I often separate memories of living here using my first husband Devin, or my second husband Mark, as the qualifier. Or I will categorize my experiences as before living in Oregon, and after. But always, beneath the surface, I label my existence in Cincinnati as before I grew strong, and after life left me exposed. Simply put, before and after.
I landed in Cincinnati, straight out of the University of Akron with a Computer Science degree and an entry-level programming position at Star Bank.
My reasons for coming to Cincinnati were plenty. Warmth. Job security. New starts and an older sister, Laura, who had already paved the way. She had cut loose from the smothering snows of northern Ohio winters. With her buoyant personality, she had winningly made friends and created connections in the city. And she knew Cincinnati, each festival, each neighborhood, so well I nicknamed her Queen City Queen.
Cincinnati was Laura’s playground and I gladly met her there each day, for seven years. I lived in Hyde Park-near and she lived in Clifton off Riddle Road. She worked for McDonald’s, not on the fry line, but in marketing, and her position enabled her to see the city from a vantage point those of us with desk jobs could never envision from behind our blinking screens.
And so I began to observe Cincinnati through her eyes, her wide brown eyes and her long lashes that might make someone want to crawl underneath them for shade. What she saw energized me.
Though most newcomers were immediately labeled east side or west side, we just labeled ourselves Clevelanders. We stood proud at the Bengals-Browns games while the other 50,000 fans cheered against us. We drove to the West Side for Price Hill Chili and the Greek Festival, up north to Lebanon and Waynesville to shop for antiques. We hung out in Clifton as if someone might believe we were still in college. We headed out to Hidden Valley with her boating friends to waterski, and into Kentucky to visit Mainstrausse Village. We patronized Flanagan’s and Caddies, taking my parents there to meet Ray Combs. And we took our brooms to Fountain Square for the World Series Celebration in 1990.
But our sweetest times were sitting together on a sunlit Saturday, with no work, no plans, no desire to move. If Cincinnati was Laura’s playground, then Eden Park was her park to play in. We bought LaRosa’s antipasti salad (the closest we could come to anything Italian). We chowed down on salted rye rolls from a Findlay Market vendor. We brought magazines and sunglasses and blankets, and pretended we were still at Maude Neiding swimming pool, or the green space on a college campus. We watched the river and the many lives of the park course through the day.
And we talked.
Some conversations were about my parents, their history, their struggles. Some about our jobs. How hard it was to break into this city, parochial in its plethora of Catholic high schools. Provincial in its German heritage. There hardly seemed room for public school-educated Italians from Cleveland. We were our own kind of immigrant, with no assurances we would ever fit in.
We occasionally discussed our love life, somewhat non-existent, so we moved from that topic quickly. Truly I wondered, as did our friends, if we were so close, would we ever find a man that could break that tie.
And we were silent.
Each Saturday, as the rays drew down, we felt something special about Eden Park we never found anywhere else. Perhaps its history as a vineyard for Nicolas Longworth gave the park its feel of times bygone. The gazebo was the oldest structure in any Cincinnati park. There was a presidential tree grove with trees planted for every president since Washington, the first planted in 1882 for George.
There were many paths that criss-crossed and meandered around the Krohn Conservatory, lead up to the Art Museum or the hidden CRC swimming pool. There was the outdoor theatre, where one might imagine Shakespeare would appear at a moment’s notice. On Mirror Lake, young hockey players swished on the ice, thankful it was their turn to finally enjoy the pond.
Back then, Eden Park left an impression on me because of its wide expansive view of the Ohio River. If I craned my neck towards the east, I could see where the Ohio was birthed. If I watched the water flow south and west, I saw how easy it was for the river to produce a new present moment for every ripple. If I moved to higher ground, I could observe as the river towed its burdens and mine into and beyond the metropolis. Out of my sight. Troubles disappeared as easily as the twig spotted bobbing past my perspective.
I eventually broke the boyfriend tie with Laura, meeting my future husband Devin at my place of employment. Soon, he and I wed and moved to Oregon where I gave birth to my son. Those were my in-between years which were followed by a return to Cincinnati on a different path, my after. By then Laura had already moved away.
Sixteen years following my return to Ohio, I made my way back into the city of Cincinnati. I am near water again and Eden Park is accessible. These days in winter, I hike up to Eden Park with a fuller knowledge of what lured my sister and I so many years ago. Not the ancient gazebo or the park’s paths or the water views when the ocean was out of sight. No, it was each other, seated side by side.
I always stand in the spot, just south of Twin Lake number one, coveting my before, imagining two young women from Cleveland spreading blankets across a damp rug of early green, eager to leap into their after.