OLD TOWN — Christmas in the city is marked by so many wonderful things: the lights, the decorated trees, happy shoppers hurrying home with their packages, the carols.
But this holiday, Catherine Bullard is finding the season less than merry.
Bullard's boyfriend, Bobby Cann, 26, was struck and killed by a driver while riding his bike home from work on Clybourn Avenue May 26.
His death was big news. The driver, Ryne San Hamel, faces seven felony charges, including reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence. Cann's death galvanized the city's growing bicycle-riding community in pushing for greater attention to the safety issues it faces.
Bullard is finding Chicago, an adopted city for both her and Cann, reminds her of the loss.
"I love Chicago so much, but there are times when Chicago feels defined by this," Bullard said. "This is the place where I thought I would spend the rest of my life with Bobby."
As temperatures have dipped and Christmas carols have hit the airwaves, Bullard has gone into survival mode.
"I think for anybody who is unhappy for any reason, when the holidays hit, it's hard," she said. "Society and the music at the grocery store is telling everyone how happy everyone is."
Bullard has done one Christmas-related thing in Chicago: She went to see the ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which she said was a big deal for her.
Bullard and Cann had only been a couple for three months, but life was moving fast, and plans for their future were being made before his death.
The couple had a lot in common.
Twenty-six-year-old Bullard had moved to Chicago from North Carolina in 2010, the same year Cann moved to the city from his native New Hampshire. They both landed jobs as writers at Groupon, passed each other in the hall often, but never actually spoke until a chance meeting in the basement of a Lakeview bar singing karaoke.
Bullard is shy. She said she thought Bobby was cute, but never mustered the courage to let him know while passing him in the Groupon halls.
She didn't know he was coming to a party one Saturday night in March.
"I was talking to my roommate and all the sudden Bobby swooped in," she said. "We were having this conversation, and we hit it off pretty immediately."
She gave Bobby her number at the end of the night, they set up a date shortly after that and were "official" in no time.
They had grand plans: an August trip to the coast of Maine to meet Bobby's family at a reunion, a trek across Glacier National Park in September, and a winter full of indoor activities to escape the Chicago cold.
During the warm weather months "we would just walk a lot," she recalled.
"We would walk along the lake, sometimes bike ride places that were farther away," Bullard said. "We said, 'Let's wait until it comes to be winter time when it's awful [to stay inside]," she said. For the winter they had planned to hang out in Cann's Lakeview apartment, which was filled with a garden fashioned out of various utility buckets full of tomatoes and planters made out of plastic bottles.
Until then, they took advantage of being outside.
"It's beautiful right now," the couple told each other, Bullard recalled.
The couple were going to go camping on the weekend of June 8 to prep for the longer five-day adventure across Glacier National Park. Instead, Cann's family and friends held a celebration of his life near Millennium Park.
"This was going to be a learning experience for me," Bullard said of the camping trip. "When you live in the city for a long time, I was starting to feel pinned in by all the cement."
In their short time together, Cann and Bullard had talked of spending their lives in their new city.
Bullard had moved to Chicago for its theater scene. Cann got a chance to catch her in a play one opening night in the spring and brought her flowers. They weren't from Trader Joe's, they were nice ones, Bullard made sure to point out.
"They were beautiful. I was really impressed," she said.
Since the crash, she continues to act and is part of The Ruckus theater company, but has divided her attention to the looming trial and bike safety advocacy.
She's missed just one court date against San Hamel, who prosecutors say hit Cann after a Cubs game on May 26. The court hearing was changed at the last minute.
The case has dragged on, with numerous brief pretrial hearings. Topics have included whether San Hamel can reclaim his impounded Mercedes. He remains free after posting $100,000 bail.
"Despite the fact this happened six months ago, the case has barely gotten off the ground," Bullard said. "It's really emotional. It's hard to be in the room with the man who is accused of killing Bobby."
Most of Cann's family makes the trip in to Chicago for the court dates, including his mother, brothers, aunts and uncles.
They all wear the same pin of a bicycle, hoping the judge notices them.
Bullard wears one, too. She met Cann's family in Chicago for the first time a week before he was killed and still keeps in touch.
"I'm grateful we had an experience together that was not defined by horrible loss," she said of the pre-accident visit.
Bullard used to bike with Cann, but hasn't ridden much since he died.
"Before that I was super into it," she said, but vows, "I will get back on my bike."
Mostly, she said, she wishes "that there was a way to bring him back."
"But since that's not on the table, I think people should look this in the face and say, here's a guy with so much potential and possibility, and he was cut down," Bullard said. "What does that mean?"