I didn’t spend much time tossing and turning in Amanda’s bed. Her bed, to me, was like a cloud. Though I fumbled around trying to find a way to simultaneously charge my phone and electronics while laying in it, I decided that comfort trumped necessity. As soon as my eyes were closed, they were opened in what felt like seconds. I could hear my alarm buzzing itself into my ears while I moaned and groaned – for the first time in years, I was sick.
My head felt increasingly heavy with every movement. I debated on closing my eyes once again, but didn’t want to overstep my welcome in Amanda’s home. I dragged myself along, putting every possible layer I could on my body. In the midst of preparing for the cold, I worked up a heavy sweat underneath it all. My head was hot as fire and my nose was blocked. Where I went deaf in Oregon from neglectful bathing, a synonymous feeling spread through my sinuses. My first reaction was that it was an onset of contracting Giardia. From Omaha to Chicago my health deteriorated, and at that moment I felt as if it were finally going to overtake me. Each movement was exaggerated, each breath was calculated, and every stroke of my eyeliner was punctuated – if I didn’t feel 100%, the least I could do was try to look 100%.
It was wildly early. Not even on the worst days so far had I ever been up that early. The sun was still experiencing REM sleep while we poked our heads into the frost. The darkness, looming over the lighted streets of Chicago, crept away from the day, revealing smoking manhole covers, a disgusting and entirely unwelcome morning dew, and an onslaught of traffic. Everybody had a place to go. Everybody except me.
We pushed our boards to Amanda’s school, which was situated in a hospital. Ambulance sirens rang out, elderly folks were escorted off busses, and the buzzing of a city about to endure yet another day of humanity set the scene for a day I had no idea I needed. I said my goodbyes while Amanda cringingly turned to go take a test, the same test she slaved away studying for yet had no confidence to succeed in. At first I was lost- my watch couldn’t tell me what direction was east. I spent more time than necessary wondering how the watch knew that the direction my forearm was pointed in was the desired readout instead of the “top” of the watch. I felt like a fool, flailing my arms up. “Great,” I muttered to myself. “I’m sick, it’s cold, and I’m lost in Chicago.”
Chicago was never on my list of places to go. The only reasons I ended up there were a mix between following Izzy to his home in Dubuque and trying to meet up with Buzzfeed to get video for an interview. In fact, I would have left Chicago that morning if I didn’t need to wait another day for Buzzfeed to arrive. That meant I had to spend an entire day not skating, after already driving so far. Regardless, I was content. Amanda gave me a free pass to the Aquarium, which I was actually excited for. For whatever reason, being a tourist in Chicago seemed a lot more fun than being a tourist in the center of Nebraska.
I skated towards a pedestrian bridge that would circumvent the traffic, towards the trail that navigated along Lake Michigan. The bridge had a thin layer of frost on it, and I watched as bikes and people alike used every fiber of their being to stay in a straight line through the ice patches that formed in the shadows under the buildings. I too had to use my finest balance – at multiple points I slid out and caught the ground before my face did. Luckily I didn’t have my backpack on, because I would have surely taken a dive like I did back in Wyoming. Eventually the path ended into a 4-way intersection, where I once again consulted my map. All I wanted to do was get to the lake, and it seemed that much more difficult the closer I got. I found the city planning of Chicago to be the perfect midpoint for comparison between that of Boston and Los Angeles. There were significantly more green areas and trees, yet the modern city block system of organizing buildings and traffic alike was still present. For all intents and purposes, it worked, but not for somebody on a skateboard. Nothing in life has ever been built for practical use with a skateboard in mind.
