Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fight Like A Cat

I have always had a very strong personality. 
I was a stubborn and loud child. 
I now have a stubborn and loud child. 
I don't like it when people say things to mothers such as "I hope you have a daughter who turns out just like you."
It's never meant in a caring, loving way. 
It's always a dig. 
It's always meant to hurt. 
I'm sure it's been said to me. 
I'm opinionated. 
I'm not afraid to voice that opinion. 
And yes, I have a daughter who is just like me. 
One of my daughters looks like me, but has her father's quiet demeanor. 
The other daughter looks like...I don't know who she looks like...but she acts like I do. 
And that's just fine with me. 
My stubborn ways and fierce voice have helped our family get through some harrowing days. 
I'm in no way perfect. 
Far from it. 
I can sometimes think too quickly and then spew garbage from my mouth.  
I am sometimes too honest. 
You know, those things you think about later and say to yourself "wow, I sure shouldn't have said THAT!"
But, I see these flaws and I'm working on them. 

When Zoe was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't cry. 
I got mad. 
Wildcat mad. 
How dare this interrupt my daughter's young life?
She was brand new. 
She had only been on the earth for five years. 
She had just started full day school two weeks prior. 
I was determined, from the first minute of knowing she had leukemia, that she would not go down. 
And that I would go through this with her as if my healthy body could somehow find its way into her body. 
My energy would be her energy. 
My positivity would be her positivity. 
We did let her cry. 
We did let her ask "why is this happening to me?"
But we didn't let her stay there too long. 
Despair doesn't heal. 
Light heals. 
Love heals. 

I was always present during procedures. 
I would help hold her arms or legs when she would get a spinal tap. 
I wasn't going to let a nurse speak quietly into her ear as the doctor inserted a needle into her spine. 
She would hear my voice. 
I would penetrate through the sedation drugs. 
I firmly believed that my voice would override the pain or discomfort. 
If she couldn't eat before a sedation, I wouldn't eat. 
It was only when she was wheeled off to surgery or the spinal tap was completed, would I then take a bite of an apple. 
When she was fit for her radiation face mask, her father and I stood behind a wall in the room she was in. 
The radiation face mask fitting was, by and large, the most terrifying thing that she went through. 
As soon as the fitting was over I swooped from behind the wall, telling her we would go get some Dunkin Donuts in the hospital lobby. 

I was yearning for control. 
Needing to feel control in a situation that, in all reality, I had no control over anything that was happening at all. 
Either the medicine would work. 
Or it wouldn't. 
Either she would live. 
Or the cancer in her blood would live. 
Killing her in the process. 
Her sister was only two. 
She was only five. 
This isn't what was supposed to happen. 
This wasn't the storyline I had signed up for. 
My husband and I had decided to have children. 
They were planned. 
How dare cancer try to take away a member of our tribe. 
I'm not a tiger mother. 
I'm more of a serval mother. 
And this cat wasn't going to let her kitten go down without a loud, opinionated, stubborn fight. 

My daughter's school principal told me today that a friend's daughter was just diagnosed with cancer. 
She's only 12 years old. 
She asked me for some advice. 
I told her to tell her friend to ask many questions, to the point that she may think she's asking too many questions. 
To become stubbornly loud. 
Because her daughter can't fight this kind of fight herself. 
She needs a serval mother. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Once Knew A Girl

I once knew a girl. 
She had long curly blonde hair and a tall forehead. 
When she was young, her face was sprinkled with freckles. 
As was my own. 
We had the same name and we were friends from an early age. 
As our age progressed, we became distanced. 
New friends and new hobbies took up our time. 
But, during high school we always had time to say hello to one another. 
Our friendship continued into college. 
We could always sit and chat about life. 
The two Jennifers were always friends, if not close friends in the end. 
In the end. 
In the end she was murdered. 

