Her throat felt like a living room trashed after a frat party. As she slowly regained consciousness she realized this probably meant a cold was coming on. Grateful that she’d held off illness this long, she said a quick prayer hoping for at least a few more days reprieve.
This was the day she would drive north to meet the first of the two girls she had met on the internet that lived in the area. Although they were a little older than her actual daughter, they were part of a small group of gals she had talked to on a scrapbooking website that she thought of as her surrogate daughters. They all had their own unique personalities, or so it seemed online, but they were friends and she loved their fresh perspectives and their zest for living.
Heading downstairs, she and Chris enjoyed a quiet hour of breakfast, coffee and conversation before they both met back in the three season for a half hour workout. Denny had decided to head to their lake home and start to close it up for the season, winterizing the boat before a deep freeze ruined the motor. The stretch and warmth of her muscles felt good and she knew it would come in handy as she had some long drives ahead of her.
The town of St. Joseph and the home of Bre was her first stop. It was again raining, and she had gotten a late start, so she again skipped the photo session of her parent’s old home and headed straight north by a different route than she had been using to enter and exit the city. Packed in the trunk were some gifts for each of the girls from Nancy, a small packet of craft supplies, and some photos. The plan was to meet and scrapbook for a few hours, a nice distraction and the first thing they had in common, then caravan back to the city to meet the ever busy Shan.
This back route was plain and consistent, the road smooth and wide and the countryside open and quiet. She toyed around with the radio, not finding what she desired. This view seemed to call for some plaintive blues in simple tones. Radio off, yes that was best she thought, and she let the quiet fill her and clean her up for this next phase of her trip.
The direction had her a little muddled when she arrived in St. Jo, and after trying unsuccessfully twice, she stopped and called Bre for an insider’s advice. Bre had moved to this town recently from the other side of Kansas, settling in to the new place because her husband had recently taken a promotion to the radio station in town. As she exited the car at their townhouse she realized she had forgotten the dogs—Bre’s two little canines were both a close approximation of her own Dilly that was a mainstay in the middling years of her childhood. Seeing these happy, fluffy mutts brought her back to the day he died laying on her bed in the farmhouse. In that room she had plaintively song “Evergreen” and “Afternoon Delight” so many times her parents must have torn their hair out. The bedroom tucked into the eaves of the little white house that contained a crib for the runt pig in the dining room. The bedroom into which she locked herself in a fit of teen angst and with peanut butter and a loaf of bread threatened to stay forever.
And then she saw the fat little hand of Maxx curled around his momma’s and she was back in the present and couldn’t get to that handsome boy fast enough. One of the great things about having so many younger friends, she realized, was the lovely little babies they tended to have. She was in the throes of a longstanding baby crush, not wanting the hard work of another of her own, but so enjoying the luxury of those that went home to fuss with others.
The introductions were unhurried and relaxed, and she knew almost immediately that Bre was one of those rare people who is exactly herself at all times and in all environments. This of course meant that she knew her already, even though they had never physically met. A relief. As much as she loved meeting new people, the prospect of a day with an old friend was much more appealing.
Bre showed her around and in the livingroom where they talked a bit, Maxx came right over and crawled into her lap, mutely requesting she work the TV remote for him. It became clear this was a gesture of friendship, for he most certainly did not need her help in working the device. He was showing an aptitude for electronics even before his second birthday, and she smiled as he showed off his skills. Maxx was a solid little man, neither fat or thin, but rather built like any one of the defensive backs for his mother’s favorite team, the Patriots.
Both Bre and her husband are part of that crowd of beautiful people that cause the average person to feel a tinge of envy. Dark haired, dark eyed, original and pleasing face shape, she could see broad strokes of both of his parents while she was watching him. She remembered the first time she saw a photo of Bre and Dave she thought how they could most definitely be brother and sister instead of husband and wife, their looks were so compatible. They made a beautiful baby, that was for sure.
Soon they were settling down to scrapbook, falling into their comfort zone while Maxx played nearby. IT was hard to get started at first, but soon they were both working on their individual projects and talking about the people they “knew” online. Maxx went down for a nap and they begin to work with more intensity. They had seen so much of each other’s projects online, and it was fun to watch the creative process behind the scenes for the first time.
Dave came home and plopped down the couch for some DVR TV watching as a break between the two parts of his job. By day he administered the radio show, at night attending a local game. The show he watched was trashy, and both she and Bre called out commentary from the other side of the room. So much for his relaxation time!
