“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. “ Thich Nhat Hannh
I have been in this place before, this exact spot. Sitting in the backyard of a friend I have known many years. I am visiting her now, returning to a place I know well, although it has faded in my memory. It’s Oakland, California where I spent the early years of my marriage, where two of my children were born, where my daughter learned to walk and run, where Isabelle the crazy Weimaraner chewed up twenty or thirty shoes. (And a couch once.)The air is perfectly still, the weather ridiculously perfect as only Northern California can be. It’s a non-temperature, slightly cold to a southerner but absolutely lovely to a normal person.
I thought I had lost my connection to this place. I have lost so much in the past few years. But I was wrong about that. I haven’t lost this. Definitely not.
My thoughts are quiet. They are as still as the Oakland air.
As if on queue, beside me Soo says out loud, “God the air is perfectly still.”
“It is”, I respond quietly.
I take a mental photograph of this moment. This exact moment is one I want to keep. This woman next to me who I have spent countless hours with over the years, who knows me, all my light and all of my darkness.
The stillness of the air almost feels like a sign.
It matches the quietness of my thoughts.
The feeling of being settled. The feeling of belonging.
The opposite of loss.
I am present in this moment. Nothing is on my mind.
My heart is open.
Inside I feel perfectly still.
I knew I needed to make this trip. I needed to remember how connected I am here and how much love I find when I visit.
I needed to remind myself that I am someone who likes travelling alone.
I am happy in the little Airbnb I rented in San Francisco. I have slept well, I haven’t been scared or lonely.
I can cross a city using public transportation, on a bus, on a train, with uber.
I am connected with many people here and they love me as much as I love them.
It’s funny when you feel shitty about yourself you can sometimes believe everyone you know thinks you are shitty too.
No, these people like me. They miss me. They want to rearrange their entire crazy ass lives to spend time with me.
Why would this feel like such a revelation?
When did I get fooled into believing I am less important than I am and that relationships I have built over a lifetime were lost to me forever?
The snapshots of this weekend adventure pass through my mind, slowly, there are so many moments I want to keep forever.
Watching Lynn drive gymnastics carpool and introduce me to her youngest child. Getting to see her as a mom. I’m not surprised she loves it. She was always the mama of our little group. Of course motherhood comes naturally to her.
She has smile lines around her eyes now. She looks so good, older yes, but so happy. I try to reconcile this mother of three with the girl I met in San Francisco who wasn’t sure she wanted kids and liked to spend Sunday afternoons at the bar drinking cider and reading the New York Times. She still makes sense to me, this mama version of Lynn and I like her just as much.
On Thursday, Lori walked into my room and sat down on the bed and the river of words began to pass between us. It had been years since our last real conversation. Within 15 minutes we sat with tears in our eyes and poured out our hearts as we once did in our office in San Ramon fifteen years earlier. We don’t stop talking until she leaves in a rush, four hours later, trying to get back across the bridge before the commute traffic hits. We don’t bother pretending we will call each other soon. We won’t. We will go back to stalking each other’s Facebook pages. Hopefully so many years won’t have to pass before our hearts connect again.
Jayanthi, the woman who never ages, remains the tiny force of nature. But finally her grey hair is giving away the fact that she may be the oldest one of our little friend group. Could she be 50? Is that possible? Her sweet daughter is growing up, and she can’t stop doing ballet spins around me as she chatters excitedly about her upcoming performance in the Nutcracker. She looks exactly like her mother, beautiful and light. I want to remember the way she spins forever.
They have all moved to suburbs now. They all live near each other, support each other, they have even worked together over the years.
Lynn and Jay walk to each other’s homes daily.
I feel a pang that might be called jealousy. But I don’t think so. No, it’s more a feeling of being happy they have each other. And wishing I could be up the street from these two women that I love.
And Beth, something about her makes me me feel as though I have always known her. She makes people feel instantly comfortable. We sit next to each other in the bar and chat, like we always do, like it’s been ten minutes and not ten years. I admire her now, as much as I did then.
She seems happy.
They are all such grown-ups now, homeowners and parents and people with 401K’s.
We meet for dinner.
Then we go dancing.
Like 20 year olds, we danced the night away.
Just like we used to.
My feet still hurt from the dancing.
I woke up in Oakland, on Soo’s couch…the same one I used to sleep on when my kids were babies. It may be the best couch in the world.
It is. I am certain of it.
When she drove me to the BART train I pretended I wasn’t crying behind my sunglasses when I said goodbye but she felt it when she hugged me.
So she knows I love her. Stop the presses.
And then I met up with Jason for my last day in the city.
My sassy gay friend, which is a stereotype that doesn’t do his wit and charm the justice it deserves. Or the depth of our friendship.
He teased me again about what a bitch I was when he met me and how much he hated me at first.
He kept saying,
“God you are so mellow now, who are you? You used to be such a fucking bitch.”
“Keep calling me a bitch and you will see just what a bitch I can still be, asshole.” I responded with a laugh.
We walked 8 miles, visited four different neighborhoods, had drinks at ten different bars. My feet really hurt now.
He cancelled his dinner plans so we could keep drinking and talking and walking. Our tongues got looser over the hours and miles. I blush to think of some of the things we talked about. It’s a little fuzzy and for that I am grateful. But the way it made me feel, I won’t forget that…it’s not fuzzy at all.
By 10PM, I was in an Uber heading back to my Airbnb in the Castro to pack my suitcase for the early flight.
Something changed in these four short days. A subtle shift of letting go and connecting and remembering and being still and being grateful. Just being.
I loved it.
“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” –Rumi