Jennifer and I met in grade school. 
And we went to junior high and high school together. 
I went to state college while she went to a private college. 
But the private college was five minutes from my school. 
She was, by far without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever known. 
She didn't have the best common sense, as would be shown in the end. 
Her common sense persuaded her to be friends and lovers with some people who weren't always the best influence on her. 
She would be found alone in the end. 
Well, not quite alone. 
Her two cats saw the whole thing. 
The violent end to a brilliant life. 
A violent end that shocked her friends' world. 
An end that dissolved her parents' world in an instant. 
An end that haunts me to this day. 

The Netflix documentary Making A Murderer has been on every media platform lately. 
Everyone has been debating whether or not Steven Avery is guilty of murdering a woman. 
Or if he's sitting in prison when he should be at home. 
It's funny, as I'm writing this blog post I'm not remembering the name of the victim. 
I remember the name of the accused. 
And as I remember my friend Jennifer, it seems her accused killer became a sort of star himself. 
Because the man who was accused, tried, and sent to prison for committing heinous acts to her is not in prison. 
Not anymore. 
Because of many factors...sloppy police work and a group of lawyers who like to free people that they think got an unfair trial. 
They call themselves the Innocence Squad or something like that. 
Yet, Jennifer is still in the ground. 
Her grave sits in the cemetery next to my house. 
And while I enjoy a good true crime story, I don't think I want to watch Making A Murderer. 
Because what's a story to some people is real life to others. 
Real life to the victim's family. 
Real life to those who go to their friend's funeral, where you stop and think "this doesn't happen in real life."

Jennifer was found strangled and stabbed on an August morning in 1993.  
She hadn't been seen at class. 
The fall semester had started and she had transferred from the private university down the street to finish her journalism degree at Illinois State. 
My cousin had called me that weekend because she had seen a report on the local news that a body had been found in an Illinois State apartment. 
I had a semester left in college. 
I had an apartment at Illinois State, but  was visiting my parents that weekend. 
We were having a 50th wedding anniversary party for my grandparents the next day. 
My cousin was calling to see if I was okay. 
Some of my friends were having a party at Illinois State that night, so I called to see if everyone was alive. 
"Yep, we're all here and kickin'!" was the response I got when I called. 
It wasn't until the next afternoon when the call that forever changed how I viewed my world came through. 
A friend, who was very close with Jennifer as we had all grown up together, had become curious about this news report and went to see if she was okay. 
My parents phone rang and I answered. 
There was no chit chat from my friend. 
Instead, hysterical screams reverberated through the line. 
"It was her!"
"It was Jennifer who was murdered!"
She had walked up to Jennifer's apartment only to find police standing outside and yellow tape covering the door. 
I immediately drove away, to be with our group of friends. 
I don't remember much after that call.

The funeral was observed by the police. 
A camera taped everyone as they silently pushed their shocked bodies slowly down the funeral home carpet to pay respects to Jennifer's parents.
Her mother had no idea who anyone was.
She seemed to be heavily sedated, yet still was somehow standing. 
The Catholic church service was hard to sit through. 
I had been to funerals before. 
A boy had killed himself during high school and I had gone to the funeral home to say goodbye to him. 
But this was different. 
I couldn't get past the fact that my friend was lying in the box that was at the front of the chapel. 
I couldn't get past the fact that she had been brutally killed. 
How she had been violated. 
I sobbed openly during the entire service. 
But, the one thing that WAS noticed, was who was absent. 
He was absent. 
The boy who said he loved her the most. 
The boy who had often come to our beloved 916 Hovey home at Illinois State looking for Jennifer. 
Looking for her in a drunken, drug induced stupor. 
Looking for her as if she belonged to him only. 
Even when we would tell him to "get out of our house, she's not here, she doesn't even live here" he would try to push his way in. 
He wasn't there to say goodbye to her at the cemetery. 
And the police noticed. 
And we thought justice had been fulfilled.
It later all fell apart. 

