It was supposed to be warm today, but when I stepped out of the building courtyard to face the day, a mute white fog had settled over Lake Shore Drive and blocked out the sun. For a moment I forgot where I was, in the midwest, in Chicago, on the edge of this great lake, and cursed the dust for following me from Arizona. I instinctively closed my lungs. When I hit the mist, I relaxed and let the heavy air roll around and then inside me. I climbed onto the bus and the fog swirled in behind me, like smoke from a cool cigarette.
My lungs fluttered again inside the best. Closed, when the man on the seat next to mine smelled like stale smoke from a real cigarette. And then open again, because I was listening to “My First Lover” and then I was nineteen again and standing on sidewalks with my lowlife friends, who weren’t all lowlifes, but that’s an easy way to refer to people who spent all their time chasing a high. I don’t think often about people and things from back then because mostly they made me sad, but sometimes I do think of them, and I don’t recall feeling sad at all, just alive.
That’s the thing about nostalgia, though. In order to feel it, we need distance from the past. And when my first boyfriend sends me a message on gchat, the cloud of smoke around him evaporates and he’s just somebody interrupting me at work without anything really interesting to say. And when an old roommate emails me to tell me A is pregnant with her third kid and S still won’t marry her and I hear from someone else that J is in jail and learn from facebook that T is still in Tucson, the mystery of what could have been disappears, and suddenly I realize that I never felt more alive than I do right now.