Just 6 months ago, our friends made a big move across the ocean from our little town just north of New York City to Bologna, Italy. As they got ready to leave, my friend Gina and I talked about how we would keep up with each other’s lives, and just how different our experiences might be over the next 2 years. Trepidatiously, we agreed to start a blog (we know…that’s exactly what the world needs, another blog!) to catalog and compare our journeys. Although we had intended to start it along with the new school year, time and technology conspired against us, so instead here we are now. A little late but still willing and we hope, able. We’ll aim to post once a day from Monday to Friday in real time, but first, we have a little catching up to do! For our first 2 weeks, we’ll share the highlights of the transition and our first few months apart before getting on to what’s happening now. Thanks for joining us!
When my friends started talking about (possibly) moving to Europe last year I innocently encouraged them. You might even call my response to their idea ‘exuberant.’ I mean how sexy and exciting and modern and cool is the prospect of packing up one’s entire life and moving it to the Italian countryside? Visions of new beginnings and magical adventures for my friends danced in my head like sugarplums–alongside notions of spinning wheels of fontina and colorful terra-cotta bowls filled with the spaghetti a la carbonara I would devour when I’d visit them, often of course.
But when Gina and Stefan and their family actually moved to Bologna this past summer, my heart’s response to their departure was much less enthusiastic. Though I tried my best to cheerfully help them during the exhausting weeks leading up to their move, it was a bittersweet time. I was thrilled for them, to be sure. Bearing witness to loved ones realizing a dream is a rare gift of intimacy that can be experienced only when the connection between people is strong and true. Part of me, though, wanted them to stay here with me.
Over the past several years, their family had become a vital part of my family. Our eleven-year-old boys, Noah & Zoel, are almost identical in both age and their precocious natures and have discovered a comforting solace in one another’s quirks and crankiness. My friends’ ebullient, passionate daughter, Leeloo, delivers my husband Ray and me unending moments of delight in the way only the smarts and the songs of little girls can.
For the past three years the Friday-night dinners our families shared were the nourishment I depended on at the end of each long, task-crammed week. Over home-cooked meals and a bottle or two of Barolo we’d imbibe in decadent and utterly necessary conversation about jobs and kids and friendship and life. Sometimes our Friday night therapy sessions would bleed into Saturday morning excursions to the farmer’s market or afternoon-long Little League games or…brunch. After spending several holidays and long weekends with Gina & Stefan’s extended families and a few of their other friends–a multifarious and impassioned bunch of some of the finest folks I know–we had fallen a little bit (or maybe a lot) in love with them, too.
And now, it seemed, that because of The Move, they all were leaving us. What was to become of us and our ardent relations? How strong were the bonds between us, really? Would I know what would become of Walker and Ollie and cousin Milo? Would they have facial hair the next time I saw them? Would we ever spend time with Emmy and Avalon and Christian again? Would Adrien remember me in his Oscar speech? Or Natasha when she landed the cover of Vogue? And how about Françoise? And Daisy? And beloved Abuelo?
And if that isn’t enough angst and self-pity for my first blog post, I’ll admit I was a little bit envious of my friends, too. I imagined all of their shiny adventures in this foreign land–wholesome breakfasts at their new kitchen table, poetry lessons at the kids’ new school, the nervous and excited belly flops they’d feel as they navigated the streets of their new town and once they discovered the eccentricities of their new friends (employing all of it in a brand new language, no less) and it made my life Staying behind seem dingy and dull.
Noah would be going to the same school he went to last year. I’d be shopping for the same groceries at the same market I’ve been visiting for almost a decade. The dog would need to be walked so he could poop in the same spot by the same tree at the end of the same street every morning, rain or shine. Everything, except our friends living out the triumphs and trials of their lives next to ours, was staying the same.
Sometimes ‘staying the same’ can seem synonymous with stagnancy. Looking at my life through the lens of the thrilling (though, I know, nerve-wracking) challenge my friends had signed their family up for made me wonder if my life–and my family–was missing something: that us not making some big, bold move, that us not changing our physical perspective of the world or testing our emotional comfort zone was, at the very least, an uninspired way to live. At worst it meant that we were lazy and scared.
But we are here. We stayed. In our little house in our little village on the edge of the Hudson River. A town that we love, despite its Leave-It-To-Beaver tendencies and gossipy newspapers. Despite its ultra-conservative Catholic Church and the fact that the it’s the only politically conservative-leaning county in southern NY State. This village is our home. The local police officers know my son (and my dog) by name. My neighbors take in our mail when we are away and leave baskets of pears from their tree on our front porch. There is a comfort to be found in knowing what to expect when I walk the dog each day–perhaps freeing up my energy and, ahem, consideration so that all of that rich growth and change I am certain will happen to my friends across the ocean will happen to us here, too.
Staying can mean stagnancy. But so can leaving–if you don’t pay close enough attention to your life. My friends Leaving has forced me to start paying attention to my life in a new way; to start appreciating the people and the places that are here with me right now, instead of waiting for something new and different to come along and force me to realize what I might have left behind.
Day and night, the trains behind our house chase the mighty river’s tides, ferrying all manner of humanity in and out of one of America’s great (transformative) cities while my friends eat and sleep and laugh (and fret) on the other side of the world. Yes, I am sad that we no longer have time together each week. And I get anxious sometimes because my son is often lonely. My 3am worry-go-round now features a mount of concern regarding my friendship with Gina–that now that my dear friend has left her spot at my kitchen table, my relationship with her won’t remain rich and deep and true.
But as I swoon over email photos of her new house and the kids’ new school and my family Here makes plans to visit them There, I am comforted in knowing I have a first row seat in the theatre of their adventures. I am thrilled about the writing space and time that this blog offers the procrastinating writer in me–as well as its promise to keep Gina and her family close. I am hopeful that the prospect of sharing my thoughts with others, with YOU our readers, will keep my scrutiny of my life honest and steady and keen. I am eager to see what tomorrow will bring for all of us.
Mostly, though, I miss my friends.