When I got to the zoo, it was closed. It was hardly 8 in the morning. I could see my breath as I sat upon a bench, carefully placing my ass between those putrid blocks they put on it so homeless people don’t sleep on it. Thinking about the ass who invented such a device to prevent homeless people from having a place to lay down on infuriated me. Cities infuriated me. People in general infuriated me. Cigarette smoke faded off the mouths of those with too many responsibilities, babies cried from the constant sound around them, animals fled in fear of people doing nothing more than walking…and in further redemption, those without the good fortune to have a roof over their head were banished to the darkened alleyways, as they would have ruined the sheer beauty of such an amazing city. Back home in San Diego, the homeless didn’t have any more or less respect than those in Chicago, but at least some people had the decency to give them a place to lay down. Certain streets were well known for homeless areas. And on those streets, a group with a philanthropic mindset donated a truckload of pink tents to them. Chicago didn’t have the same idea. Chicago put spike blocks on their benches.
Wandering through the zoo and eventually onto the shore of Lake Michigan, I enjoyed the plain view. Living in Chicago and overlooking the horizon of the water was the ultimate payback for any wrongdoing as a city. While they struggled to battle homeless populations who wanted nothing more than food shelter and water, they also had to take in the view – the view of nothing. Smack dab in the middle of fucking nowhere, locked by land on three sides, with a constant industrial smog looming over it, Chicago’s retribution was constantly done onto it. I stopped in to Navy Pier, which was supposed to be a giant landmark for the city, but in the early hours lacked any luster for me to investigate. My mind switched to hungry mode, and I scoured the internet for the best breakfast in my area.
My search lead me to some place tucked into a corporate building. I was the only fool wearing full cold-weather gear, attached to a skateboard by the hip. Everyone else was clad in suits and ties, dress pants and pant suits. I got peering eyes from every direction. For the most part, my transgender identity felt more at peace in cities. Cities proved themselves to be orgies of misfits, organized by clique, strewn across the streets to bump into each other and exchange paper for goods at an increased rate, just for the satisfaction of finding another weirdo to live in cohabitation with. This instance however, null of any actual interaction, did not make me feel that way. The hostesses glared at each other as if I was the funniest thing since hand-shaking pranks and walked me to my booth. I ordered as soon as I sat down – I saw a California Panini on the menu and I had to have it. Avocado was just something my life missed since I left Southern California. Back home, the man with the stand down the street from my house sold avocados roadside at 20 for $5.
There was no wi-fi or cell service in the restaurant. In 2017, for a business in the city to not offer wi-fi was heresy to me. I couldn’t waste too much time there. Being unattached to the inner-workings of what some asshole from high school managed to write to the public seemed to make me anxious. I absolutely had to know why Patty was never shopping at Staples again. Carl was clean for 60 days from heroin. Robert, the man who picked up skateboarding as a way to regain his youth, was giving quitting smoking a go. What would I have done without those updates? After paying my tab and checking my bank account, I made way through the construction jungle of Chicago towards the aquarium.
The aquarium was everything I expected it to be. I strutted in with my head held high wearing my bracelet that said I was a member, asked about what I should do first, and walked to the dolphin show. I watched the show, wondering if the dolphins knew what they were actually doing, or if food was really the only motivational factor to living. Nothing about animals in show settles the uneasiness of it all- domesticating animals for the purpose of earning money was the ultimate sign, to me, of a world that simply didn’t give a fuck about anything. If we can take alien-like creatures, make them jump out of the water with nothing but a whistle, and zip them through flaming hoops, why did we only use them for entertainment? Somewhere along the line somebody decided that entertainment would be ignored as work because of its glamorous nature compared to that of shoveling shit, and we would enslave these mysterious creatures for that sole purpose. Sure, those dolphins probably were rescued. If I had to do a double backflip for my next McCheeseburger, I would starve.
The rest of the aquarium was pleasant. For some reason, zoos saddened me but aquariums did not, although naturally they were the same thing. Fish just seemed mindless. Watching them, at no point did I wonder if their living situation was better in the great outdoors- surely the fear of death was significantly reduced, if not calculated for. The danger of exploring the deep blue sea did not exist for them. Looking into their eyes, I didn’t wonder about what madman ripped them out of their habitat for our viewing pleasure. In fact, the slight fish tinge on my nose only made me crave sushi. I dragged myself along, board in tow, throughout the aquarium making sure to see everything.