Soon it was time to leave, and Dave got the baby up, changed him and got his shoes on while Bre packed the large bag of items necessary for a mom out for the evening. After cleaning up her own mess and packing her finished pages away to be added to her album at home, she snapped a few pictures of the Dave and Maxx, so cute together.
She updated Ashley’s facebook page, the third “daughter” who lives nine hours away in Indiana and was trying to make the trip down for the weekend so we could also meet in person. What a treat that would have been on top of all the fun already planned. Ashley is the kinda girl that doesn’t just find the party in every situation, she IS the party!
In the warming sun of late afternoon, making a brief appearance to light their drive, they headed inland to the city perched on two sides of an imaginary line between states. Navigating The Kansas Cities can be filled with peril once one reaches the inner ring. Like Buda and Pest, there are strong differences between the two sides, and working with two city and two state governments can make for interesting intersections of road. Bre deftly navigated the mix thanks to the advice of Shan and they were soon pulling into the neighborhood that she knew at a glance must contain the inimitable Shan. This was precisely what she had envisioned for Shan’s dwelling place, the neighborhood one that was filled with old trees and older, well maintained brick buildings. Dwellings were small and generally came in apartment blocks, the inhabitants being filled with a sense of culture and style but not necessarily yet filled with an excess of cash. Where Bre’s habitat was more about what was inside, Shan’s was still about what was outside the door. She said “still” to herself because she saw a natural progression in life, from parent’s home to university, to post university neighborhood to marriage and a family setting. Do we move from type to type as we feel the new phases coming on, or do we move to help propel us toward them? She shook these ponderings from her head and settled into this new setting, one that she had always felt comfortable in although she had never earned time in it with her own life.
As Shan poked her head out the window to greet them and encourage them up the three flight of stairs to her pleasant apartment perch, her questioning mind turned to the matters at hand. Would Shan be as much herself in person as Bre had proved to be, or would it turn out her drama training and passion have lead her to create a persona online that varied from her true self? They did another round of meet and greets as they entered the apartment, and she was again showered with gifts, this time a vintage wooden box Shan hoped she would alter. She smiled at the gesture and the challenge of it. Maybe a place to store some keepsakes from this trip, or some small scrapbook pages that held special meaning.
The apartment held to the feeling of the neighborhood—aging gracefully since it was built around the 20’s, furniture serviceable and well laid out. They sat around, letting Maxx be their focus as small lapses in the conversation occurred from time to time. She turned the question over and over in her mind; how to categorize Shan, how she would speak of her going forward. Shan was a little different than expected, but she wasn’t sure it was due to an artifice. She finally settled on believing that it was merely that Shan was complex, hard to pin down into one type or another, emerging still, a transitory version of her final self. Classification aside, she liked Shan, and enjoyed her company as another facet to the refreshing day. They agreed on dinner at a pub on the Plaza, which turned out to be only a scant distance from Shan’s. It was also exactly the kind of place that she would have thought they would dine at so this too felt comfortable and inviting. Which turned out to be good, because the staff at said establishment was anything but inviting.
At the door they were not-greeted by a surly boy who gave them a stare that said, “What the hell do you want?” Their waiter, a bean stalk of a boy was trembly and inept, and had not a smile to share with any of them. In the end, he netted a fifty three cent tip from their meal of beer, appetizers and dinners, which was probably two cents over what he earned. This tip decision bound them further together as they all felt the pinch of poor service together. Luckily the beer and food was excellent, so it mattered not that it was served with ill humor. She made a mental note to come back another time, sit at the bar where the bar tenders were bound to be a notch above, and order one of their many craft brews.
The girls were delicate eaters; Shan had allergies and Bre wanted her burger with “no vegetables touching it of any kind”, reminding her of her little brother asking for peanut butter and jelly, hold the onions. They talked of how their relationship formed and how they had saved each other along the pioneering trail toward adulthood. She loved to watch their affectionate friendship, each girl her own person, but their long history having extended tender vines of familiarity that would bind them together forever. Sure there were moments of frustration from time to time, they were both passionate and felt things deeply, but in the end they always came back together, knowing they wanted a future as linked as their past.
They half-heartedly snapped a few photos in the darkening sky, enjoying each other’s company enough to want to document the event and yet enjoying each other’s company in a way that distracted them from trying hard to get a good shot. She realized that her week had been filled with this same photographic ennui—lots of great scenery shots, but the people not ever fully coming into focus—as when she was around them she would much rather be with them then hiding behind her lens.
