“I have the memories in my head and heart. I’m OK with going to live somewhere else.”
--woman on the local news, about city council plans to route a highway through her living room.
The first time I ever went to my friend, Lori’s, house she was bailing me out of a jam. Mere days before the birth of my son, I accidentally became the chairperson for our church’s Christmas food drive. Don’t ask me how this happened; I was as baffled as those poor saps one occasionally reads about in an Offbeat News Brief who suddenly finds themselves Mayor of some small Burg after a family member scribbled their name on a ballot on a lark. All I know is I showed up at the wrong place with my three year old and a box of crayons, and next thing I knew, there were turkeys to buy, canned goods to sort, and a perplexing list of deliveries that had to be made to unfamiliar neighborhoods. As with any trauma, the subsequent memories are hazy and dark.
The next thing I remember is being Lori’s living room, surrounded by a cast of people who may well have been wearing halos and white robes while they stuffed boxes with food and told me encouraging stories about Childbirth and Christmas Babies. I seem to remember Lori tying my shoes, which I’d taken to wearing unlaced after I became too large to see my feet. I may have handled a can or two of beans and applied my Crayola seal to a few cards before the metaphoric angels whisked everything away. A Christmas Miracle, played out on a set that would become a second home to me for the next fourteen years.
The last time I left my friend Lori’s house, I had no way of knowing it would be the Last Time. Oh, I knew the house was going up for sale, that a long-threatened move northward was inevitable. But considering today’s slumping real estate market, I figured an Actual Sale was something I wouldn’t need to worry about for a long, long, time, kind of like taking Metamucil, or collecting Social Security.
Readers, don’t allow the media to lull you into a false sense of security. A home can disappear from the market faster than two scoops of Ben and Jerry’s on a hot summer day. I’ve seen two go in less time than it’s taken me to get all my flower beds weeded. Should a for sale sign appear in the lawn of one of your loved ones, run, don’t walk to the local bakery to order your Bon Voyage Cake and Farewell Balloons.
Even after it became apparent that, against all odds, a sale was, indeed, imminent I fully anticipated making an official Final Visit. I suppose I imagined a scene not unlike a series finale of a much loved sitcom: the last shift at Cheers, the Friends gang meeting for a final round of coffee at Central Perk, M*A*S*H, post-cease-fire. However, a parade of realtors, perspective buyers, inspectors, and handy men descended upon Lori’s home over recent weeks, hampering on-site visits. But I also I detected a faint reticence in my friend’s voice whenever talk turned to a home-visit scenario: she didn’t want any help painting or packing, just some time to sit at the coffee shop and get away from it all.
It wasn’t until the Last Day that I got it.
“Don’t go over there,” Lori said. “It’s empty. Everything’s gone. I don’t want those images in your head,” she said, immediately listing some of the pictures she hopes I’ll retain: poker parties and pasta dinners, bad movies and mugs of coffee. Oh, the snapshots I can add to the slide show—the day of the Big Yard Sale to raise money for my Africa trip, the night we pulled my five year old son’s stubborn, blackened front tooth, the Thanksgiving the tablecloth caught fire. Fourteen years of birthdays, picnics, fireworks, and made up holidays. We trimmed trees, planned weddings, and dreamed up terrific adventures—some that even happened. There were special days and ordinary days, with the Very Last One thoroughly indistinguishable from all the rest.
There are the kind of goodbyes where everyone involved knows that something good is over. Other goodbyes are simply transitions. That’s not to say they’re easy; on the contrary, ever writer knows how tough it is to nail a smooth segue. But no matter how choppy a transition may prove, a finale isn’t the right response, any more than a standing ovation would be between acts of a play. So I’ve decided that I have no choice but to accept that stories move forward, and that just about any decent production involves a set change or two.
I figure that while the furniture’s being shuffled around for the new set, it would be a good time to think about what I’ve derived from the plot so far:
That life is more about people than perfection. (Who knew that you could show up at a picnic with the three deviled eggs you rescued when the rest of the platter crashed…and no one will be disappointed in you.)
That bodies are really, really awkward, and it’s OK to laugh about them.
That “I’m sending you drugs, costumes, and a man” is the most reasonable thing you can tell a friend when you’re sending your son to her house with cold medicine on Halloween.
That with the merest amount of research, you can find a legitimate reason to celebrate just about any day.
That dreams are the stuff of life, even if they don’t always come true.
That life is too short to eat bad cheese. (Lori’s response to me on her first visit to my house when I offered to make her a grilled sandwich with low-fat cheese. I never bought it again.)
That there are Givers and there are Takers, and Givers have a lot more friends.
That flexibility is a good thing. (Did you know that it’s OK to end a New Year’s Eve party for a bunch of tired moms at 9 PM because it’s midnight somewhere, and you can
pretend you’re there??)
That it’s never about the stuff.
That home is a place where you are accepted and loved, even if it takes you three hours to get there.
Lori, it’s been an amazing Act One. I can’t wait to see what happens on the set in Act Two.