What a grey, uninspired day. A dreary January afternoon where the blank sky somehow fades seamlessly into the gnarled black branches of the trees, meshes with the dull stone of squat suburban strips and melts into the black-speckled snow that borders the asphalt of the parking lot.
I'm hung over today and didn't even finish my glass of wine with dinner.
The City of Chicago put a boot on the Shining Camry again last night — the second time in six months, for outstanding parking and traffic violations — and they tried to take away the Knight's honor. We took the bus together, east to Western and south to Addison, to the Department of Revenue center to pay the unpaid violations. It's a dull, fluorescent place tucked into the corner of a sprawling urban strip mall, just past a dull, fluorescent Mexican fast food joint called Taco Stop. The line of black and Hispanic people, plus one aging, grizzled white man, snaked all the way to the back window. Eyes down, holding their payment slips and waiting patiently, quietly. With only 30 minutes left until the center closed.
The Knight left me, vanished around a corner to wait for the printout he needed to get back in line and wait some more. I queued up "Gimme Shelter" on my iPod, ready to share my earbuds when my companion returned, to cheer us both up as we inched toward the front of the line. I gazed backward out the window; the Golden Arches burned temptation into my eyeballs, beckoning me with dirty yellow light that smelled like French fries and a fine dusting of greasy salt. I traded idle chatter with the woman behind me, whose car was booted at 11:59 p.m.; she found out four hours later when she left her building to go to work for the day. At 4 a.m. She had to take a sick day so she could give the city money. Money she probably doesn't have. I eavesdropped, without meaning to, on the woman on her cell phone in front of me, complaining to her ride that her car wasn't even worth the $1,500 she owed the city. She rolled her eyes, sighed, played with the charm that dangled from the place where her antenna should have been.
This is a place designed to shatter the spirit upon entry. The Chicago Department of Revenue's mission is to support vital city infrastructure and services by maximizing revenue collections while providing superior customer service, the website says. Backward. It's the kind of place where the poor are sent to become even poorer. The hardest-working people in Chicago have to go there on a day when they should be back at work, making more money to barely survive on, but they can't even get into their cars to get there. Because there's a huge metal clamp on their front tire. So they go to this soulless, dull, fluorescent hellhole and spend their day being degraded and sorted and trying to scrounge up enough money to get out of the hole. The Knight rants and raves and calls it regressive taxation, predatory regressive taxation. I never understood how corrupt the city is until I met the Knight, and he's nothing special where that's concerned. Get down on your luck once, and you're fucked here. Getting your head back above water, coming out of the hole, isn't part of the equation.
It makes me realize how lucky I am.
After what seemed like hours, the Knight stormed out of the room he disappeared into, threw up his hands. "I can't do it. I can't pay them." It was too much. So we left. He was shattered but seemed to steel himself by the end of the night; I disintegrated slowly, miserable and helpless. My Knight's armor, rusting and corroding with tears and dirty, melting snow. An ROTC squad marched through the parking lot outside as we kissed on the sidewalk, against a smudged window of a shuttered shop, fighting back tears for the last time. I stopped trying to hold back the tears after that. They proudly carried flags with straight backs and barked "Sir, yes sirs." They spend their lives after school in that parking lot; they see broken spirits all the time. Worse than his or mine, I'm sure. Easily.
I feel like a child today, scared and angry and hurt all at the same time, not really understanding why, either. And I'm exhausted from crying all last night, exhausted from a fitful night's sleep. Putting words on paper — or whatever — would dull the pain, maybe even transfer it from my body and trap it inside this white box. This wasn't even close to what I needed. This narrative. I need to write, but I can't. There aren't enough words, there isn't enough time.