humorously idyllic before it hit us. We were holding hands, strolling through
Lakeview side streets, hopping across elevated tree beds, even running through
sprinklers, soaking up the warm last moments of September sunshine. We were
giddy and high from each other's company—we would say that the positive energy
emanating off of us could be seen from space. And then, as we were crossing
Diversey, we were flying. It wasn't love that suddenly hit us, but a Dodge
Charger. And we fell, madly.
Like love, I didn't even see it coming. Lying there in the middle of the ruckus of evening rush hour was strange, and I realized that I was screaming. Last I could put together, we were almost across the street. I was looking at oncoming traffic from the right when I was no longer on the ground and being impacted over and over again. I had no control so I let go. "What the fuck just happened?" I noticed I was screaming into the sky over and over again. Reality entered me by way of Dusty's incredulous voice coming into my left ear from the ground next to me. "We were just hit by a car." Yes, that made sense. That's why my head hurt and my back hurt, and ow, my knees. My knees. My knees.
I looked around me for more context and saw Dusty's shoes near my head and strangers aghast, looking at us. I saw a small girl and stopped yelling "What the fuck."
"Sorry!" I instinctively shouted at the mother, who was surprised and reassured me that it was okay, as if to say that if ever a time was right for vulgarities, this was it.
I wanted to get up, and I started to when another woman yelled at us to stay down. Stay lying in the middle of traffic. She was standing on the other side of the street – exactly where I should have been standing right then.
And then a moment occurred that was so much like falling in love. Realizing terror in this banal moment of crossing a street, I felt small and dependent on trusting that the pedestrians around me knew better, that the surrounding cars wouldn't run me over, that I was insured, and that everything would be alright because I was lying next to this guy I met not a month before at the street canvassing job I took out of desperation.
With my head turned to Dusty, his big blue eyes embraced me as he asked, "Are you okay?"
are you?" I answered, not because I wasn't hurting – my whole body pulsed
from the impacts from the car's bumper, then the hood, then the pavement and
the pavement again – but because he was alive and I was alive and 30 seconds
ago we were so enamored with life that it hadn't faded yet.
A woman stood over us and consoled us. I don't remember her name or her face but she was a saint, unselfish with her love that she resonated toward us. The humanness of the experience of being an object in the way of a speeding engine was all I could latch on to. I realized Dusty and I were once again holding hands as we heard fire trucks and ambulances approaching us. It was then that it set in: gratefulness, which eclipsed everything else from that point forward. The young man who hit us stood over me and said he was sorry, that he was so glad we were alive too. I took his hand and assured him there were no hard feelings. I looked at Dusty, thinking perhaps I was being irrational in the moment, but I saw the same gratefulness in his eyes.
The scene of the accident
We were strapped onto gurneys and taken away in separate ambulances. They
thought I had lost consciousness because I hadn't seen the car coming in the
first place, but I finally convinced them that I was lucid albeit disoriented,
that my abstract rambling wasn't due to brain damage, but my being an artist.
As they wheeled me into ER at Illinois Masonic, the paramedic announced, "This is Margarita, she's not crazy, she's an artist." A grand entrance – my favorite kind. I expected to be reunited with Dusty, but I was instead stranded alone in what felt like a hallway. Great. Still strapped down, I couldn't look around. All I wanted was to fall into Dusty's warm eyes again, to know that he was really okay.
I finagled my phone from my big gold purse, which the paramedic left between my legs, and found a text from him that he was somewhere in the ER and that they'd told him I was there too.
Should I call my mother? No, I thought. Not until I could reassure her that the doctors said that nothing was broken so I could argue with her about the fact that she had nothing to worry about.
