I thought I’d never see my artist wife again.

While I was walking out of the Art Institute of Chicago, this particular hallway struck me as fairly plain for an art museum. 

Tucked into the quiet lower level, it had calm, white walls flanking a diagonally laid hardwood floor. To its left, an open-air courtyard nestled up against it, visible only through the windows. Straight ahead was a staircase to the main level. And, to the right, was a wall with a work of art on it. Which piece? I don’t remember. I was concerned mostly with what was behind me.

As I glanced back, worry, apprehension, and fear rushed toward me.

There, through a window, was my artist wife. She was sitting blissfully on an orange couch inside the Members’ Lounge.

In the previous minutes when I was sitting next to her while she sipped her members’ coffee while enjoying her members’ crackers, we had agreed she would spend the rest of the afternoon at the art museum while I explored more of what Chicago had to offer.

This was more of what Chicago had to offer?

For our 10th Anniversary the month prior, I bought her a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago. Conveniently, I also bought two plane tickets and arranged for a five-night stay at a downtown hotel. 

Make no mistake, as obscenely expensive as the plane tickets and hotel room in downtown were, the real gift — the one that truly said, “I love you and know what you love” — was the one-year membership to one of the world’s most famous art collections.

Of course, I never told her the Art Institute has about 100,000 members, which makes it about as exclusive as your local Costco. Nonetheless, she was over-the-moon excited.

“It’s gonna be amazing,” she said, giddier than a schoolgirl learning about Kandinsky for the first time.

“Um hmm,” I replied, excited that I’d hit a home run with the gift but not quite as enthusiastic.

“I could spend so much time…,” she paused with wonderment dripping from her stalled sentence. “What other benefits do members get? I might need my toothbrush, PJs, and a bed.”

Was she serious? She might be. She’s an artist. I also feared that it might be a permanent visit for her.

Now, I was paying a little more attention. 

Was she serious? She might be. She’s an artist. I also feared that it might be a permanent visit for her. 

Fast forward one month as I reflected on our now month-old conversation. “Toothbrush? PJs? Bed?” I recalled in that calm hallway. 

As I gazed back over my shoulder, I wondered, “What if she never leaves?”

As the worry, apprehension, and fear flooded back to my mind, I pulled out my phone, opened my camera app, and tapped the red button, taking a photo of her through the glass, blissfully unaware, snapping another bite off her cracker. 

Very possibly the last time I might have ever seen my wife as she sat in the Members’ Lounge at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It very might have been the last photo I took of my wife. An endearing memory for me to bring back to our kids.

“Hey kiddos,” I would say to them. “Mommy never left the Art Institute of Chicago but, hey, don’t fret, I took a picture of her. Enjoy.”

And they would look at me. Look at the photo. Look at me. Look at the photo.

“What’s shikaka, daddy?” our then-three-year-old daughter would ask.

After I explained what a shikaka is, life would move on. 

My artist wife would be in bliss living freely in the Art Institute (so long as she evaded security) and we would cobble together some type of normal life where the blue easy chair in the corner of our living room would remain empty, the studio door would remain closed, and the garbage would never be taken to the curb (not my job).

Alas, while she sipped her coffee on that orange couch, I continued toward the stairs intent on visiting one last historic painting before I stopped by the gift shop — my specialty —  before hitting the streets of Chicago.

The piece of art I quickly stopped to see and take a photo of — “A Sunday on La Grand Jettae” by Seurat — before I walked out to the streets of Chicago.

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