I moved to Chicago after college. 
I married and had two children. 
I returned to my hometown with my new family. 
I inherited my grandparents' house which has a cemetery right next door. 
A cemetery where my friend Jennifer forever rests. 
I put flowers on her grave every Memorial Day. 
I used to see her dad at the library. 
He was a proud patron there and he greatly valued education. 
He donated money and items to the summer reading program. 
We would pass in the parking lot. 
Or I would see him leaving as I was shuttling my little kids up the stairs to the children's floor of books. 
Me, the other Jennifer, with her two daughters. 
He would smile lightly to me. 
But never stopped to talk. 
I don't know if he remembered me. 
Or if he did and was trying not to remember. 
Thinking of his own Jennifer. 
Who wouldn't have children. 
I thought of it. 
And I had a sense of guilt during brief these meetings. 
Guilty somehow that I was alive and had gotten married. 
Had children. 
Had the life his daughter could have had. 
If it hadn't ended that summer in August. 

I once knew a girl...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Linterbelle, The Laundry Fairy

Well, it's happened again. 
A button fairy made it's way into my home. 
The last time a fairy's handiwork was seen, it had fluttered it's fairy wings into my minivan. 
Autozena worked her magic by putting a magic button in my car to open the windows in the last row of seats. 
This time, a laundry fairy (probably the rarely seen Linterbelle) found her way into the room my washer and dryer share with our cats. 
Linterbelle probably snuck in through a crack in our chimney. 
The chimney swifts are talkers, they surely told her where to get in.

I was putting a load of clothes into the washing machine we've had for maybe 3 or so years. 
It's a large capacity, top loading, no middle agitator thingy, Whirlpool machine. 
Over the years I've washed tiny toddler underwear, sneakers, dog blankets, a horse's fly mask, bed comforters. 
You name it, it's probably been in my washing machine. 
The big Whirlpool has used liquid laundry soap.
Laundry soap in those squishy square pods. 
And for a while, I was even making my own laundry soap using a mixture of borax, washing soda, and some grated bar of soap called Fels Naptha. 
But yesterday. 
Yesterday when I was putting in a load of towels, towels I needed to wash because I had noticed my bath towel was being used by grubby children BEFORE they washed their hands, I saw something I hadn't seen before. 
I saw the word sheets

Right there between casual and delicate. 
I use casual for mostly all of my regular clothes washing duties. 
And delicates for my bras and those crazy shirts that say, handwash only. 
Yeah right, like I'm going to handwash something. 
My name isn't Gigi and I don't have a washboard. 

But there was the word sheets
There's a sheets button?
I keep saying button, but there's nothing to push. 
I turn a knob to get to the desired washing cycle. 
But I'm going to call it a button anyway. 
So, a sheets button?
I have a sheets button?
Since when?
I'm going to wash some sheets next just to use it!
My eyes glanced over to the right, to see if another new button had appeared over on that side of the big shiny dial.
And lo and behold, there was another new button!
This one said whites.
I have some whites to wash, too!
Thank you Linterbelle!

But I am a tinge disappointed in the laundry fairy, though. 
She left all of these empty soap bottles on the dryer. 

Maybe one of the cats swatted at her and she had to skedaddle. 
I hope she comes back for them because it's getting very crowded up there...

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Santa Shop

I walked into the small classroom ready to take on my assigned task. 
The school children had been given envelopes the week prior explaining Santa Shop. 
They could bring in a list of family and friends to buy for with their money. 
Their money that was taped up into the envelope they now had in their little hands. 
They could buy a pen that said MOM on it for fifty cents. 
Or a wooden back scratcher for grandpa that cost two dollars. 
I was assigned to stand behind the tables and if someone wanted that MOM pen, I could retrieve it for them from the large stock behind me. 

