Tag Archives: friends

The Re-beginner, Part 2

Part 2 of 3

The prospect of seeing friends you haven’t seen in six years can make you suddenly nostalgic for them, even if they’re just out of sight, down the escalator, waiting in Baggage Claim, a few seconds away. I stopped in front of a newsstand in the Richmond airport and pretended to study paperback covers, while vowing not to cry, before heading down to meet Angie and her mother; bursting into tears at seeing friends wasn’t something I did. Or, at least, hadn’t been, before we started moving every two years.

“Hello, world traveler,” Angie’s mom exclaimed, and hugged me. I dropped my bag and purse, and then hugged Angie, who looked the same as she had the day we graduated: petite, smiling, unruffled, dark hair flipped up at the ends. “You haven’t changed a bit,” her mom told me, patting my arm. It was the same thing I’d been thinking about my friend, but I knew we’d changed since college. We’d both gone off to graduate school, but after that, had gone in different directions: I’d married and run off to Prague, and Angie had steadily continued in her job at the Virginia Eye Institute in her hometown, Richmond. In the last six months, she’d moved from her parent’s house and into a condo she’d bought. Despite having a mortgage back in Prague, I felt like a jobless flake next to my financially secure friend.

As we walked to the parking garage, Angie’s mom asked me, “How was Israel?”

“Oh, Israel…” I started, and then stopped. “It feels like it was ten years ago, to be honest.”

“What about Prague?” she wanted to know. Here, too, I was stuck. How do you sum up two years somewhere in a sentence or two? Israel was the dusty hike from HaShalom station, cheesecake at the Press Cafe, jellyfish on Tel Aviv beaches, and a constant stream of water under our apartment doors, in winter. Prague was St. Vitus’s now-gold-now-silver roof in the sun, two hundred painfully bright university students, gallons of tea, and the “Dveře se zavírají” voice on the Metro.

But what did I have to show for all that? It was August, and I’d been looking for a job in New York for nearly a year.

“I miss both places,” I admitted, lifting my bag into the trunk of Angie’s mom’s car. Before Mrs. S. could ask about New York, I caught Angie’s eye and changed the subject. “Tell me all about your condo!”

Mrs. S. slipped in behind the wheel. “Well, she’s got it all decked out, finally, and seems to be settling in. But you girls will have all the time in the world to chat about that on the way down to Raleigh.”

My ever-practical friend directed her mom out of the parking maze and added, “It’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive, so I think if we leave sometime around ten on Friday morning, we’ll be fine.”

Although the wedding would be on Saturday afternoon, there was a ladies’ lunch and the rehearsal dinner on Friday, and even though I’d jumped the bridesmaid ship, we’d joked that I was Angie’s plus-one for the weekend.

Through buckets of rain, we wound across Richmond’s highways and toward my friend’s condo, which sat in a slight valley next to a forest.

“Which one is yours?” I asked, when we got out. It had stopped raining, and Angie pointed up to a corner balcony overflowing with potted plants and pansies.

Once up three flights of stairs and inside Angie’s condo, I gasped. It looked like something from Architectural Digest: Condo Version.

“This looks nothing like your dorm room,” I said in a décor-induced stupor.

Angie sighed happily, and fussed with something in a kitchen drawer. “I like it,” she said.

“What do you think?” her mom asked.

“I’m moving in,” I replied. The condo was any thirty-something girl’s dream, with vaulted ceilings, a reading loft, teal and chocolate colors, giant glass-topped dining table, with pottery and framed prints scattered around. There was not a scrap of Ikea in sight.

I was delighted for my friend. Yet there was a faraway voice in my head that remarked, This is what you can do when you don’t move every two years. Our entire apartment in Prague (including doorframes painted red, absurdly, by yours truly) would have fit in Angie’s living room. In fact, our living room wasn’t even a living room; it was one living-room-guest-room-kitchen-nook amalgam crammed into a hundred square feet.

The relics from my teaching life in Missouri and Colorado (boxes of books, a file cabinet of Shakespeare and Twain assignments, plastic cartons of pots and pans) were still sitting in my parents’ garage. The only two books whose locations I knew at any given moment were the Riverside Shakespeare and my grandmother’s Oxford Book of English Verse. I had springform pans under four separate roofs, and everything else was in an apartment or a box, somewhere. Maybe the time had come to stop living like that. Certainly Angie’s amply decked-out place made it a tantalizing notion.

It wasn’t so much the sheer psychological weight of all my own stuff, boxed and on a shelf seven states away–or most of the stuff Jakub and I had amassed in five years of marriage, stashed half at his parents’ place and half in our tiny apartment in the south of Prague–that made my heart sink but the knowledge that I was now on a fourth set of some of them. No one should own four Bundt pans in one lifetime.


Lunch Weather

The view

The view

Rain-tossed days like yesterday are when I best love working at home–not only because I’m not drenched by the commute, but because it’s like being high up in a jungle canopy, with the branches whirling and leaves clattering on the tree outside our window.

But around noon, I realized that I was due on the Upper East Side for lunch with a friend, so I pulled out my rain boots and ran for the station.

The only time I go north of 59th Street (outside Central Park) is when J. and I meet at the Czech Center for concerts or exhibits, so it seems fairly otherworldly to me. It’s the New York of movies, with manicured sidewalks and elegant brownstone facades. And everyone seems to be French. J. dreams of moving there, but my myopic view of the UES prevents me from understanding how slouchy, gaucho-panted, coupon-clipping ol’ me would survive.

My friend and her husband are renovating their apartment, and she invited me up for a look. It’s a beautiful space, with a balcony and great views, and it reminded me of renovating our apartment in Prague. We ripped out the kitchen in our place (a 1972 time capsule worthy of the Museum of Culinary Torture), and never did a wall look so lovely as did that blank spot. (Well, it looked lovely until we realized we’d have to drill through a foot of concrete to install wiring for the range, and eventually the wiring for the lighting was routed through the bathroom, which is the sort of renovation horror-story you think will never happen to you. Then it began to look wholly unlovely.)

We headed back out in the rain, and to lunch at Petaluma, where Sandra had spinach gnocchi so feathery, they put to shame any other gnocchi I’ve ever had, and I ordered ravioli stuffed with veal, crushed amaretti, and raisins, scattered with fried sage leaves. We talked about past lives in other parts of the world (Sandra grew up in Panama and did a Cordon Bleu degree in London) and how, coming back to the U.S. after a while away, you still live, obliviously, with all the adaptations and ad hoc expat tricks you invented abroad. (Case in point: when I came face-to-face with ready-made pie crust a few weeks ago and stood with the freezer-case door open in awe as clouds of icy air rolled out into the aisle and into the manager’s peeved gaze.)

“Dessert?” asked the waitress, but we were too busy talking about how to put to work Sandra’s vast culinary knowledge, and my ability to make halfway-decent biscotti and write about it. When she came by again, I asked the waitress if we could just look at the dessert menu. (Vicarious desserting is a hobby of mine.)

Across the street, the chef of a Japanese restaurant stood in the doorway with his arms crossed over a long white apron, watching rain-slickered delivery men dart down the street on their bikes, through the rain. One waiter circled around our table, and then another, but we didn’t do anything about the dessert menu, and sat, talking and inhaling the smell of roast pork coming from the kitchen.

Lunch–especially lunch with friends–is good for the soul.