A man stopped me to say, “It’s a little cold to be skateboarding, isn’t it?” and I didn’t have an answer for him. I said, “You might think so,” and just kept moving. That was my only interaction with another person during my whole visit. People stared at me. Some, probably because I had full cold-weather gear and a skateboard, others because I was outrageously laughing at my own jokes completely solo. I couldn’t stop myself. I drove myself mad. I was sick and tired, walking around an aquarium in a strange city alone and all I could think about was how hilarious it was that we kept stingrays in petting ponds – the ultimate punishment for murdering pop icon Steve Irwin.
The aquarium occupied quite a few hours of my time. Once I saw everything there was to see, I set out into the cold once again. I had no plans. I was still full from breakfast. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I figured that giant famous art installation in the shape of a bean was probably close by, so I searched for it on the map and located it. I pumped my way there on the board, slightly showing off for the less fortunate souls who had to walk. Upon seeing the bean, I was underwhelmed. There it was, a giant bean. I didn’t know the history of it and I didn’t know why it was such an icon for the city- and because of its completely lackluster entertainment value, I didn’t care to find out. I took a picture with it as a way to acknowledge that I was very much in the windy city, but that was about it. Luckily, there were picnic tables and seats all around, so I snatched one up for myself and set up shop. Other people would have been cold to just sit there and do nothing at a table, but I was contented. The crowd surrounding the installation was smaller than expected- how anyone could live in a naturally cold place and not thrive in the weather was beyond me. If you have unlimited choices in your life, and you choose to live in a place that is cold 6 months out of the year, you might as well fucking enjoy it, right? Otherwise, choose a warmer place. You have those options.
I sat on a phone call with Buzzfeed for nearly an hour, trying to plan out our visit. Sucked into my own world of people watching and phone chatting, I must have ignored the group of women who were absolutely staring at me from the corner of my eye. They approached me and hovered around, kicking dust from the cement beneath them, glaring up at me every other second thinking I wasn’t looking. Eventually, a woman finally mustered the courage to talk to me. She stared at me like we had a planned meeting I was missing, or if she was somebody from the internet I had neglected to remember.
She said, “Can you get off the phone? We’ve been waiting to talk to you for almost an hour!” and my confusion was at an all time high. I had no idea who this woman was. I had no idea why she wanted to talk to me- I wasn’t even in my full adventure gear, merely just regular cold weather clothing with my board. I hung up on Buzzfeed, and informed them that a weird woman was trying to talk to me. That woman motioned for me to go over to her group, which I did. I thought about how susceptible I was to following whatever came my way- there’s no way I could have known if I was about to get robbed.
The group consisted of a small number of women and one older, hunchbacked man who walked with a cane, clad in white, pillowy garments. The woman said, “Do you know who this is?” speaking about the man, and of course I had no idea. They asked where I was from, and as soon as I said San Diego, they began speaking in Spanish to me. Of course, I don’t speak Spanish, so immediately I became uncomfortable.
The woman translated the man for me. He explained that he was a Catholic priest and had noticed I was all alone. He asked if I let god into my life. I hated being in that conversation. I hated the fact that I had to somehow come up with a way to amicably tell them that I didn’t believe or care to believe in their god. The conversation persisted, where the priest informed me he wanted to baptize me. I was definitely not going to let that happen. I told them of how I had no respect for the Catholic church, because as a transgender woman they have done everything in their power to ensure that I wouldn’t feel welcome. They went on about how “god made me in his image” and I retorted, without factual base or any interest in having discourse on the subject. Quite frankly, I was just doing my best not to be rude.
