“Don’t color outside the lines”, they said. And I learned to stay confined to those lines. Then, one night I had a dream. In my dream I was in Chicago. Months later I was asked where I wanted to be sent to continue my work. The answer came out of my lips immediately. Like the most natural thing I said “Chicago”, and I remembered the dream. Many people might be scared of the unknown, but I headed up to face the unknown with excitement in anticipation to all the new experiences and mysteries that awaited me in this new State. Unknowingly, I was learning how to step outside the lines and my comfort zone.

I remember… It was July 1, 2004 the date I saw Chicago for the first time. The moment I saw the “beach” I fell in love with the city… I still am. My girls had applied to work at a Summer Camp in NJ. My son stayed behind with his dad in the Island. And there I was, alone in Chicago; emptying 23 boxes that stored my whole life, discarding 19 years of marriage, and chasing a dream. It was a very cold day: 65 degrees. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not cold at all”, but for someone who had just left the sunny island of Puerto Rico, yes; it was VERY cold. With a sweater on (and every one’s eyes looking at me with a smile) I went on to meet the city.

Living near Wrigley Field was a rare fortune I had yet to discover. The cool breeze, and the happiness I perceived in the air (or was it me?) made me feel comfortable. I remember my first conversation with the girls telling them how much I wanted them to see Chicago. “The city is decorated beautifully with hanging baskets filled with beautiful flowers on both sides of the streets! And there are colorful flags all over the city”, -silence; then laughter clogged the phone line. “Mom, that’s the Pride flag”. I had no idea what they were talking about, but very soon I would understand what all that entailed.

It wasn’t long until I realized that God had been working things out prior to my arrival. As the Greatest Chess Master, he had been moving the right pieces and placing the right people to surround me to help start the much needed healing process in me. In Chicago, I never felt judged. Who I was and what I did was acknowledged with respect and appreciation. Good or bad, Chicago put me in the middle of many experiences that showed me what was like to paint outside the lines.

The Parade – The first Parade I witnessed was quite an experience that helped me understand and love people that live a life painting outside the lines. The Parade was held literally around the apartment complex where I lived. There were many young people participating on the Parade. All of the sudden, someone that knew I was a nurse called me to get over to the entrance of the apartment complex. A young girl had collapsed there. It seemed like she had too much alcohol and probably drugs in her system and it was early in the afternoon. I tried to convince her and her friends to call an ambulance but they refused. I remember seeing them zigzagging all over as they disappeared down the street. People’s eyes tell a story. And their eyes told me a story of sadness, hurt, and desperation. There are many colors on the palette and people chooses the ones that describe their feelings. Regardless of the music, the dancing, and the colorful customs, that day I saw dark blue and grey colors. And my heart hurt.

“Gio” – Meeting “Gio” was quite an experience. He was an expert on painting outside the lines. It was fascinating to me the way he lived his life always on the edge of life. Stepping outside the lines was normal to him, as he continued a family trait that he had learned to follow. He encouraged me to experience life and to embrace every new opportunity coming my way with excitement and gratitude. He encouraged me to travel and to see the other side of life across the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. His relationship with the underworld did not make a difference to me. He was kind, thoughtful, and caring. At least towards me. One night he said to me the same words Melvin Udall said to Carol Connelly in the movie As Good As It Gets: “You make me want to be a better man”. Little I knew that in his desire to be “a better man” he had decided to do things differently prompting him to change and start painting inside the lines.

On my return to the US, I found out he was no longer around. Painting inside the lines cost him his life, or his freedom. Who knows where the truth is? Years have passed and I still think of him. I can think of the colors he shared with me, the different textures of paint he chose to paint his life with, and the many times and ways I saw him painting outside the lines. And I miss him.

“Don’t color outside the lines”, they said. In Chicago I found out that coloring and painting without being confined to the structures and expectations of others bring you closer to experience the beauty of a more meaningful life.

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