Friends. I have been looking forward to writing this for a long, long time.
This summer, I went on a million tiny road trips. Not a million. Eight, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the unofficial bookends of carefree adventure. In chronological order, with adventures had and thoughts thought and lessons learned from each.
1. Philadelphia, PA. I danced and hugged and laughed and protected myself but then got sassed and didn’t stand up for myself, as usual. I remembered the delight of exploring charming neighborhoods with easygoing friends. I became instant real friends with a girl for the first time in maybe years.
2. Hohenwald, TN. Turns out I am going to be a great driving teacher for my kids. In dreading the sixteen hours on the road, I forgot how crazy beautiful it was going to be, and if that isn’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is. I remembered the therapy of manual labor and sunshine and deeply rooted animal friendships. Ten volunteers and I weeded (similarly deeply rooted) honeysuckle so the elephants will have grapes in two or three years at the edge of their 2,700-acre sanctuary. I shed tears at children’s sympathy cards to Tarra and the director’s letter about Bella’s final moments. They’re pretty sure wolves got her, and the great big elephant found her canine soulmate and brought her lifeless body back to the ranch in her trunk. In the spirit of saving all the animals, my hetero life partner and her brother and I scooped up a stray cat off the parking lot of our Days Inn. I named her Elephant and took her home and after a series of stressful times, made temporary arrangements for her and her four kittens until I can have her for real. We’re going to learn from each other about sense of self and love and cuddles. Also, somewhere in the hundreds of miles we drove, I realized that these last two years have in fact been a practice leave. You know, where you leave your house and forgot something – leaving the first time was your practice leave. You go back, get whatever you meant to bring, and leave for real.
3. Park Ridge, IL. I remembered – and felt – how far I’ve come.
4. Galena, IL. I remembered the joy of browsing at boutiques and picking out jewelry. You guys, I have found the prettiest jewelry in these last four months. I learned the sadness of Ulysses S Grant’s daughter’s wedding and marriage. I found old languages and jokes, even if just for the time being.
5. Dover, DE. I remembered the unrivaled happiness of the magical world of music festivals and special pals and of letting go. It’s like I was breathing love and joy themselves. There were so many transcendent moments. Here’s one of them, courtesy of the lead singer of the Silversun Pickups. Between songs, out of the clear blue sky: “You know, you all look great out there, but I like looking at this guy, right here. What’s your name? James? James. James, I like the cut of your jib. I look out at all these people, and that’s great, but I look at you, James, and I know everything’s going to be okay.” It was so beautiful that I feel like I made it up. To prove it to myself that I didn’t, just now, I googled the band and James and the cut of your jib line and the first like ten hits are that story. I read them, so fondly. At the very end of the show, Brian Aubert hugged his friend James and gave him what I only imagine was maybe a VIP weekend pass, retail $1200. For a long time after everyone else had left, James stood at the fence with his head in his hands.
6. Columbus, OH. I finally found redemption from a great sadness. This was my shortest trip, and the only time I drove alone, and it was six hours each way, but I wasn’t lonely; I had friends surrounding me but just not in person. I wonder if loneliness would have set in without that presence, or if I’m okay with just myself yet. I wrote a birthday card to an (at the time) unborn child. I found an ear that not only listened but was uniquely capable of really understanding. This trip also featured a surprise Jacuzzi, as if the universe knew exactly when it would be best.
7. Richmond, VA. My dearest friend and I laughed at and nursed each other’s sun wounds throughout this weekend of dancers and dancing. I finally found redemption from a great inequality. I overcame all sorts of intimidating things but didn’t quite make it to being totally okay. I got annoyed and didn’t stand up for myself, as usual. Some steps forward, you know the rest. But! One moment represented what I want my life to be – a friend we hadn’t seen in forever leapt in to the dance right at Big Apple time. Only in his first steps of the circle, facing out, did he see everyone who was there and with each Suzy Q got happier and happier as he went by. I laughed with such joy at his joy!
8. Charlottesville, VA. I did things that were really weird to deal with. Intentionally. Just to make sure I could. Putting my degree to work, I told everyone I was going to compete so I would actually compete the way you tell everyone you’re on a diet so you have a better chance of sticking to your diet. Unfortunately, this also meant that everyone was super into me, you know, winning. I did fine (except for shitty posture which I noticed while watching the video) but you guys, there are a lot of girls who are really good at the lindy hop. Then, friends, I WENT TO A WEDDING. I learned the lesson too late from an old wise man that if you’re invited, you go. I was, again, surrounded by friends, thank goodness, and it was at once heartbreaking and incredibly refreshing. Although it would have been nice to keep drinking wine instead of driving back. To more dancing and more friends, which are separately each kind of like wine, and then more so when put together, so it was okay. It was very okay. I met people I really fell in friendship with and I saw people I met before and liked them even more than I already did. I finally stood up for myself! It was reasonable but firm and then EVERYTHING WAS OKAY and I was so quietly happy and proud. I drove back by myself, after hugs and good conversations and so much laughing, and the adrenaline of all that made me not even notice the first hour and a half of road.
You guys, also, I have never seen butterflies so often as I did this summer. Butterflies.