The woman kept telling me that she felt like she was my mother and wanted to fix me. I told her I had a mother, and she was worried sick about me, but that didn’t change a single thing. She constantly messed up with pronouns, trying to laugh it off. Her friends joined in to inform me that I was “a very pretty boy” and that “the church would love me.” They were from Chihuahua, Mexico, and made it a point to ensure that I knew the breed of dog was hailed from where they flew out of. As I made my exit, I was stopped. If I wasn’t going to get a baptism with the priest, would I at least have a prayer with them?
I was cornered. Women began coming out of the shadows around the bean, closing in on me. I was entirely circled around by women of all shapes and sizes, and one single male priest. They began chanting, in Spanish, holding hands together. They all had their eyes closed, where I did not. Looking around, they looked demonic to me. I had no way out. The priest laid his hand on my head while he chanted, ramping up the amount of comfortable I wasn’t feeling. Once it sounded like they were coming to a big, festive ending, the man pulled out an unbranded bottle of water, poured some on his hand, and rubbed it into my hair. I ducked, weaved, and dodged, which opened a few eyes, but didn’t stop them.
I finally said, “Thank you,” as if that was my saving grace from such an odd situation. They stopped doing their prayer, lined up to give me hugs, and I walked away. I didn’t want to walk away- I was fine back at my table by myself having a phone conversation, but I had to get away. I was almost positive that I was just baptized. When I reported that to the person over at Buzzfeed, they said I was “rape-tized” and though I debated the use of such a word, I embraced it. I was absolutely forced beyond my will to be baptized.
I strutted into a coffee shop across the street, just trying to find a place to continue writing. I was so behind. My sickness was prominent- I was sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and hanging my head down. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Amanda, a woman from the distance skateboarding scene who attended the Adrenalina Marathon in San Diego, came to visit me. I was elated to see her. Seeing a familiar face quickly became the only way I could be cheered up- it had been more than a month straight of meeting new people and frankly after being baptized, I was over it. We sat together, myself anxiety-riddled from drinking a coffee I didn’t need and her sipping on a new one.
Amanda brought me some vitamin C and tylenol to cure my sickness. Normally I abhor pills and detest the thought of taking them. I never get sick. I knew that this particular sickness I was feeling was coming from my immune system working so hard against the Giardia prevalent in my system. I was powerless, so I convinced myself I needed the medication. It didn’t break any sort of moral code dilemma, but I certainly came to the realization that if I didn’t get some sort of western medicine help for my problems, I may not beat it. My forehead was so hot I could warm up my hands by just touching it.
Amanda and I took an Uber to the other Amanda’s neighborhood. Together, the three of us found a cool, unique rock bar to visit for a few drinks and food. Sucking up my last bits of energy, we all went in. It was fantastic to have “girl time.” A time when I didn’t feel like I had to impress anybody- we talked about dates and dating, our lives, and everything in between. I didn’t have to change my voice to sound more feminine, pronounce my chest for attention, or change anything about myself. I was safe to be sick and myself in peace with my friends. I ordered a huge meal and a few drinks- I couldn’t even eat the entire meal, nor finish every drink. Mostly all I wanted was to sleep and hope that the meds would help me.
After our meet up, I cascaded by skateboard with Amanda back to her home around Humbolt Park. Chicago was strange at night on the cusp of winter. People hadn’t acclimated to the cold yet, nor had they any reason to be outside. We were surely the only souls out there. Traffic lights were meaningless, bike lanes were facetious, and all we had was skating. Of course, I was just naturally faster on a board by pushing, so I had to often look back and make sure I didn’t get lost away from her.
I was out like a light in Amanda’s home. I had such a long day, spanned such a distance over the city, and saw so much. I had an amazing time scouring a new city, but my body wasn’t having it. I felt like death. My temperature was absolutely over 100 degrees. I removed my clothes and sweat encompassed my entire body, though I never felt it. I was into my sleeping clothes as soon as possible. I didn’t care about charging my things, I didn’t care about finishing my meal, I just wanted to be healthy. How could I finish the ride if I wasn’t healthy?