Old Friends; New Friends

Visiting an old friend is like coming home, no matter the destination. The drive to D.C. is a wonderful one. The closer I get to Anne’s house, the happier I feel. We’ve known each other for twenty years, since sixth grade. Our relationship crosses boundaries, making us a part of a deeply rooted family. The sort where a memory exists in everything. The song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” reminds us both of a trip up to Door County, Wisconsin with my family. We rolled around on the floor of my parents’ blue mini-van, and giggled like two fools hopped up on sugar and music. We sang at the top of our lungs and chomped on Big Red gum. We talked nonsense until my mother told us to quiet down. We let my sister who was four years younger be a part of our club.

She said, “Girls, that’s enough now,” and tried hard to hide her smile. But we knew better. We saw it and continued to giggle and talk in hushed tones, getting louder by the second, dancing with our voices to “Shout.” A little bit louder now. A little bit louder now.

A phone call years ago, when we were both too young to have to understand a death that broke our hearts, and the years that went into mending them as much as we could. Summer nights spent in our rooms, discussing dreams and boys and hurts and ideas. A certain spot in our hometown where we feasted on a gallon of Moose Tracks ice cream until our stomachs hurt and our eyes bugged out of their sockets the day before we left for college. Partings and reunions and learning how to drink (ir)responsibly. Now we see each other once or twice a year and our visits are frenetic. We try to pack a whole year’s worth into one week, or sometimes, a weekend. It’s a common story among friends, when geography gets in the way. Still, the kind of friendship that we have makes us family, which goes beyond blood.

Washington, D.C. is chaotic. I don’t understand the grid, the culs-de-sac, or traffic patterns. I am used to navigating through cities, but this one confuses me. I feel myself turning into an old woman behind the steering wheel, and am relieved to find Anne’s building, an eight-story brick complex. I negotiate my car into a tiny parking spot, grab purse and bag, and leap out of the car, to where Anne is already waiting for me. She’s hopping up and down in place. Arms and legs are all over the place, her tall body overtakes mine and Anne and I reach new octaves with our sing-song shouts of glee. The first minute is overtaken by hugs, kisses, and jumbles of unrecognizable words, followed by flushed cheeks and bug-eyed faces, cracking open with giant grins. 

Anne is getting married soon. I’ll be coming back for the wedding. An outdoor ceremony and reception, along a river in Virginia, in October. It’s perfectly suited to her. After a quick tour of her place and a hug from her fiancé, Ben, we settle into our seats on the couch, crook arms over shoulders, and are finally one unit again. Ben chats with us for a bit then heads out to give us time alone. He is a wise man in my book.

Our two bodies fit comfortably together on the couch, with legs tangled over each other. Anne is tall and thin, and looks like a pixie with her eyes just a bit too large for her face. If I believed in magic like I did when we first met, I would call her a fairy. Anne claims that over the years she has grown a bit of a butt to keep up with mine, but she will never win that competition. She has the long legs and ethereal looks and I have the voluptuous curves and dark eyes, tucked into my 5’3″ body. In middle school, I was the tall one, but that ended in the summer before ninth grade, when she sprouted up like a stalk of corn. Her hair is shoulder-length and is a thick, dark red-brown that curls in waves; mine is long and wheat-colored and straight as a line. Anne’s hair falls softly over her slim shoulders; mine is tucked back in a haphazard bun. Our only physical similarity is our alabaster skin, white as the day is long and pinking in the summer.

We talk quickly because we have a lot of ground to cover. Halfway through our conversations, a text from Dan catches my attention: “See you in Boston?”

“Who’s Dan?” Anne asks me.

I hesitate to answer her question. “Well . . .”

“OooO! Who is he? Eh?” Anne wriggles her eyebrows comically and nudges me in the side with her elbow while she does her best Sandra Bullock impression, punctuating it with laughs.

“Does he – does he think you’re gorgeous? Does he, does he want to kiss you?” Anne pokes me in the ribs with her elbow while we giggle.

“Does he want to hug you?” Poke. Poke. Poke.

“Get off me, you bony woman!” I poke back, and soon an elbow battle is in play.

“Does he want to love you?” Two women are squealing and elbowing each other on the couch. Kids again.

“He wants to hug you! He wants to smooch you!” Anne is the best at elbow wars. I move fast but she moves faster. Her pointy elbows are weapons which are not to be taken lightly.

“Get off! Get off!” I pant, as I poke back furiously. Our stomachs and ribs are sore from laughter and spotted with little bruises, happily earned.

“Tell me! Tell me!” She gasps.

I start the story, making sure to include all details. We love details. When I get to the bit about the song, Anne stops me.

“What? Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh!” Her eyes are big and blue like the sea. I’ve always thought they were freckled with green and they change with light and mood. 

“That’s it. This story needs wine.” Anne pops up from the couch and grabs a half-full bottle of Cabernet, with a picture of a bicycle on it.

Instinctively, we take turns sipping from the bottle. This is a ritual from a summer on the lake. All we are missing is a dock to dangle our legs from and water to dip our feet in.

I get to the waterfall bit and Anne’s eyes roll over in her head.

“You are so lucky.” She passes the bottle to me and chucks me gently on the shoulder.

“Really?” I twitch my feet and stare at them. The thing is, I think she is the lucky one, as I look at her ring finger.

“Yeah, that kind of thing does not happen to me. That’s it, I’m taking Ben there.”

“Ew, Anne! Find your own waterfall to debase!” Giggles pile on top of giggles as we begin to analyze each moment.

“So, are you going to see him again? Are you going to visit him in Boston?” Anne asks me.

I toe the floor, and sketch imaginary images into her carpet while I take another sip from the bottle.

“I think so.”

“Well, do you want to see him again?” Anne stares at me. She knows me well enough. If you look straight into my eyes, I just can’t hide my feelings.

“Yeah, I do.” I nod my head and look back into hers. The bottle passes back and forth from mouth to mouth.

“Good,” she says. “You deserve a good romance. You deserve the best.” Anne flops an arm over my shoulder and watches as I text Dan a reply: “You betcha, Mister,” with her approval.

“Call him tomorrow,” Anne instructs me. “Make plans. Plans are good.” I nod my head in return.

The bottle disappears and another one shows up, until red faces and blurred vision appear. Ben rescues us with Chinese takeout.

“What’s so funny?” He asks us, as we guffaw at each other.

“Oh, nothing.” I tell him, then I look at him and say “Everything.”

“Yeah,” nods Anne, as she tucks one arm in each of ours, a trio on the couch.

It’s a perfect night.

Later on, in my bed, I stare at the ceiling and try hard not to count my chickens.

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