True to my promise to myself, I kept my exercise plan going and wake at my usual time Wednesday morning to go for a jog. Chris suggested, since sidewalks aren’t available, that I run at the nearby Shawnee Mission Park, which I had noticed on the neighborhood map. I threw on some shorts and a sweatshirt and headed out in the misty, muggy morning. I struggled to wake up as the sun struggled to peek through the cloud cover. It did not rain on me and it felt good to get the car- trip-weary muscles stretched and warm.
Running in this park was a lot like running in Moir Park back at home. The trails were well maintained, winding, and quiet on a weekday morning. After passing a couple of dog walkers in the parking lot, I didn’t see another soul save the gardener driving a little Japanese cart that was vacuuming the walkways. Of course the trees immediately recovered the path not fifty feet beyond him; it was a task that would need to be done again and again over the next few weeks as the variety of trees took their turn with the decorating. Since I hadn’t gone as far as mapping out a course, I merely ran for 17 minutes in one direction and then turned around and headed back, ending my run back at the car.
When I returned to Chris’s all the kids were off at school and I quickly ate and showered so we could get a start to our day. Chris had taken Wednesday off so that we could spend some time together exploring while the kids were occupied at school. She has been happily married for 13 or 14 years to Denny, who is off hunting in South Dakota for the week. I hear about how they met and their fun engagement under the sea, while I peruse the newspaper article that has been framed for their wall. I tell her my own unusual engagement tale and discover that our husbands also both had a bit of a wild past before they settled down with us. We grab the keys and head out to visit the nearby Overland Park Arboretum.
This is a new property, and my mom the garden lover hasn’t therefore seen it in the years she lived in town. They have a beautiful Monet Garden near the entrance, and many of the front gardens are buzzing with volunteers, burying next year’s bulbs and situating the mums and other flowers for the fall. They are a busy happy lot and their work only adds to my enjoyment of the gardens. As we wind through the property we stop to take photos here and again; even as it turns inward toward winter these pathways are full of the colors of ripe and russet. I’m as pleased with this space as any trip I’ve had to the Chanhassen Arboretum.
We waver on where to eat lunch, consulting with the intelligent and pleasant staff member in the visitor center, and finally decide to head straight to Union Station to give us the maximum amount of time. As we step into the car to head into town for lunch, the raindrops start, and we are glad for the morning outdoors unhampered by precipitation. As we step into the car to head into town, the raindrops start, and we are glad for the morning outdoors unhampered by precipitation.
Lunch is at a charming 50’s style lunch counter where we both munch on salads while watching the caramel roll the size of a platter sit enticingly next to the men sitting to my right. I continue to be amazed as we cover topic after topic from our lives and discover more and more heart issues that we align on. We talk about the hard things such as how our children entered our life, which was not by the book for either of us, if in different ways. We talk about the fun things like the fact that we both long to learn to play the violin and just might challenge each other to start lessons within the year. We both agree to skip the expensive exhibits at the Station; namely a decadent one called Chocolate and one that appeals to neither of us on Andy Warhol. The Van Gogh film I wish to see is not playing until Thursday, so instead we head to the car and move over to Crown Center.
I see the Coterie Theatre where Shan’s boyfriend works, we browse through a store with intriguing crafts and art, and then it hits me—the shrinking vision, the sparkles before my eyes, the vague feeling of discomfort—a migraine is threatening, most likely due to a lack of caffeine that morning as we hurried out the door. We grab coffees and sit in the two story atrium, watching it drizzle outside and continuing our talk. The hot coffee works its magic and soon my vision and senses all return to normal and I know its safe to continue.
We quickly take a turn through the Hallmark Museum, and I enjoy it more than I anticipated. It seems another hazard of aging is that history captures my attention more and more. Perhaps now that so much more of it has happened during my lifetime even this egocentric person can find something to be excited about! It begins to rain in earnest as we turn the car toward home, and we find poor Kenzie soaking wet in the driveway when we arrive.
Although I am thrilled with the fun and conversation I have had with Chris today, I am a little relieved when she heads off with the girls to gymnastics. Cole is easy company, going right upstairs to do his homework, singing a sweet little song for 20 minutes or more while I read downstairs. The truth is that it is all too good. All too wonderful and fun and comfortable, and I need a steadying hour to settle in, to take a breath, to realize that I have wasted 27 years when Chris and I could have been of such value in each other’s lives. Or maybe not. Who is to say which and how many of the intervening experiences we have had this past quarter century has molded us to fit so well together? Who knows what wisdom we have picked up along the way has made us just the right mix of tolerant and understanding? Still, as I pretend to skim my book during that hour, I realize I have been given a great gift, something valuable that I do not wish to waste. I breathe deeply, now certain this trip will be a success, and head out to the exercise bike to blow off some energy.
That evening we have decided to stay in. Chris makes a delicious salmon and vegetable dinner and we plan to play games with the kids. Instead, before dinner is finished Chris pulls out her memorabilia from high school and a bottle of wine. Soon we are both engrossed in the past, laughing so hard we draw the kids in from their various pursuits several times, wondering what craziness is going on to create so much mirth. Looking through her photos, dance programs and yearbooks we slowly begin to piece together our past. The highlight of the evening, by a landslide, is Chris’s journals from our senior year, which she transparently shares. We read each other entries and hoot and howl. The boy Tom Hawley has created quite a rift between us, and has moved her to write of her feelings for him often. Tom is a boy we literally picked up on the side of the road one night when I was out driving with Chris and another friend Lani. At first we don’t remember many details, but soon the whole sordid tale unfolds. I’m sure I dated him first, but as he didn’t attend our school, and as my crushes changed almost daily, it appears this information was not relayed to Chris. A few weeks later, Chris and Tom are dating and when I find out a few weeks after that, well, the teenage girl madness begins. I appear to give Chris an awful lot of annoying advice amounting to a suggestion she dump Tom immediately. This is a suggestion that is not well received by Ms. Chris. Her commentary on the whole affair provides much insight into my 17 year old mind as well as hers, and I relish this refreshed knowledge. It becomes clear early on that she is a patient girl to put up with friendship from me. It seems to comes with a lot of judgment and rhetoric . What makes the whole thing very funny is that much of her complaints about me are found in the journal she was keeping for our Advanced Placement English course; the course taught by my all time favorite teacher. Ms. Beitel’s comments are peppered throughout the text so I can be assured she got to read all about what Chris had to say about me. Unfortunately, every ugly word of it rings true as I read it. Yep, turns out I was a shit back then too. Sigh.
We finish out the evening hugging and laughing and enjoying Kenzie’s yearbook. I know we are tired when her matter-of-fact explanation of what the “cop” does at their school sends me into fits of laughter. We head to bed and I am happier than I have been in many months. I have rediscovered some of the origin of who I am. I am re-piecing parts of me that got jettisoned along with so much else during the dark year surrounding my divorce. I’m not proud of everything that is resurfacing, but I am finding that some of my strength, my clarity of purpose, and my zest for life has been around for many years longer than I had recalled. This has a stabilizing effect on me that I like. There are no coyote cries tonight, but the howling wind again provides a fence-line for the cozy warmth I feel inside this trip, inside this house and all its hospitality.