Just ‘Cause They Are Divorced…
by Haresh Shah
One of the pride and joys of our stretch of Division Street is Humboldt Park, if not the largest, it’s one of the prettiest and family friendly with the music blaring every weekend and barbecue grills sizzling on warm days. The park and its Boathouse fronting the natural water lagoon are the creation of the landscape architect Jens Jensen and Prairie School architect Hugh Garden, is considered to be one of the best examples of Prairie School architecture, not only in Chicago but in the country.
On this dream like overcast fall day, I am sitting on a bench facing the fishing area of Humboldt Park lagoon, watching its gentle waves ambling towards the Boathouse across the water. Feeling mellow and contemplative, I am savoring the peace and tranquility of the afternoon.
Breaking the spell, I sense a mild stirring on my left. A few feet away I see an elderly woman turning the wheelchair around, occupied by what I perceive to be her disabled husband. They are out for a stroll. Stopping by the bench, she puts the security break on the wheels, and then as a response to something that the man must have muttered, I hear her saying several times, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry while gently caressing and petting his folded arms. Like a mother comforting her poor little baby. I only have the back view of the man and his baseball hat. Having pacified him, she says to him in Spanish, I’m going to sit down for a while over there on the bench.
Sitting down at the edge of the bench, she greets me with Hola with a slight smile on her face and then pulls out her cell phone to call her daughter. I hear her telling that she has a dentist appointment at 3:15 and that also a doctor’s appointment later in the day or the next day. She arranges with her daughter some details and after a while turns her face towards me and utters:
‘I just can’t abandon him.’
She is talking to me in Spanish. It’s not that unsual for people to presume me being a Hispanic – especially in our pre-dominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. I happen to speak decent to fluent Spanish. When she realizes I am not really a native Spanish speaker, our conversation switches back and forth between English and Spanish.
The story she tells me is this: ‘I was married to him for years and have four children from him. My parents came to this country from Puerto Rico when I was four months old. He came when he was twenty one. We met here in Chicago and got married. He was living by himself on north Sheridan. He got afflicted with Alzheimer and Parkinson. He also has other ailments and can’t do anything by himself. I live here near Fullerton and Pulaski, it was too far for me to go to his place everyday and take care of him. I moved him here in Casa Central.’ Up until then, I had thought of Casa Central to be a center for socializing for the neighborhood’s Latinos, meaning the Puerto Ricans.
‘No, it’s really a nursing home. But there is no such thing as good nursing home. You’ve really got to watch over them. Someone’s got to constantly tell them what to do. I come here every single day, make sure his needs have been taken care of. When I come, I ask him, Pee pee? Kaka? He is in diapers and needs to be changed more frequently than they normally do.
‘I just retired and was thinking I will do this and I will do that now that I’ll have time, but now all my time is taken up by him, even though we have been divorced for sometime, I just can’t leave him like this.’ She doesn’t tell me anything about when and why they got divorced. Whether either of them had been remarried. I don’t interrupt, just listen.
‘Of course not, after all he is the father of your four children.’ I say.
‘Yes, the children also come to visit, but they have their own lives and their own work. So it’s not possible for them to be around as often and my youngest daughter just had her third child only three months old. So her hands are full.’
She needed to unload this on someone other than a family member, and perhaps found a sympathetic pair of ears in me. Quite attractive for whatever age she was, well preserved and taken care of. I could feel her pain but not in a way that would make you feel guilty. She was not looking for sympathy, just being a matter of fact and doing her best and doing what she must have felt to be the right thing to do.
As I walked back home, it got me thinking about how life can change and turn upside down at a stroke of something like Alzheimer or Parkinson or a a Stroke. And you have absolutely no control over what strikes you.
© 2018 Haresh Shah
PODHALANKA Lady Of The Highlands A hundred years ago, most Polish immigrants settled in and around what is now Wicker Park. The crossroads of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division Streets formed the Polish Triangle, and Division as far away as California came to be known as Polish Broadway. Since then the Poles and most of the local restaurants have relocated to the North and the Southwest of the city. Now more than three and a half decades later, Podhalanka still remains on Division at the Polish Triangle and is flourishing under Helena Madej, its Lady of the Highlands.