The ink on my divorce decree was barely dry when the near-naked photo arrived in my inbox: actor/model Kevin Taejin Kreider found me on The Huffington Post and wanted to stay at my Chapter II apartment for the weekend!
Kevin's request came with a compelling back-story: Four months ago, he was living in Los Angeles at the top of his career when alopecia areata, a stress-born autoimmune disease, caused all of his hair to fall out in two weeks flat. Faced with this career-busting news, he decided to hop on a penny skateboard and ride home -- all the way to New York City.
"Only in America would a balding six-pack count as tragedy," my English pal Thomas said after a quick Google search. "And your Forrest Gump's got a documentary camera crew in tow? What a douche." When I explained that Kevin was collecting obstacle stories from 'real people' along the way, the Brit's face turned serious. "Look, Jacqueline, if Arianna's sent you a divorcee party gift, bloody brilliant, but for heaven's sake, don't go on record with anything. You don't want to be the poster child for Adversity in the American Heartland."
As it turned out, my sexy houseguest knew nothing about my jackass personal life; he'd read about how my group of mommy reformers revitalized Nettelhorst, an underperforming and underutilized public elementary school in East Lakeview. It's a rags-to-riches story I can recite in my sleep. After the interview, we walked over to Nettelhorst to see the school's sixth annual Fabric Fence, my crowd's hard-fought declaration that "Family means Everybody." We licked gelato as I told him about the lunatic Phelps Clan, and the death threats and hate blogs, and the elation we felt leading Chicago's Gay Pride Parade. Two obstacle stories for the price of one!
As Kevin congratulated me for being so courageous, I kept my cards close, just as Thomas advised. I didn't reveal my real obstacle story (maybe it's your story, too?): It's been three years since my beloved threw us out to sea without so much as a life preserver. Trapped inside the belly of Cook County's legal behemoth, I've run the gamut of Farrah Fawcett cowering under a bed to Bill Bixby wielding a tire iron in the rain. Under the guise of coping, I've found comfort in various bottles, beds and balms, most of which would have made my pre-divorce-self shudder. It hasn't been pretty.
And yet, throughout this epic odyssey, I've also discovered inner powers as miraculous as Joanna Cameron's Mighty Isis. From hard experience, so long as our wheelhouse includes lip balm, Bactroban, eye drops, a bus card, a passport, an iPhone, and a half-full refrigerator, nothing, and I mean nothing can harm us. These days, we seem so close to dry land, I can almost taste it -- although it's hard to know if shore is ten, twenty, or a hundred miles away. But it's real. I know it.
Yesterday, my new BFF lashed his tiny GoPro camera to his helmet, said goodbye to his chase car, and disappeared along Chicago's bustling riverwalk. I tried to console myself by imagining him hairless and shirtless learning the Nettelhorst Pride Parade Happy Dance, but it didn't help much. The Foursquare location posted on Instagram and Facebook pins his four wheels somewhere on Route 30 East. When I think of Kevin, skating alone under the Midwestern sky, inhaling Indiana's belching concrete smokestacks, I'm certain his emotional pit was no more or less real. Pain is pain. Loss is loss.
Over the last 2,500 miles, Kevin has worn through one backpack, two skateboards, five pairs of Vlado sneakers, seventeen pairs of socks, and the courage of a hundred men -- the last 500 miles will likely require still more. So, cheer him on. Because it's a long road home. For all of us.
Photo of Kevin Taejin Kreider by Don Pollard
Photo of Nettelhorst Pride Fabric Fence by Cat Conrad