant. Two weeks after the baby was born, Mark went back to work, leaving me in our Rogers Park condo, shattered with love for a son who screamed in raging pain more than he did just about anything else. My nerves were shot, day and night were turned upside down, and suctioned to my wrung-out body was a police siren that might go off at any moment and not stop for an hour or three. Life would have felt more familiar if I’d been dropped off in Timbuktu; at least I would have had a Lonely Planet to go by. I was grounded, humbled, and instead of calculating, say, whether I could pull off a quick trip to France, I factored the risks of leaving home for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

But soon my fear of being housebound outweighed all other fears. A determined hunger rose in me. We would get out, goddammit! We would walk! But getting out the door of a walk-up with a tetchy newborn is not easy, and on the second or third attempt, I managed to lock myself outside of the foyer where Tillio lay in his stroller crying. Thank God the neighbor was home to buzz me in. Thank God for the Baby Bjorn and the day Tillio weighed enough to ride in it. I gained confidence. We went farther. Mark and I had moved to Rogers Park when I was pregnant and working full-time, so I hadn’t explored the new neighborhood fully. Well, I would now.

I remember that first trip to the post-office with Tillio strapped to me. Standing on the corner of Devon and Clark with summer’s first heat cooking the asphalt, ripening the diesel fumes, and carrying the puff of an elote cart toward me, I felt a lift of familiar expectancy. A new lens slipped over my view. These were the smells of Guatemala City or Saigon. The rind of a mango at the curb, the window of a ragtag dollar store, the family parked around a red laundry cart gnawing on corn while they waited for the bus–I saw it all with the crystalline clarity that comes from everything being strange and new. And on that day I started writing a letter in my head to my friend Sari. She’d traveled too, she’d written too, and I knew the questions of how to keep doing that and more were ones she’d started asking, or would soon. I wanted to tell her that in the face of so much apparent loss (I’d cried to her on the phone in the first few weeks), so much was found: Having a baby was like traveling. I had comparison and after comparison to show how this was true.

I started the mental list of comparisons in 2001, and I’ve been meaning to write that letter ever since. If my intention flagged once I became more accustomed to parenting, it was renewed six years later when Sari had her baby. This time I would really do it! But I was always interrupted, or too tired, or too busy with other projects in my scant free time, or maybe just unwilling to pin the dreaminess down. It’s remained the case for me, though, that going anywhere with my kids—even just to the playground less visited—still feels exploratory. And with all that came before and that hopefully will come later, trekking the springtime sidewalks of Rogers Park with my new love Tillio was one of the greatest adventures I’ll ever have.