disclaimer (LL would be smiling and nodding right now "here it comes! the disclaimer.." she would say. "you're all fabulous writers, we don't need the disclaimer! but go on if it makes you feel better.." oh how I miss that wonder-woman.) like I said, disclaimer: this is one killer of a post. seriously long, but something I totally needed to get out. please bare with it and me. I applaud anyone who has the patience to read all the way through :)
"What do you do? You laugh, you know?
I'm not saying I don't cry, but in between I
laugh and I realize how silly it is to take everything
too seriously. Plus I look forward to a good cry.
It feels pretty good."
We headed home this afternoon, five of us all piled up in the car surrounded by ginger ale cans and yellow paper napkins. Each of us smooshed up in the back-seat looked a mess with sweatpants and moccasins and last nights makeup smeared on our faces, and the boys in the front were all tired-eyed and chatting during the lulls in the hockey updates that were coming in over the radio. The ride home is always tough. It's mostly quiet but it's sprinkled with moments of giggling and "remember whens" from the weekend that slipped by; and we always manage to get on the subject of how much we miss being together all the time and then the quiet settles in again. This time, I couldn't get Sneezeweed off my mind anytime the quiet came. I couldn't quite figure out how I would describe this weekend in my little mountain town.
It's always refreshing to step out of the car and into the only place that feels like it was made just for me. I feel more calm, more comfortable, more grounded when I am there. I feel like I've just arrived home, despite the fact that I no longer live there. And from the second I enter that mountain-town-bubble, I can't help but feel the dread for when I will have to leave it behind again. At the same time though, the mountain-town-bubble is just that- a bubble. You are always surrounded by familiar faces and places. You can't hide or escape from anything, and if you try to run you can't go more than a mile before hitting a wall of nothingness. Most of the time the bubble is comforting. I can walk that town with my eyes closed. I know exactly who and what I can expect to see when I go in any given store or cafe or bar. Navigating my way through this place is like navigating a map of my own heart: friends around each bend, a comforting spot on every corner, a memory every-where I look.
But other times, going back to this bubble is a reminder of how emotional living in it can be. You can't escape anything or anyone. You can't drive ten minutes away and expect to find a field of new faces, you can't go into Starbucks and expect a quick undercover trip. You can't get out of bed in the morning and expect to walk the dog without last weeks date seeing you in your pajamas in the driveway. And you certainly can't expect to go to the local bar and not see the bear thats been lurking in the den of your mind for months. The bubble forces you to face people and situations that you may not be ready to face, and it makes you face them in a larger-than-life kind of way.
My weekend started off with a night out at our favorite spot. We sang and danced and laughed the night away. We played games and told jokes and hugged old friends, and we had so much fun. We stayed until the lights came on and the last song played, and then we went to grab our coats for the chilly four AM walk home. I was chatting with a friend who works at the bar while the others went to dig to the bottom of the coat pile, and when they came back we were one coat short. My coat short. We searched and whimpered and laughed all along, because really after four years of coming here every weekend having my coat stolen on a three day visit is exactly what would happen. So knowing that it was thirty-degrees and a fifteen-minute walk, I did the only logical thing and grabbed the nearest black coat before heading toward the door. My friend who works there saw me heading out and asked if I found my coat and I said no. He asked if I was just taking someone else's and I said yes. Then he told me to "go, go, go!!" and so I turned and darted as he pinched my side while I slid out the door. I pouted the whole way home while my friends laughed and laughed at me stomping my feet. It really was great fun.
The next morning we had the killer breakfast that I anticipated. The cali-x breakfast burrito was not created for those with a dainty stomach, and I demolished the whole thing before entering an afternoon food coma. We spent the day lounging in friends beds watching bad movies and grumbling about how little sleep we had gotten. We mustered up the energy to walk to town and take in some of that crisp mountain air, a cup of coffee, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Then after a quick dash to buy a new coat up-town, we got ready and headed out to have dinner and play pool with some friends. We spent hours playing and laughing at how little skill most of us have at at the game. And in case you are wondering about playing as an ameture in a pool hall, you might want to avoid referring to the balls as "stripy red one" or "all purple one." It is sure to blow your I'm-an-expert-too cover. We couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed and when the band stopped playing and the waitress scooted us out we hugged and goodbyed in the cold before the group dispersed. Half of us headed back to our favorite spot that we went to the night before, and oh was I prepared.
When we arrived I hung my coat in a new top secret location, while also hanging up the coat I had taken the night before. I thought that in the name of having good-coat-karma, returning it was the only right thing to do. Especially because it was two sizes too big anyway. Half way through the night I decided that a proper apology was in order, so I asked the bartender to borrow a pen and scribbled a note that went something like "I'm sorry I took your coat last night, but someone took mine and I couldn't walk home without a coat. It's cold. But don't worry I brought it back so you could get it tonight. Love, Ashley" I marched over and stuffed it in the pocket of the coat, praying it would put my karma in good standing. Another night of fun slid by and before we knew it three-thirty rolled around and people began to shuffle out into the snowy night and head home.
