It’s the first Sunday in many weeks I am sitting in my own home with this laptop and my tea in my favorite mug. I slept poorly after twenty-five hours of driving in two days. At one point I thought I’d amuse myself by counting how many states I’d driven through, but then my mind started wandering and I had to keep starting over. I thought of many things I wanted to write about today. I’d see some glorious scene of silos and farm house and cloud-scape and it would trigger some perfect title for my Sunday prose, and now I can’t think of a single one.
As I got closer to home, I felt some anxiety. This is not the usual emotion I have when I get close to home. I’m usually relieved and happy to arrive at my anchorage. I had been gone a long time this time. And it’s fall and that means fall chores. And guests are arriving soon. And I need a new roof, and I heard it rained seven inches recently, and it’s cold and I’m still wearing flip-flops. I couldn’t warm my feet last night. I shivered through most of the night until I finally got up and got a heating pad to put around my feet. I had fitful dreams.
How did it all turn so quickly? Fatigue? Maybe. On Friday, I drove from Kathy’s loving arms all the way to Ruth’s. Fifteen hours, three accident-causing traffic jams in Pennsylvania, then New Jersey traffic, then Manhattan traffic, then to the garage on 58th. I got out of the car and told them to keep it. Ruth had the wine poured and we talked, catching up, until way too late. On the road again yesterday, I realized that driving to New England on Columbus Day weekend was very poor planning. The four hour drive to Beth turned to six. More arms. More love. Then four more hours home. And now what?
I’ve been living in a little bubble the past seven weeks. A magnificent hike in the Alps, reunions with dear friends in foreign cities, family visits on beautiful beaches, then two weeks of story telling, book signing, eating, drinking, friend making, soul searching, ass-widening, fun in Tennessee and Kansas. Whew! I got in my car to head northeast toward the Appalachian Mountains before sunrise on Friday. The goodbye to Kathy was nowhere near good enough. In my rush to get on the road in order to make it to New York, the hug and kiss and thanks and goodbye were so inadequate. I thought a lot about her and our friendship on my solitary drive. I felt badly I didn’t get to say goodbye to Michael. (Gone to work already?!) I fell into their house hungry and full of stories two weeks earlier. I held Kathy hostage for those two weeks while Michael fended for himself. I realized I’d left the light on in my bedroom and the sheets in a ball at the end of the bed. I meant to put them in the washer. I meant to text and tell her that.
I thought about the introduction she did for me at one of the talks. She called me “her hero” and I wanted to cut her off and tell the audience that, “No! She is mine!” I can’t remember what I said when I started speaking; I know I did a thank you, but it was nowhere near good enough. I could have spent the whole hour telling Kathy and Me stories. And then remembered I was there to tell Beatrice and Gerardine stories, so got on with it.
I’ve written before about how our friendship started. Pals in first and second grade, BFFs in seventh, eighth, and ninth. High school diversity sent us on different paths, so we didn’t spend as much time together, but the bond was still there. She was always encouraging me, always trying to make me a better everything––––dancer, actress, girlfriend, beauty queen, singer, guy-getter. I needed a lot of help with that last one. I was a wallflower of the highest degree until, under her careful tutelage, I started blooming. Once when I was too scared to ask my crush to the Junior Women’s Club dance, she yelled to him in the hallway, “Kevin! Come here! Linda has something she wants to ask you.” Then she smiled at me and walked away. I was horrified, and vowed to kill her later, but was forced to stupidly and clumsily ask him to the dance, adding that it was ok if he said “No.” Kathy knew I wouldn’t harm her. She wasn’t worried, as she sallied down the hallway to play rehearsal or student council meeting. She’d done her community service for the day.
I grew up in a house where college was not only expected, but required. We would have been disowned if we even considered not going. In fact, my youngest brother was disowned when he dropped out his senior year (the ultimate fuck-you to my father). Kathy didn’t grow up with those expectations. I graduated from a good nursing school with no debt. I got to experience city life, be exposed to great thinkers, and diverse ideas. That was a great gift. Kathy’s gifts were different. She had loving parents whereas mine were over-critical and strict. My parents thought she had “way too much freedom” and were critical of her lifestyle. They made her feel badly and I hated them for that. I tried to make up for it with my worship. I hung out a lot at her house just to soak up what it must feel like to have parents that like you. I was oblivious to any of her family problems. To me, they were just full of love.
So off she goes, into the world, with limited expectations and resources. Yet, she is one of the most successful women I know. Who else can get an audience and producer to show up at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning to do a taping for a TED talk audition?! She’s like the fucking Pied Piper!
It’s been fifty years since we met. And here we were all these decades later, laughing and singing as we hit the road on an epic tour–––five states, colleges, high schools, rotary clubs, churches, and bookstores, organized and executed by my hero. At thirteen, we dreamed together about doing big things while we walked around town or listened to music in her basement. And we are doing bigger things than we had dreamed. On our first day driving we talked so much it seemed like we arrived in St Louis by magic. Same thing the next day when we got to Kansas. Five days later the car ride home was more subdued. We were tired. We talked less. We said to each other, “Wait. Are we on the right road? Did we go through Illinois on the way out there? Did we go through Kentucky? Really? How could we not notice we went though Kentucky?” I realized I have to be careful when I laugh and drive.
She still makes me laugh more than anyone else. She still amazes me at her ability to community organize. I still feel like that thirteen year old, clinging to her advice. We congratulate ourselves on what a good team we are. We brainstorm short and long term goals. We feel so grown up. We have credit cards and our own cars. We know where we came from and where we’ve been. We’ve learned what roads we don’t want to take again. We buck each other up, don’t take each other’s shit, and know what we really mean. We are teenagers at heart who feel like we can do anything together. The goals are more noble–––saving the world in addition to our skin. We’ve worked hard all our lives and want the work to be more fun, more directed, more exciting and rewarding. We know we can do this better together. We trust each other. Me and my hero.