I called my sister Karina in California to confirm that I wasn't being a terrible daughter. She said she wouldn't want to worry her own mother either if she was in that position, but she would let our dad know what happened. I wanted her to know. Our sisterly connection is a magical one—with a father and brothers in common, we linked each other to the similar attributes that we celebrated in each other, including creative oomph and a Soviet callous strength in trying times.
years before, our teenage brother Eli was killed in an accident when a truck
hit the family car on the way to Yosemite. That I survived this naked, without the safety of seat
belts and the solid cabin of a minivan, seemed a cruel joke. The universe was a
cold, unfair place, and nothing happened for a reason, as I exasperatingly
explained to the rabbi at Eli's funeral. Being anything but grateful felt
selfish, and being hit with Dusty, an equally optimistic creature, gave me the
opportunity to celebrate living.
I finally convinced the doctor to unstrap my head as I didn't feel like I had messed anything up there, since all I could feel was frightening pain in both my knees. I managed to piece together that after bouncing off the Charger's hood, I had landed on my knees and then back on my head. A resident dispensed a strong pill that further sent me on my way to grateful celebration of life.
I finally spotted Dusty across the ER. He was sitting up so I could tell he wasn't paralyzed. We almost died together, I thought. Our relationship wasn't even public knowledge at the office and this was almost my “’till death do us part.”
While I have never been able to set professionalism aside and dive in with all my heart in workplace romances, fundraising for a nonprofit that sued KKK and neo-Nazi chapters on behalf of their victims was noble work but not my forever. He was my supervisor my first day on the job, and from our first conversation over lunch before our shift, I was swooning over this drummer from Michigan with a gentle spirit I could relate to.
In the ER, business moved incredibly slowly. We wanted answers by way of X-rays, but the Vicodin softened the anxiety. Dusty was too far away for us to talk directly, but we made due with body language. Flirty glances and coy waves carried us those few hours as we spoke to doctors, policemen and insurance people. We learned that the driver, a local rapper, sped through his left turn to avoid traffic, but never noticed us until we were on his hood.
At some point, a man near me awoke from his alcohol poisoning and began retching profusely, as I mimed puking at Dusty. I boldly asked every medical assistant at my disposal if they could wheel me next to that handsome boy over there, some of whom didn't know we were brought in from the same accident. We got by, and managed to have a fun rest of our date.
After X-rays showed no broken bones and we were given prescriptions for more pain killers, we hobbled out of the hospital, and without a second thought headed to his apartment together. To go through whatever came next alone was never a thought for either of us. Over the next few weeks, we set ourselves up in an opium den, him taking care of pain killer timing and me finding a lawyer from Russian radio that we both ended up working with. She set us up with doctors and physical therapists, going to our appointments together. After a few weeks, it was determined that I would need surgery on both knees. His back pain continued, and we were there for each other for every challenge as we nursed each other back to better health.
Dusty walked my dog when my knees couldn't take it, and I cooked us interesting meals every day, something few boys had ever trusted me to do, but I ended up being pretty good at it. While we both could not return back to working on the streets, somehow our shared resources pulled us through those months. At the Trader Joe's near the scene of the accident, staff who saw it would ask us how we were faring. Friends came to visit us, and we would joke that if they were ever to be hit by a car, to make sure to do it with someone they liked.
Me and Dusty on Halloween weekend 2013, a day before knee surgery
After the pain killers wore off, we returned our attention to work and creative pursuits and what it was that we wanted, really. Dreams of continuing to fall down the rabbit hole of what felt like everlasting love were eventually grounded by lucid thinking. The nuances of our individual pursuits evolved to being on different wavelengths, and that aura we perceived to be blasting goodness across Chicago's wards wained.
And yet, now that we had been hit together and carried each other through it all, we had become family. No matter what the fight or disparity, we'd always have Diversey.
And that is how two artists found love in Chicago.
For more posts in our “Beshert in Chicago” series, go here
Margarita Korol is Artist President at Urban Pop Art Projects, an art studio and public outreach hub headquartered in Chicago with bases in New York and LA. She was named the Chicago Reader's Best New Visual Artist of 2013, and her upcoming project is a new book in her publishing imprint, an illustrated full-length play by New York creative Aleks Degtyarev, Jewish [En]Lightning. The book designed by Margarita and edited by Jewrotica’s Emma Morris is due out this spring.