As we watched them leave, I also watched my bear walk in. My heart raced and my hands jittered and I didn't quite know what to do. So I walked. I walked all around the bar waiting for him to spot me. And of course he did. He was sitting up on a ledge with his feet on top of a table that was nestled between two benches, surrounded by a few friends. He looked at me with that shimmer that makes it impossible to turn away and gave a little wave before motioning for me to come over to him. He held out his hand and helped me climb up so I was standing on the table looking him right in the eye. I wish I could describe the type of hurt that runs through my whole body when I get that close to him.
Over the past few months I have played this moment in my head over and over, and wondered exactly what of all my thoughts would actually make it into our conversation. But my mind went blank the second he said "it's been a long time." All I could do was look down at my boots, and agree. After exchanging the standard "what have you been up to?" and "how have you been?" I wanted so bad to question him about everything that had happened and everything that didn't. But all I could manage to say was "I'm standing on a table" and all he could do was look down at my boots, and agree. It hurt. It was a moment that hurt. It was a moment that could only be created by the bubble-town, and the pain became larger-than-life. After climbing off the table and taking what felt like my first breath in minutes, I paced around the bar until it was time to go. I tried to be fine, I tried to have fun, I tried to laugh; but watching him unfazed by our chat made it impossible.
The bear looked over and waved before he headed out the door, and I then began tearing through the endless coat pile to find mine. And let me tell you, who ever makes the decisions about coat-karma apparently didn't find my note sufficient, because my newly bought coat was gone. Things get a little fuzzy, but I believe this was the point where I began to loose it. Two nights, two coats, and it had never happened before in all of the four-and-a-half years I have gone there. Please excuse me, but what the fuck? This time I found a sweatshirt that belonged to someone I knew who had left, and so I put on the four sizes too big fraternity sweatshirt before bee-lining towards the door to try to find an escape, only to run into the bear with his arms draped around some girls shoulders standing in the cold. I flew around the bend and into my friends arms with hot tears rolling down my cheeks. I cried the whole walk back.
I walked back with one of my mountain-town roommates and her boyfriend, two friends who know me better than most. They kept asking if I was upset about the coat or the bear, and I'm pretty sure not answering was the clearest answer of all. I cried while they cracked jokes about the bear to get me to crack a smile. They've been there through it all and their patience for him has worn two times as thin as mine. He kept asking me if I wanted to burn the bag of the bears clothes I had with me (I had all intentions of trying to return them), she kept assuring me there were plenty of lighters to use and fried rice to snack on in the house. And while the tears rolled down my cheeks they made me laugh a comforting laugh, and they'll probably never know how happy they made me in that moment. They reminded me that while I may not have the bears affection, I do have theirs and it's ten times as big as his could ever be.
When we got back to the house, we didn't burn the clothes, but we did eat the rice before all piling onto the air mattress and mumbling about the night, before all nodding off. You know you have some really fantastic friends when they don't mind you bunking up with them on a queen size blow up bed, while you toss and turn and wipe the last tears away before falling asleep.
It was a larger-than-life ending to what was an overall fantastic weekend. And while it would be really easy to let that last half hour of that night take over the way I feel about the trip as a whole, I know better than to take it all too seriously. Instead of getting all caught up in that bubble-induced tearful ending, I will think about how I have friends who I can laugh with despite the tears. I will laugh when I think about how A is on some crazy banana diet and we watched him eat six (SIX) bananas for breakfast. I will laugh when I think about how me and M tattled on the girls smoking in the bathroom. I will laugh when I think about B shouting "societal!" every time he had a good hand in the card game. I will laugh when I think about I coaching me through a game of pool. I will laugh when I think about J trying to find a dog-sitter. I will laugh when I think about me and M singing and dancing the whole night long. I will laugh when I think about loosing two coats and leaving a note in another. And I will laugh when I think about he and she convincing me to burn the bears clothes while I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
It's easy to take your friends for granted because they are always there. It's easy to forget just how important they are to you when you are lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But stick yourself in a little-mountain-town-bubble, throw in a couple of heart wrenching moments, and you will quickly see it's your friends who will make the difference in how you feel at the end of it all. Without my friends by my side there would be a lot less laughter to drown out the inevitable tears. Without them there, the occasional good cry would be nothing to look forward to. Without my friends the little mountain town would be nothing but a map committed to memory, and not a map of my heart.
I had a lot of time to think about this weekend while I was all smooshed up in the back-seat of that car, and I have to admit it was not easy to sort it all out in my mind. It's difficult to peel another finger back from the grip I have on this idea of me and my bear. Everyone wants to ask "are you okay?" and it's not easy to just say "yes" or "no." But sitting in that back-seat, I knew that I was surrounded by some of the biggest love I will ever know; and the occasional bout of laughter that filled the car was enough to get me to be able to answer their question. "I'll survive." And with all of them by my sides, I will do even better than that. I'll laugh.