I was already at my station when she showed up. 
She being my neighbor. 
I don't really have neighbors where I live. 
We are surrounded by a wooded area and a cornfield. 
But the house that I can see from my side yard, the house down the road, is what I consider my neighbor. 
A few of the neighbor's dogs have wandered down into our yard in the past. 
The wife has a best friend. 
Who just happens to be the mother of one of my daughter's friends. 
They have a horse. 
We have a horse.
The husband told me once that his wife would be jealous that we have goats, since she wants goats. 
And the husband has picked up horse manure from us a few times since his side business was lawn and garden maintenance. 
I know things they probably wouldn't think I would know. 
We've chatted at Rural King a few times. 
They have two children. 
Two boys. 
Right in between the ages of my children. 
Once she was having a yard sale. 
I don't like yard sales. 
I have too much crap myself so I don't need to buy other people's crap. 
But I stopped and introduced myself as her neighbor. 
And my kids asked if they could play in her yard while we talked. 
I think her children were in the house sleeping. 
I remember thinking that it was a warm summer day and her kids were not outside. 
And I found that to be odd. 
They are seldom seen in their yard. 

Here's the thing. 
I know them. 
I know them simply because they live in the closest house to mine. 
But when she walked into that small classroom to help with the Santa Shop, she didn't seem to have any idea who I was. 
I went over to her, since she had made zero attempt to come over by me, and said  what came naturally. 
"Hello, how are you?  I'm your neighbor."
Stares and silence. 
"I live next to the horse trail."
So I join in with the stares. 
She finally spoke. 
"Umm, the horse trail?"
(My house is the ONLY house next to the horse trail)
"Yes, the horse trail" I replied. 
Waiting, I'm waiting. 
"Oh...oh...oh...uh...yes. I know you. My neighbor". 
You don't know me. 
It became evident that very moment. 
Either that or she's just very dull. 
In this modern age we now live in, it hit my like a brick thrown to my head...she didn't want to know her neighbor. 

How is it possible that I know you, yet you don't seem to know me. 
I've had similar situations arise with other parents at school. 
We have a small district. 
Each class has 60-85 kids in it. 
We've been in the district since our children were of age to attend school. 
And, through our childhood cancer advocacy, we've been on local television and in local newspapers since 2011. 
We aren't hermits. 
Yet, you don't seem to see me. 
I can look at you and know...that's Cleo's mom or that's Gavin's dad. 
Just because I have seen you at registration. 
Or a school assembly. 
I see things. 
My eyes are constantly scanning a room. 
Taking mental notes. 
Not quite as detailed as Sherlock Holmes, but I would be a good eyewitness if tragedy struck. 
I see details. 
In people. 
In places. 
In situations. 
I don't often miss a beat. 
I can pick out the gay guy in a room of men. 
I can find the couple who are having marital issues. 
But since I'm always "on" I see my own disappointment. 
I see people not seeing me. 
And then I'm put into situations like Santa Shop. 
Where my neighbor doesn't seem to know me. 

I often think about this particular circumstance. 
Did she really know me and just didn't want to acknowledge the fact because she didn't like me?
But, how could she not like me when she didn't seem to know me?
There was another mom in the Santa Shop that day who has a son in my daughter's class. 
We've known one another since the children were three years old. 
I'll never forget her because she slammed the school's front door on me one day as I was running up to it. 

It was a very cold day. 
My daughter was with me and we were heading into the building for afternoon preschool. 
You must be buzzed into the school. 
She saw us running for the stairs. 
She, with her toddler son's hand firmly grasped in her own. 
She opened the door (after being buzzed in) and just as we got to the first step, she did it. 
She closed the door on us. 
Pulled it shut tight. 
I just stood there. 
Looking into the building through the small window at my eye level. 
She wouldn't turn around.  
Wouldn't open the door for us. 
So I had to push the button to get buzzed in. 
When I finally entered so barely looked at me.
She mumbled something about "everyone needs to be buzzed in...I wasn't sure if you were coming in the door" 
All things that made no sense and I have never forgotten it. 
I spoke not one word to her that afternoon. 

But, she too, was working Santa Shop with me. 
Someone else who didn't seem to know me. 
But, I did what other adults should do with one another when placed into a group volunteer setting. 
I said "hello, how is Michael enjoying third grade?"
She seemed to know me on this day. 
And mumbled a few pleasantries in my direction. 
I am cordial even when I shouldn't be. 
I got right into my work. 
Passing out gifts that the children were buying their loved ones. 
It was the last Santa Shop I've volunteered at. 

