I recently found myself back in Texas for a very short four day weekend. I had previously been only two weeks before to visit my family, so logistically, it didn't make much sense to return for such a brief stint, but, in early spring, an email arrived in my inbox from a friend who was attempting to rally our group of old college buddies to reconvene in Dallas in June to recreate one epic night out that would have felt par for the course a decade ago. These days, such happenings occur so infrequently that when I try to remember the last time we were all in the same room together, my mind draws a sad blank. "Do what's right," Nick said. "Remember what it's like to be young. Remember the Alamo!"
June is less than an ideal time for me to be out of the office as I work on a fiscal calendar that ends on the 30th of the month. That said, I am nostalgic to a fault and and I do remember what it was like to be younger - especially with Nick and a gang of friends that by some stroke of luck embraced me in my early twenties despite an awkward set of social skills that often found me sharing inappropriate information in large group settings such as the time confessed to a sex dream I had about Hitler (crickets) only to be followed by another, a week later, starring a threesome between Lance Bass, my female communications professor and me (more crickets). In both, I was aroused. With both, I still feel shame. Despite both, these people kept me around.
One of the happiest memories I have came to be right after Nick and his wife, my best friend Angie, bought their first home in Fort Worth. We all had been invited to another friend's wedding and after the reception ended at midnight, we caravaned over to their new place. They must have closed on the sale only a few days before - the whole house empty except for a stereo and a refrigerator full of beer. I remember an impromptu dance party, 15 of us decked out in dressy wedding garb, bouncing around the room until the sun came up. I don't recall an actual conversation I engaged in with anyone, only that I was having so much fun dancing and laughing and generally being in the company of these amazing people. It's a singular memory of one snapshot of elation in their living room, and that memory would reshape and show itself in different forms over the next handful of years with my old friends, until for better or worse, it finally shifted into simply the past.
It was a longing to recapture that moment which lead me to be somewhat spontaneous despite my inner arguments against it, and buy a plane ticket for a one night reunion with a group of friends that I don't speak to nearly as much as I should even though I still consider them some of my closest. I imagined it like The Big Chill (less the suicide - my psychiatric medications are all in check right now, thank you) where we would each show up in different stages of stereotypical adulthood: one of us making business deals on an oversized, flip phone; someone checking in with the babysitter to make sure the kids weren't eating their own vomit; another emerging from a tragic divorce or major family riff; and then me...all but unchanged with only insights to offer on Netflix queues and how to tell if that guy you made out with last week would make for a fitting second date (sweet nothings like, "Guuuurl, that shit was cray!!!" warrant a "no"). Then, we would all gather around a perfectly set dining table, drink wine and confess our shortcomings and truths until we were just a bunch of twenty-somethings again, singing Lean On Me with our arms draped around one another in a unified circle.
There is a reason The Big Chill and St. Elmo's Fire are movies. And that reason is because they are terribly cliche fictional representations of fantasy lives. When I arrived in Texas, the day before our scheduled get together, my great aunt fell unexpectedly ill and we had to take her to the emergency room for 24 hour observation. I texted Angie with the heads up that it was likely I wouldn't make it to Dallas the next night as I wanted to stay with my family and make sure my aunt was okay. She of course was understanding and added, "It's only going to be Nick, Claude and me, anyway. No one else could swing it." Between pregnancies, pre-existing travel plans and extended family happenings, all of us, through one channel or another, had bailed. I told Angie I was sorry and that I would try to see her before I left town but it was kind of like the second before you open a present from an older relative who notoriously delves out the worst gifts at Christmas. The envelope is right in front of you and you're praying when you rip it open there's money inside, but per usual, it's an expired gift certificate to Boston Market. I was disappointed in our failed reunion but not exceptionally surprised. Maybe we all are those stereotypical versions of adulthood; it's just more difficult to get us around the dining table.
On the evening before I left for Boston, I got in touch with an ex-boyfriend whom I dated right around the time of the epic dance party many years before. He still lives in Fort Worth and we've done an nice job of remaining friends long since the night I reclaimed the Playstation I gave him for his birthday because we were broken up and I wanted to prove how maturely I was handling the situation.
