It started Wednesday afternoon, with a photo of four people standing outside an apartment building. Smiling faces, huddled together for a selfie. It launched a 2400 mile trip that spans 5 days, culminating after 1200 miles and a visit with a friend unseen since Christmas. An early birthday present, combined with a miniature vacation.
The first update came in at 11:54PM Eastern Time. Just 20 miles past St. Louis, 250 miles into the journey. It was hard to sleep, and when 7AM rolled around, another location update was waiting in the established group chat. The travelling companions had moved clear through Indiana and into Ohio a fair amount. Over the next 12 hours, updates became increasingly insisted upon, to the point that when the vehicle made it out onto Long Island, there was a flurry of restless activity that could not be stopped.
Nervous energy? Maybe. Excitement? Certainly.
To welcome them into my home-away-from-Missouri, I cooked. Since living on my own, I’ve had to take to cooking more often than I prefer. But I didn’t want to do anything overly fancy; simple fare seemed best. I’m good with steak, potatoes, and a vegetable you can boil. So, asparagus, because I love the way it tastes. To be hospitable, I grabbed mushrooms from the store. I hate mushrooms, but I know that my friends enjoy them with a spoon full of butter, sauteed in steak juices.
I got an update on my phone: 8 minutes away. I glanced around the kitchen: potatoes were boiling, steaks were sitting on the counter, waiting to be seasoned, asparagus was boiling. The garlic was minced, mushrooms ready, and onions diced. I drained the potatoes, tossed in butter, garlic, and heavy whipping cream. (That’s the secret for making delicious, fluffy potatoes.) Then there was a sound – a car, turning into the apartment. It was hot, with all the cooking, so I’d opened the terrace door and promptly forgotten it.
A white SUV with Missouri plates drove by, and right then, I calmed down. Shave and a Haircut was played on my door a moment later, and when I threw wide the door… Nobody was there. It was entirely empty, and maybe – for a brief second, maybe less than a second, I believed that I’d made it all up in my mind. That my friends were not, in fact, there to see me. That it was a delusion from a depressed, sad mind that needed to reach out for comfort in any way possible.
But the laughter broke almost immediately, and my friends walked through the door. Kally first, and I wrapped her in a bear hug. Then Jesse snuck in and took her hug. Eric threw out a disclaimer, “Don’t push me down!” so I grabbed him in a bear hug and pulled him up onto his tiptoes. Then Steve walked in, and I almost bowled him out of the door with a hug. Each hug was greeted with laughter, and reciprocated affection; it almost felt like home here for the first time.
I handed over plates of food, we sat around talking. The thing about friends, the kind of friends you can call family, who will drive 1200 miles just to spend 40 hours with you, is that you never seem to miss a step with them. There are no awkward moments where nobody’s quite sure what to say to each other. We played a round of Munchkin, (Kally won; then she let Eric win after we agreed she’d won, and we decided to play out an alternate ending.) Jesse passed out, Steve and Kally took a shower, and I went to sleep feeling better than I had since I left Missouri in January.
We went to the beach, because when you have a beach available, that’s what you do. There were a couple of really great opportunities to get some good photos of my friends, which I took advantage of. We got a couple of good shots, (including a great group photo) and a couple of silly shots, too. Kally felt that it was pretty cold, so Steve gave her his jacket. She started complaining about how he would get cold, so I took off my hoodie.
“Thank you, James,” she said. I took Steve’s jacket off of her, threw my hoodie around her, and then tossed Steve’s jacket back around her shoulders. To add insult to injury, I shoved my Yoda beanie on her head, and then Steve zipped up his Jacket.
Later that night, we went to NYZ Apocalypse – we’ll get a picture of that in about a week, maybe two. We played Lazer Tag, went back to my apartment, watched TV and tried to stretch each hour as long as we could. Morning was just around the corner, and with it, another car trip, and a long drive home.
The first time I was left alone in New York, I was very sad. It felt like I was alone; as though I had left the world, and by leaving, my friends were telling me that we were no longer a part of each other’s lives. Which was silly; I flew back almost immediately and performed a wedding, and then I was back for Christmas, and I’ll be back again in June.
But it felt sobering, knowing I would be alone. When everyone else had walked out the door, and Steve stood there alone with me, I felt sad again, but not the sadness that threatened to cripple me for the rest of the day. Instead, it was the sadness knowing you won’t see a friend again for a long time, but you’re positive that you’ll see them again. Which is a much sweeter sadness, that brings tears to the eyes, but does not send them tumbling to the floor as you watch the vehicle drive away.
I’ll take bittersweet over sour any day.