Beauty and the Beast


I was away on business for the better part of a week and returning home was a mix of emotions.  I’d decided early that travel to and from the city would be far more interesting on the train so I booked a ticket, loaded my backpack, donned my goofy straw fedora, and boarded the train.  I felt sad that my wife couldn’t join me for a few days but carried a bit of relief at the thought that she could at least enjoy a “respite weekend” without Bethany or me around.

We have this unwritten rule of “no news is good news”, a protocol we’d agreed upon when I traveled to Iraq in 2004.  Chicago isn’t Iraq but still, I heard nothing from home and sent nothing back that way.  In the Bible, the book of Psalms has this little phrase: “Selah”, which is a bit of repose – a musical interlude and I concluded that our silence was just that.

Much to my dismay, there was little silence at home.  Bethany was hitting herself most of the week and while I was with clients at a cocktail reception – the text messages finally started flowing in from the helpers.  “Does B always hit herself like this”? read the first message.  “she keeps crying”, read the second.  Excusing myself from the glamour and glitz of the crowd, I walked off to spot near the river and responded, “yes”.

I stood there for a few minutes in the evening chill, looking down the river at the expensive condominiums, the yachts, the crowd, the darkening sky.  It now all looked so contemptuous whereas before, it all looked so perfect.  Suddenly it was all as foreign to me as Iraq was. The Chicago river looked exactly like the Tigris river, the buildings took on the same hue as the dusty ones Baghdad.  The people, they too became as the Iraqis:  beautiful, mysterious, and beyond all comprehension.  I was instantly angry with all of it.  Angry with wealth, success, beauty, anything that wasn’t as miserable as I was - it all became a target for my contempt. 

That’s exactly what I saw that evening.  I no longer saw architects, designers, and executives; I saw moving lips, shallow smiles and a building that was far more cavernous and foreboding than safe and inviting.  Again, my world was collapsing in on itself and I wanted to flee, to go where I was safe and in control. 

That night, Bethany beat her face until both cheekbones were black.  Her eyes, swollen nearly closed, like those of a newborn – her fists, cracked and bleeding; again.  She finally was quiet and Sherry, finally able to get some sleep.  At 4am, the cycle began again.  Her eyes were rolled back in her head and her fists began the familiar high-and-outside swing followed by a loud “krr-rack”!

I excused myself from the party – God had granted me the grace to keep my mouth shut and I dared not stay another minute.  I saw an opening in the crowd, muttered a feeble “thank you” to the host and bolted for a taxi.  The crowd, they parted like the Red Sea.  In fact, I laughed to myself as I headed through them – watching them separate like so many tons of water, holding back just long enough for me to reach the safety of the other side before collapsing back in on anyone intent on keeping me there.  I was safe, on my way to the Promised Land and thankful for the providence that got me this far.

The train ride home was as quirky as it was fun.  My straw fedora…a hit with every great grandmother I met. Getting off the train at home reminded me of being a kid in the early ‘60’s, sitting in the back seat of the Impala, eating French fries and watching the passengers and freight disembark from the “Pere Marquette”, just arriving from Chicago.

Walking in the dark from the train to the parking lot – the sound of the diesel whirring and the pneumatic brakes hissing, people talking excitedly, the gentle rain pattering on my hat…  Walking to my parked, rusty, old truck, I felt the comforting hand of four generations of Fik men, all of whom have enjoyed that same sound in that same location, firmly wrap around my heart.  I knew what was waiting at home; but for now at least, I knew in my heart that all is well.

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