They headed back to Shan’s place and sat around on the floor, trying to rebalance to comfort after the overly filling meal and watching Bre try to prevent Maxx from reprogramming Shan’s DVR. Playing with Maxx and hearing Shan talk about her job and her relationship with her man was a great way to end the day, but she was getting sleepy and still had a half hour drive ahead of her. Hugs all around and she was out the door, into her car at the curb and back to Chris’s to catch up on sleep and prepare for the next day which held more reunions.
KC Trip: Day Five
Although the children had had the last two days off school, and the whole week had been a vacation for her, she awoke Saturday morning with a distinctively Saturday feel in her body. She wandered downstairs in her PJs and joined the kids in the family room for some TV, the first time she’d exited her quarters without first dressing. They whiled away the morning watching the Bratz movie, which was actually better than one might think, while Chris dealt with the drama on the phone surrounding her eldest who had spent the night at friend’s house and was having second thoughts about babysitting for her mom that night. Of course tonight was the dénouement, when four friends from high school were finally reunited after twenty seven years. Here was the main purpose of the trip, so of course the daughter would have no choice. Chris did try to find an alternate babysitter, but children these days are quite busy and no one was available. The two other school chums were expected at around one p.m., so her slacker pace didn’t concern her, until around 10am the phone rang again and the reality was that the twins were already on their way over from across town. YIKES! Chris still needed to grocery shop and pick up her daughter and so she flew out the door with her friend promising to keep an eye on the young ones while she straightened up a bit and got dressed. But first she finished up the last few minutes of the movie—crazy, but she was in it now and couldn’t break away, like a bad train wreck. For the next half hour there was much scurrying around, as she showered, dressed, directed the kids to help with clean up and gulped down the last few sips of coffee.
When Chris returned, with a charmingly resigned Kenzie, she headed upstairs to dry her huge mop of hair. They were much later than expected after the phone call, which of course fueled concerns that they might be lost. The twins that would make up the final half of their foursome had moved a lot in early childhood, but from their early teens until the present day that had not moved more than fifty miles from the epicenter formed by their little high school. She had talked to one only once, the other not at all, and was both excited and curious to see what such a stable home front produced in a woman her age, she felt her own adulthood had been so flighty—and yet upon further reflection she realized she too had settled into a place fresh out of high school and hadn’t moved far since, so they only had a few extra years of location stability on her.
While her hair was still being blown toward dryness she heard adult conversation downstairs and knew they had at last found their way. She paused to consider finishing her task first, but couldn’t hold back her excitement another moment and rushed downstairs. They had exchanged photos over the ensuing month before getting together, so none were surprised by how the years had shaped and changed each face. More hugs and excited smiles and they were into the thick of conversation almost immediately. First sharing what the last few days had held and then slowly working back into their shared past.
The sun had decided to make another brief appearance and with a fresh pot of coffee brewing they headed out to the deck to soak it up while it was with them. The conversation wound on for hours, at some point a mini photo shoot happened. Kim distinguished herself as the one who remembered the most, putting names and dates and details to stories that at least she and Chris hardly remembered. Painful memories were also shared—details of the behind the scenes lives of friends that in high school were kept quiet. A deeper appreciation of the quiet life her parents had created for her was reached. As Kim talked of a home life filled with horrors hard to imagine and spoke or her push to escape that part of her world at the expense of her relationship with her twin sister, tinges of guilt surfaced for not realizing, for not giving her a place of refuge more often. Yes, she realized she had been a self-focused girl, caught up in her own petty dramas and her church bred morals, which she apparently felt the need to rain down on all that entered her range.
She remembered being closer to Kim growing up, but when Dianne spoke she felt that things had changed, and although she liked them both as adults, she felt closer to Dianne now. She was honored with the transparency with which they all spoke, not a bit of the artifice she had thought would show up. Dianne spoke of her oldest daughters unwed pregnancy, nearing the end of its term with candor. She felt comfortable sharing her thoughts from her own young pregnancy—sure she wasn’t unwed on the day of the child’s birth, but that was only due to a hastily conceived marriage after the pregnancy was discovered.
What most moved her was the solid feeling she got from all three of these pals from the past. It occurred to her that perhaps she was more herself in those young years than she had thought, that she was more formed and her choices more real than she had come to believe. She did know that she loved these women, that there was a feeling of continuity that one would not anticipate after over a quarter of a century. They moved back inside to ready themselves for the evening on the town that they had planned.