Nighthawks Like Us

Updated: Jul 23

The elevated train rattled into the city. My 8 year old son, oblivious to the hardened business class around him, laughed and pretended he was riding a roller coaster. We had just arrived in the city the night before, after a laborious 7 hour drive . As we cocooned ourselves from the crowd of strangers, I smiled at him and pointed out the marvelous architectural view of Chicago, all the while crumbling inside. Just the day before, my husband of 13 years told me he was filing for divorce.

We arrived at the central station and paraded down Michigan Avenue. It was late September of 2017, and the weather was crisp but warm. Although my son knew what was happening in our family, his eyes still glimmered with innocent optimism, and I hung on to what he eminated with everything in me, in hopes it would strengthen me too. I took him to the Lego store, Uno Pizzeria and our final stop, The Art Institute of Chicago. I'd always wanted to go there to see the Thorne miniature rooms, and he was excited about it too. We started at the basement level, and worked our way up. I had no previous knowledge of the museum's art collection. We saw "American Gothic" by Grant Wood, "Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte " by Georges Seurat, and "The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso. But in all the sparkle these masterpieces exuded, I was not prepared for the magnitude of what I would see next.

As I turned the corner and saw "Nighthawks", I audibly gasped. My eyes flooded with tears and my heart was overcome with unexpected wonder. I hadn't thought about this painting since my teenage years when I first discovered it; in fact, I'd forgotten about it altogether. In person, the painting is extensively more beautiful and haunting than any book or print could ever translate. It measures almost 3 by 5 ft, and it's Hopper's most recognized work. As I stared at it, the nostalgic Diner and eerily dim streets took me back in time, when I imagine life was simple and people were glistening gems, not lifeless sheep like myself on a city train. Maybe if my husband and I had been like the elegant couple in the painting, things would have turned out differently.

When I finally walked away, I stumbled through the rest of the museum in a zombie like perplexment. You see, I always thought I had turned to art because of the disappointment of my failed music career. It's true, I did initially, but that day I realized maybe my unexpected creative derailment wasn't so shallow after all. In a single moment, looking at Hopper's masterpiece, I remembered how much I truly loved art; that I had I adored it even before I ever remotely considered pursuing it. Art wasn't just a crappy substitute for my broken dreams as I'd resigned. Instead it was a generous extension; something that added color to my life, not a half hearted rebound.

My son and I made our way back to the hotel on the other side of town. His persona had sunken a little since the morning and I could feel it. I looked at him and gently asked, "are you okay buddy?" His eyes were a bit muddled and he softly whimpered, "I miss Daddy". I helplessly hugged him and pondered what to say to comfort him.

Approximately one year later, I stepped out of a cab on North St. Clair Street in downtown Chicago. I wore a black velvet dress I'd bought at Bloomingdale's that day, and my husband wore a tailored suit and new shoes we'd picked out earlier. The restaurant we chose to celebrate 15 years was packed, and decorated with poinsettias and golden ornaments for Christmas. Although the scenery was not like the quiet diner in the painting, we were our own version of Nighthawks that evening. Reconciliation is a beautiful thing.