The neighbor's children are in my care during recess now. 
And my children ride the bus home from school with them. 
I've introduced myself to them as they ask me for a basketball on the playground. 
And my children have sat next to them on the bus. 
They don't seem to know us either. 
My own children have said just this to me. 
"Mom, they won't talk to us on the bus...it's as if they don't know us."
Sigh...here we go again...

Friday, January 1, 2016

Big, Fat Mama

As soon as I walked in the back door, she was there waiting for me. 
The blonde girl.  
I had barely put down my first bag of groceries before she started speaking. 
Quieter, "mom"
"When you were gone dad got so mad.  He was saying damn, and mother bleeper, and shit."
"Why was he saying that?  What was he mad at?" 
"The garbage can. He was yelling at the garbage can."
"Huh" I said, my mind's ideas swirling around as to what had happened in the hour that I was not at home. 
"There was a hole in the garbage bag and he got sooooo mad at it."
I tried not to smile too much as I went out to get more groceries from the car. 
Gigi loves two things.
Well, more than two things, but I'm focusing on two of her loves right now. 
Gigi loves to tattle on others and she loves any opportunity to use curse words. 
When I saw my husband a few moments later when he sauntered into the kitchen, I mentioned to him what Gigi had told me. 
"She's such a nark!" he declared. 
I prefer to think of it as honesty. 

Gigi is very honest. 
She's yet to learn how to stifle her thoughts. 
But, then again, why should she stifle her thoughts?
Why aren't we all so honest?
As honest as a 7 year old.
Who will tell you when your breath stinks as you go in to kiss her. 
Who will tell her doctor that her farts feel like the wind. 
Who will tell her sister, you hurt my feelings because you don't want to play school with me anymore. 
Even though sister has been playing with her for the last two hours. 
Who will lovingly tell me "I love you big fat mama" and not mean anything malicious by those words. 
I'm her mama. 
She loves me. 
And she thinks I'm big and fat. 
But I don't think I'm big and fat. 
I mean, YES I could stand to lose some pounds. 
But she weighs 55 pounds. 
So, in her wee little eyes and mind...
I'm big and fat. 

I need to be more honest. 
With people in my life. 
With people who have hurt me. 
Who continue to hurt me. 
And if I need to, I need to cut some ties. 
Because life is too short to have insincere strings connecting knotted up and frayed relationships. 
Honesty can be one of the hardest things to effectuate. 
Being honest can feel as if you're standing naked in a snowstorm. 
The vulnerability felt. 
The unknown reaction awaiting. 
But to a 7 year old, it's just how it is. 
Here's what you did and here's my response. 
I need to take some lessons from my daughter. 
But it's a scary lesson plan to look over. 
Why do we allow ourselves to shy away from honesty the older we get?
I have no answer. 
I'm still searching for "The Big Book Of Life's Answers". 
And I've lost the call number. 

I hope Gigi stays honest. 
I hope she doesn't go through life not telling it how it is. 
I hope she stands up for what she believes. 
Even if it goes against the grain. 
Even if it seems bizarre to others. 
Because sometimes the most bizarre ideas are in fact, the best ideas. 
I hope Gigi stays true. 
True to herself. 
True to her sister. 
True to her heart. 
True to those she loves the most. 
Especially big, fat mama. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Our Beach

We cancelled cable a few weeks ago.
At first the kids were distraught. 
Distraught as in "NOOOOO!"
But we were paying so much money and we would flip through the Direct TV directory and find that there was absolute nothing on that interested us. 
So, Chad called and cancelled. 
The first few days, the girls didn't even seem to notice the tv. 
They played in their room. 
They played in the dining room. 
They played Minecraft on their iPad. 
They played piano without any coaxing from me. 
They realized, without even knowing it, that they didn't even need that tv. 
What they needed was each other. 
There was still arguing amongst the two sisters. 
That's not going to ever go away. 
Needing "things" got me thinking about my last post
And about the homeless who lived at the lake when we resided in Chicago.
And about a specific homeless man whose name I never knew...

