Dating Chloe felt like magic. We were both writers, and we’d hang out, get drunk and write together. She was so compelling. I admired her creativity and her inquisitive nature. She was sexy, too. Chloe’s Facebook profile was full of pictures of the modeling work she’d done. I was dating an intelligent model who challenged me to be the best I could be. It seemed too good to be true.
The only problem was that she lived on the south side of the city, and I lived in the far north suburbs. Driving to see her was a pain in the ass. When my lease was up, I decided to move to the south side to be closer to her.
… each month, more of the other expenses like cigarettes, groceries and booze fell to me. I didn’t stress about it though. She needed her space.”
At the time, I wouldn’t admit that’s why I was moving. Chloe valued her independence. She said that the only way she’d ever move in with a boyfriend again is if she was engaged. I wasn’t suggesting shacking up just yet. I was only planning to move to her neighborhood. But I worried she’d think I wasn’t giving her enough space.
So I came up with other explanations for my move. The south side was cheaper. Parking was easier. The culture was livelier; the sun shined brighter and all that shit. But the truth was simpler. I’d fallen in love.
To a north sider like me, there’s a mystique to the south side. It’s a crime-ridden mess down there, according to what the news tells us. South siders don’t go shopping, they go looting. The neighborhood watch is a group of Latin Kings. And if you’ve lived on the south side, you’ve seen some shit.
Chloe knew that her neighborhood, Lawndale, had a bad reputation, so she always said she lived in Pilsen. Pilsen had more cachet. Pilsen was a hip place for artists and musicians. Pilsen was also fourteen blocks east of Lawndale.
I became more familiar with this tactic — the neighborhood bait and switch — once I started apartment hunting. In ads for apartments on Craigslist, neighborhood names are approximations. They don’t describe where an apartment is. They describe the nearest gentrified community.This shouldn’t be a surprise. Craigslist’s “Housing” section is only loosely based on reality. Photos are composed, cropped, curated and corrected to only show the most flattering features of each unit.
The first apartment I looked at was in a basement with a concrete floor. The ad called this “cozy.” The floor sloped toward the back of the building. The landlord billed this as a feature. If the apartment flooded, all the water would roll down into the drain at the far end of the living room. Drainage: how cozy.
Another apartment didn’t have a floor at all. At least, the floor was a work in progress. Someone had torn up the tile and done a shitty job of it. Left behind were chunks of tile, stained hardwood, damp cardboard and dirt. Staples and nails poked out from the surface. I asked the landlord what his plans were for the floor. He said, curtly, “To walk on it.”
Another apartment had two bathrooms, but neither was complete. One had a sink and a shower. The other had a toilet. After you used the toilet, you had to walk across the kitchen to the other bathroom to wash your hands. I envisioned a trail of poo germs running from one door to the other. The poo germs weren’t mentioned in the ad.
After looking at twelve different shitholes, I found a shithole to call my own. It was only a mile away from Chloe’s place. Seven hundred dollars a month got me two bedrooms, squeezed into 550 square feet of space. The night I moved in, she stayed with me. She never stayed in her own apartment again. Over the next few weeks, we moved all her stuff in.
We loved being able to spend so much time together. But the cramped apartment was too small for two people. You could hear everything that happened in those 550 square feet. I always knew exactly where Chloe was, and exactly what she was doing. We had no privacy or independence.
We needed more space.
The next year’s apartment search was easier. With our combined incomes, we could afford a better place. We found a decent three-bedroom unit that was more than twice as big. It was more space than we’d ever need. At times, the space between our friends and us felt enormous. Getting to the north side was a trek that required planning. They were a world away.
All this space gave us the freedom to create whatever lives we wanted for ourselves, independently.
With her new-found freedom, Chloe pledged to spend more time writing. She picked up less shifts at work, but her freelance income never picked up. She kept up with her half of the rent. But each month, more of the other expenses like cigarettes, groceries and booze fell to me. I didn’t stress about it though. She needed her space.
While wandering around the city searching for inspiration for her writing, she met an elderly man who owned a bookstore. She referred to him as a shaman. I had no idea what that meant. She became interested in meditation and crystals and all sorts of hippie bullshit that I couldn’t understand.
She told me about the meditation room in the back of the shaman’s bookstore. I saw a picture of her on Facebook that was taken in the meditation room. She was posing with a pyramid made of copper on top of her head. I asked her what it meant, and she was annoyed that I didn’t know. She said that pyramids generate energy, and that so much energy came out of the meditation room that the shaman received checks from ComEd every month instead of bills. It seemed absurd, but I wasn’t going to question what she did in her space.
With all my extra space, I got frustrated with my writing and quit. My drinking habit became a drinking problem. Living on the south side spared me the shame of bumping into a friend while hauling a case of beer home on a weeknight. In time, transporting my beer became cumbersome, so I switched to whiskey.
Then Chloe left me. She moved in with the shaman. Six weeks later, they got married. Soon, she was pregnant with a shaman baby. She was a new person. The woman I fell in love with was young and stylish. She would have scoffed at an old guy in a dashiki. Now she was in love with one.
Given all that space, she became alien to me.
When Chloe and I were together, I always worried about smothering her. I didn’t want to fail to give her the space she needed. I was wrong. It was within that space that our relationship died. Love is about being close, not about creating space. So I don’t give the people I love that kind of space any more.
bokeen is a Chicago writer, storyteller, avid dater and a former avid drinker. His book, Near Mrs: Essays About Dating, will be published later this year. You can find more of his work at bokeen.com.