On Winter & Frozen Pigeons

The countdown to 1980 is the first New Year’s I can remember. I was lying alone on a futon in the TV room of our Oak Park, IL, home, watching the ball drop, thinking, ‘This is significant. Nothing will ever be the same.’

A year later, my parents were separated. My mother, brother and I were living in a ratty apartment on the other side of the tracks. The El rumbled by at all hours, rattling the windows. The third rail sparked and glowed, shattering the darkness.

I spent most of my time at the YMCA that winter, playing bumper pool and Atari with other kids. We were good kids, too young to get into trouble, too innocent to understand the maelstroms swirling around most of our families.

Chicago is, of course, notorious for its violent winters. 1980 was no exception. I’ve never felt so cold, or so alone, as I did walking the dozen or so blocks from the Y to my home. No amount of sweaters beneath my Sears parka could still the relentless wind.

One particularly frigid evening, I saw a pigeon frozen on the sidewalk. Its wings were splayed and stiff, as if it had fallen from the sky mid-flight. Its eyes were wide-open to the star-less sky. I paused over it for just a second, then kept walking home thinking, ‘This is significant. Nothing will ever be the same.’

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