Hardin and I met at a bar in college when he made fun of my outfit. I was wearing a t-shirt that my previously mentioned great aunt had given me which showcased three sponge painted camels parading across the front - one pastel pink, one pastel blue, one pastel green. I don't know if it was supposed to mean anything, she does just really like camels, but I loved it and found it to be acceptable night-on-the-town wear back in the day. Paired with flip flops. And GAP shortalls. Moving on...
No one has ever claimed me to be a fashionista, mostly because I would eye roll that word into oblivion if given the chance, but more rightly because I'm not one. I could provide many examples to further this point but I feel wearing a sponge painted camel t-shirt any time after 1988 all but closes the book on my case. Nevertheless, I was put off by Hardin when he opened with a sarcastic, "Nice shirt." but over the next two months and a handful of run-ins, I warmed to him until one night at a party he said, "That's my white Camaro across the street. I'll take you anywhere you wanna go." It wasn't his Camaro but the joke made me laugh and we ended up in his bed after a ride in his Jeep.
Hardin was a year older than I, and was graduating in December with a planned move to New York. We had a month together before he left, and by the time he did, we were fully on. I got an internship in the city for the coming summer so we could be together and we spent May through September running around New York, being young and in love in the most amazing city in the world. Those four months are the closest experience I have had in real life to a sweet, little love story perfectly wrapped and delivered for your viewing pleasure. Everyone should spend time in New York with a person they love. There's absolutely nothing else like it.
I eventually returned to school after my internship concluded and my bank account was pulled off life support. Just over a week later, September 11th happened. Hardin was home by October.
In the interest of your time, the Cliff Notes version of our relationship goes something like this: We dated for the next four years, we were the best of friends, until one day we realized that was actually exactly what we were...best friends. The other parts had faded and we acknowledged that we could get married, but both deserved more.
It was in the winter of last year that Hardin called and told me he was going to rehab. When you're 25 and you drink like a fish, you don't think anything of it because everyone else is drinking like a fish too. When you're 35 and you drink like a fish, it tends to mean you have more going on internally than the debate over whether or not you should skip class in the morning. I hadn't seen him in the year and a half since he got sober and he invited me over for a reunion.
It was a late Monday night and I knew he had work in the morning. We sat on his porch and talked for awhile. One could take this scenario and play out the rest like another scene in a movie; we visit and reconnect on a humid Texas night, so far removed from what we once were together, yet coming full circle to this moment between us before hugging and saying something like, "You're one in a million, kid" or, "I won't say goodbye, I'll say 'see ya later" and then drifting off to our separate beds in different cities. The truth is that yes, we're pals, but we're not best friends anymore. We're two people that had a shared experience that we value, and the time since then is much greater than the time we spent in it. It doesn't mean we don't care about one another, it just means we're different people now with different lives. And we're happy for each other. You can claw and pull as hard as you want, but time is a moving river and there's nothing to grip.
At 11 o'clock, I told Hardin he needed to go to sleep and he agreed before walking me out and making sure I got safely into my car. Because that's what friends do.
Those four days in Texas didn't unfold in the way that makes for the best story but it reconfirmed a feeling I've been struggling with for awhile now. Living in Boston means I can dream of the big reunions and even see a few of them come to fruition - like Christmas and the week my mom got a facelift. What? That's not a thing in your family? Oh. But it also means I miss almost every other moment in-between. All the parts that equal the sum of change and time -- for five years, I missed more than enough of those moments. I don't need to rage with my friends in Dallas for one night. What I need is to drive into town for the weekend and hang with Angie and Nick's kids, go see a movie with Rae, paint the kitchen with my mom and check-in with Hardin over lunch. I'm not moving back to my hometown but I am moving back to Texas. I'm going home and it's the greatest reunion I've decided to attend in a long time. Not because it's about revisiting the past; but because it's about starting the next chapter in the place where I know it will best be written.