Chad and I lived a block and a half from Lake Michigan when we had an apartment in Chicago. 
The neighborhood was East Rogers Park.
The beach was Loyola Beach. 
Named for Loyola University that shared the neighborhood. 
It was a very expansive beach. 
But secluded enough to be more of a community type beach as opposed to a tourist type beach. 
Tourist beaches in Chicago amount to Oak Street Beach and North Ave Beach. 
Those that sit along Lake Shore Drive and are shadowed by skyscrapers. 
Our beach was at the far northeastern end of the city. 
Loyola Beach is where Zoe started walking. 
And eating sand. 
Where our dog Madison loved to run unleashed in the surf.
He didn't like water, he would only wade in up to his ankles. 
But he dug digging holes in the soft, pebbly sand. 

This beach became "our" beach. 
I'm sure many people in the neighborhood felt the same way about it as we did. 
We went to the beach in every season. 
When it was finally hot enough to swim at the end of July. 
And when it was frozen over during January, the wind biting at our noses. 

It was always so beautiful. 
After the September 11th attacks, I remember being at the beach. 
Looking up into a planeless sky. 
One of the fun things about Loyola Beach and our apartment was that we were under a circling flight path for O'Hare airport. 
We saw many planes over the years, but in the weeks following 9/11, the air was vacant. 
Ghostly quiet. 
All we heard were the gulls cawing at one another. 
And once, a rare fighter jet high above the clouds that we could hear, but not see. 
I was on the beach when the fighter jet was heard on September 12th. 
A man who lived in an apartment with a great view of the lake came running out to me. 
He had heard the jet as well. 
He was terrified. 
"Did you hear that?!" He exclaimed. 
"I thought that planes weren't allowed to fly!"
I suggested it was probably the military, up so high we couldn't see them through the clouds. 
That they were keeping us safe.
He agreed and hurried back into the safety of his home. 
Right back to CNN, I suppose. 

During warm weather, the park and beach were alive with people. 
People would drag their charcoal grills to the grass. 
Kids would be riding their bikes. 
Hula hoops were twisting around waists. 
Boxing matches were seen. 
East Rogers Park had a large Bosnian refugee population. 
Those fleeing Slobodan Milosevic during his terror found Chicago to be a welcoming home. 
These children flocked to my dog, seeing him as a safe friend. 
Ice cream vendors whose carts were on bicycles pedaled around ringing their bells to announce their frozen goods.
Hare Krishnas who had a temple in our neighborhood would sing and dance down the sidewalks. 
Lifeguards in boats kept those in the lake safe. 
And the homeless sat amongst the crowds. 
You didn't know who they were during the busy afternoons. 
Unless you were one of those that came to the beach early each morning like I did. 

Madison loved spending his mornings speeding around in the green grass. 
Smelling amazing things left on the ground.
I enjoyed the quiet, the most noise coming from the waves of Lake Michigan hitting the rocky shoreline.  
The homeless would be there tucked under blankets beneath trees or on the many benches. 
If Madison ventured over to see what the pile on the grass was, a quick whistle from my mouth would steer him away. 
As they awoke from their sleep, which was probably never a peaceful sleep, they would go about their morning routines. 
Some brushed their teeth at the drinking fountains. 
Some gathered what few possessions that they had and started walking around the neighborhood. 
One man in particular always stood out to me. 
I saw him most days sitting on a park bench. 
A bench just inside the confines of the park boundaries where my street ended and the park began. 
He was a heavy set guy and once it became cold outside, I never saw him at the bench. 
But on warm days, he was there. 
Gray hair that I always thought may have been dark blonde in earlier years. 
In a shirt that was always too small. 
With shoes on his feet that were barely hanging on. 
My dog Madison rarely walked on a leash while at the park. 
If the police were doing their daily drive through, I would snap his leash onto his collar. 
But on most days, Madison just glided down the open park paths next to me. 
He never went up to anyone. 
Never got into anyone's business. 
Whenever we passed the homeless man in the too small shirt, he always said "I like your dog."
And Madison would go up to him. 
And he would pet the spotted dog and smile. 
We would chat about something. 
The weather. 
Madison's good dog manners. 
Then we would say goodbye and I would continue my walk. 
Anytime we saw him, the same conversations would commence. 
He never asked for anything. 
I never offered anything. 
We were just two people living within this huge city having a talk in a park. 
Being acknowledged by someone, I think, was what he wanted most of all. 
It's what kept him coming back. 
Watching life and being able to still interact in life. 
I'm sure he needed what most of us take for granted. 
But, contact with a dog and a lady on warm days in the park helped ease things for a few minutes. 
It would help me if I were in his shoes. 
Our beach was his beach too. 
What we all need in life is to feel purposeful. 
And if that alone means being able to have meaningful, coherent conversations with strangers in a park...
that can be more than enough. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dog Guard

