Tomorrow afternoon, I will be flying to Chicago on work related business. I haven’t been to Chicago since February of 2008. The detail below was written over a year ago, with recent edits.
In November of 2007, the formation of an unexpected friendship began. I have serviced a particular account at work for the last several years. In this time, friendships have spawned from professional relationships. One day I must have been feeling particularly feisty because normal work email exchanges of:
Self: Please review this proof.
Customer: Looks good. Carry on.
Self: Will do.
Self: Please review this proof.
Jeremy: Looks good. Carry on.
Self: My wayward son?
Jeremy: There'll be peace when…
And you see where this is going. This solitary email opened the door to a conversation of music—one of which led to discussion of guitar and our favorite songs… and movies… and then… myspace. OneRepublic served as a huge icebreaker we both purchased this album within days of each other. Several days and evenings of innocent emails of this nature eventually led to feeling comfortable enough to share our phone numbers. And my phone bill has never been the same…
The very first conversation felt like our hundredth. It was like talking to an old friend… for the first time. Immediately, we finished each other's sentences, shared the exact same phrases, like looking in the mirror except… we had never seen one another. The following months were filled with hours upon hours upon literal hours of endless conversation.
And yeah, he IS left handed.
While visiting his family in a neighboring state, (did I mention he lives in Chicago?!), we discussed meeting—unfortunately, the weather made other plans and our overdue meeting required a rain check. Or in this case, a snow check. Jeremy had resigned after many years working for the same company as he intended to move to be closer to family. With this knowledge, I was comfortable scheduling a one day trip to visit him in Chicago. Arrival date, 2/15.
February 15th. 7:05 am. Flight 1456. Nan (a co-worker, and close friend) and I board the plane. She is traveling for business. We are the very last people to choose our seats—realizing the likeliness of sitting together is slim. I am a phobic flyer. Couple that with my OCD and… I find a seat, crook my head around to find Nan and she waves me to her… there WAS a seat for me by her… in row 17. I nearly always sit in row 17. It is safer in the back of the plane and I have a thing with "7's." Note my flight is at 7… and my flight number… 14…56… divisible by 7.
Enter Chicago. It's cold. No. It's fucking cold. It is 15 degrees and brutal, despite the sunshine. Nan and I part at this time and I take a taxi to downtown Chicago, arriving at the House of Blues (I know my way around from there). It is STILL cold and I am starving, though the HOB does not serve lunch until 11:30 (its 11.) I make my entrance—suitcase and all—and order lunch and a Heineken. While waiting on my food, I read a bit—the Eric Clapton Autobiography. While reading page 43 (4+3=7), Eric Clapton begins to play over the speakers… the song? "River of Tears." I have always loved this song and oddly the lyrics are "Lord, how long have I got to keep on running, seven hours, seven days or seven years."
More seven's. Strange listening to Eric Clapton… while reading his words… in the House of Blues… in Chicago. Pretty dang cool.
I take a taxi to Nan’s hotel to await Jeremy. He calls at 4:30 (4+3=7) and mentions he is leaving work to come rescue me. Jeremy and I talk while he is en route to pick me up. An hour passes, then another, and another. He mentions "your exit is 5B… just like Elizabethtown- weird." Nan later mentions "AH! 5B. B is the second letter in the alphabet—5+2=7." I'm corrupting my friends! Three hours to travel 14 (divisible by 7) miles. He informs me he is turning on my street, so we hang up and I head downstairs. As he arrives, helping me with my bag, I am a shivering, red-nosed, snotty, frigid mess! Yes, super hot first impression. The traffic is horrendous and we are introduced in a hurried fashion. Amid the chaos, we completely forget this is our first meeting! I'm bitching. He's bitching. We are oblivious to the neatness. Silence appears for a moment and Jeremy looks at me and says "Hi." I smile. He continues, "Lauryn Smith… is in my car…sitting beside me. Huh." Chaos subsides. When talking, Jeremy often mentions a restaurant called "Chipotle." We head there and the food is good. Later, we head to the store to purchase wine. While there, we are bantering (we never do that on the phone by the way—must have been the awkwardness that inspired the subtle jabs at each other) on what to settle on. I go with champagne. He goes with sake and white wine—after convincing him boys don't drink "pink wine," we checkout. At the register, I offer my card to the checkout guy—but Jeremy swipes his before the guy can take mine. I pitch a fit and the man says, "He's a gentleman." My retort? "He's my customer." Jeremy is beyond embarrassed, bright red, stunned. The way I have phrased this makes it appear as though I am a prostitute. Awesome. Now I am embarrassed, bright red, laughing uncontrollably. We leave as fast as we can.
Enter Jeremy's house. Three levels. In Gilberts, Illinois. Population 77. Teeny town outside Chicago. His house smelled really good, like strawberries. Jeremy is an artist so several of the walls are painted—bright blue and light blue waves, red walls as accents, lime green kitchen. Hip, funky, very Jeremy. My stomach starts to churn a bit but I am not yet alarmed. I don't feel right. I am not nauseated, but I am not feeling right in "that" way. Moments later the pain drops me to my knees. We start a movie, Across the Universe. I love the Beatles. Jeremy doesn't. The movie helped change his mind. Midway through and… yeah… the whole stomach thing… romance killed… like a giant shoe to an ant. And moving right along.
There is a high school vibe to this trip. It’s as though I have disobeyed my parents to meet this man, like we've both entered our 15 year-old selves, nervous. He holds my hand and the reason I am there suddenly makes sense. We fall asleep on the couch.
I awake early the following morning feeling fatigued. I am humbled with the knowledge my flight is sooner than preferred. We skip off to breakfast and I feel overwhelmingly comfortable at this point, but also sad. We have about an hour drive to the airport—or so we thought. As it turns out the airport is closer than assumed. While driving, I am looking through his CD's and I notice OneRepublic. We listen to this CD for obvious reasons.
He told me I sound different (he did too) in person vs. the telephone, so I called him while standing in the same room. He sounded like himself on the phone and he agreed I did as well.
The following week after returning home, I led our customer conference call (several parties on the line) and one person asked Nan if she had fun in Chicago. Her reply? "What happens in Chicago…" I look at Nan and smile because, yeah "what happens in Chicago, indeed."
Jeremy relocated soon after my visit. We continue to keep in touch today.
With Jeremy, Chicago airport on February 16, 2008