On Sunday afternoon, I locked my bike near Wicker Park proper and wandered into the local farmers market, a sea of white tents in a steamy green jungle of trees and flowers.
I bought a pint of fall’s first Honeycrisp apples — smaller than usual but still shiny, firm and bright golden red — and a pound of crimini mushrooms, picked the night before and loaded onto a truck before the sun came up.
The man behind the mushroom table upended a cardboard carton into a brown paper bag and rolled the top over quickly. I handed him six dollars, and he held the bag out to me. These mushrooms were so fresh they’d last two weeks in the refrigerator, he said. As I walked away, I unrolled the bag and buried my nose in it, breathed in the damp, earthy scent. Mushrooms from the grocery store don’t smell like that, like…life.
I grabbed my bike, hung my plastic bag from the handlebars and wove through traffic on Milwaukee Avenue, still full from breakfast with a friend at the Earwax Café: hand-squeezed orange juice, bottomless coffee, an omelet with diced tomatoes, feta cheese and fresh chopped basil from an unseen backyard garden. The afternoon temperature seemed to climb as I rode; ribbons of heat blew up around me from the pavement.
Summer’s last stand.
Sunday was my first honest attempt to slow down.
Because the last thing I remember really clearly — that I didn’t write down, for posterity — is the night the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Not because I was out watching the game and celebrating, but because I was lying in a beautiful queen-size bed, alone, on the verge of tears when the city erupted. Cheers and fireworks and honking horns, and I was about to break up with the love of my life.
I woke up on Sunday morning and realized it would be September soon. Tomorrow, in fact. It was just June, and now it’s September.
Tomorrow marks a big ending, and an even bigger new beginning: my last day of work and the first day of, well…of the rest of my life.
I joined a gym last night. I joined a gym with towel service and a big basket of tiny apples. I went to the post office. I made myself dinner. I wrote. I called my mother. I met a friend for ice cream. Then I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling until almost midnight.
Every silly moment assumes new significance lately. Today, I wrote a coworker and told him I was sending him the last funny YouTube video he’d ever receive from my work e-mail. I rode my bike home from the train station, off balance from a heavy tote bag full of Tupperware, mugs, boxes of tea, paperwork and the rest of my everyday life for the past three years. Tomorrow, I’ll unplug my silver desk lamp and iPhone charger, and shut down my laptop for the last time. In two weeks, a new editor starts in my place.
But despite the significance this week holds for my life, the end of so many rituals and routines and I came home tonight, dressed down into gym clothes and attempted to begin a new routine before the other had even ended. I ran on a treadmill, red-faced and out of breath, because celebrating this sweet new life will be so much sweeter if I don’t hate looking in the mirror every day.
I came home and sautéed a big handful of those beautiful mushrooms in olive oil and garlic, tossed them with whole-wheat ravioli and the last of a jar of marinara sauce. I made myself dinner like a grown-up. I sat on the sofa to eat with a glass of wine, flipped channels as I sipped.
The idea of my stores of food dwindling because I’m actually eating what I’ve bought is much more comforting than throwing away bags full of rotten produce after another week of nonstop restaurant eating.
On my last night as a working stiff, I’m tucked into bed, writing, before 10 p.m.
And my entire apartment smells like garlic and mushrooms. Like life.
Smells like home, actually. For the first time.