A fellow blogger, Anne at Not Ready for AARP, recently wrote about the sadness she feels when traveling into Baltimore for the holidays. 
While she loves the fun and energy of the city during the festive Christmas season, she also sees those down on their luck. 
Those sitting with head in hands on the steps leading into the park. 
The people asking for spare change as shoppers walk past them. 
Sometimes seeing them. 
But, usually not.

Her post got me thinking about my past and those who I saw everyday that needed a bit of help.  
When I lived in Chicago, I lived and worked in very normal neighborhoods. Neighborhoods full of working class people. 
Neighborhoods full of native Chicagoans, immigrants, homeless people, college students, and young families.  
Three people to this day stand out in my mind. 
Three people whose story I have no idea about. 
But three people I saw on a regular basis. 

Guy on the corner by the Popeyes Chicken and Dunkin Donuts:

When I worked at an animal clinic in the late 90's in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, I took my dog Madison to work with me.  
The Cabrini Green housing projects were one black west of the clinic. 
I often would walk down Division Street to get something for lunch. 
Choices were endless when searching for lunch foods.  
Hot dogs, fried chicken, sandwiches, deep dish pizza.  
If I decided to eat at the corner of Division and Clark, I usually stopped in at Popeyes Chicken to get some red beans and rice and biscuits. 
The red line El stop was at this corner. 
The entrance to the underground subway was always bustling with people. 
People coming out of the dark, others going down into it.   
The first time I walked down there for lunch with my dog Madison, "he" was there. 
"He" being a scrawny African American guy, probably in his late thirties to my late twenties. 
Since it was such a busy stretch of sidewalk, I couldn't find a suitable spot to tie Madison to while I went into Popeyes to get my lunch. 
Seeing a dog tied up outside a storefront is not an uncommon sight in Chicago. 
Chicago is very dog friendly, but restaurants still don't allow dogs inside.
The guy asked me for money as I searched for a safe place to park my dog. 
Then, I had an idea. 
"If I tied my dog up here, would you watch him while I went inside to get my lunch?  Protect him and I'll give you a few dollars for your time."  
"But, I don't like dogs!  Dogs scare me!"
he bellowed to me. 
I said to him "I'm not asking you to touch him, just make sure no one bothers him or tries to take him."
He thought it over.
And agreed. 
Whatever need he had for a few extra dollars, I don't know. 
It was none of my business really. 
I didn't know his story. 
I just saw someone who wanted something and I needed something, so it was a win-win. 
As I went in to get my rice and beans, I could hear him yelling at passerbys. 
"Don't touch that dog!  I'm watching him!"
"Stay back!"
"Hey, watch out for the dog!  I'm watching him!"
I came back out and asked him how it went. 
He said no one had bothered the dog and asked if I was still going to pay him. 
"Of course" I said. 
He did a job and I owed him. 
I handed him a few dollars, thanked him for his guard work, and walked down the sidewalk back to work. 

He seemed to always be at that corner when I went that way for lunch. 
I don't remember if I ever asked him his name.  
I may have. 
It was long ago, though.  
But, he always watched over Madison if he was with me. 
It was our thing. 
Me, my dog, and his subway guardian. 

To be continued...