An aftereffect of Staying is getting used doing all the things you used to do with the folks who Left, without them. For us it’s been eating dinner every Friday night (more about that on Friday) and celebrating the holidays, sure, but we’ve also had to adjust to the particular loneliness that now shadows us during the regular, everyday things we used to do with Gina and Stefan and the kids, too: meeting up at the local Farmer’s Market for mushrooms and kale, attending baseball games & ballet recitals, sharing a pot of tea at their kitchen table table whenever I needed a new perspective on one issue or another (which is often) and visiting the magic nail salon for some good gossip and a Cher concert video.
So to say that we were thrilled for Gina’s family’s first visit back Here in October is an understatement. Noah planned his outfits. I planned the food and wine. We marked the days off on the chalkboard in our kitchen. Ray and I were hoping to get the whole gang together in Garrison for a reunion evening of trick-or-treating and chili, but Halloween fell mid-week last year and made it impossible for our city friends to make it north for the fun. Though it turned out to be a more low-key night than we planned, we still got to share a couple of meals with the Bouvarez clan (and a few mini Snickers bars stolen from pillowcase treat bags) and we had a giant sleepover in our tiny house. Ray and I even went into the city one night for a fancy, grown-up, Japanese dinner with the whole New York contingent. But after Gina and Stefan left to go back to Europe, I was hungrier for their company and commentary than I was before they came.
We had gotten to steal a few minutes of conversation and togetherness with them, but the truth is, these people are in demand and we had to share. Back in America for only a limited engagement, their dance card was full…and then some. It seemed like our friends had to split themselves into 273 pieces in order to see everyone and get everything done. And though I felt empathy for their predicament, I was selfishly bummed that I didn’t get my fill.
So, with a little encouragement from Michele & Dan (friends we met through Gina & Stefan who are an absolute blessing to us) we found cheap airfare to Italy and decided we needed to join them for a trip to Bologna during the week of Thanksgiving.
I’ve mentioned that Noah’s a traveller. As is my husband, Ray. I, however, am more of a stay-at-home kind of gal. I mean I’ll travel. If I HAVE to. But always with one eye peering back over my shoulder, wishing, really, to be tucked in behind my desk staring at the river. Also, I don’t like to fly. ALSO, I’m unabashedly in love with my dog (I haven’t written much about him yet, but he’s the best and rarely leaves my side) who obviously couldn’t accompany me on a trip across the Atlantic.
You might sense where this is going.
It was only the promise of real time with my friends that got me on that plane. In the weeks leading up to that trip I hyperventilated and didn’t sleep. I worried about the dog sitter stealing all of our (IKEA) furniture and the house burning down and my grandmother getting sick and our plane crashing into the Alps. Though I had been coveting the excitement and fun that my friends were experiencing in their glamorous new life, when the time came for me to share in their adventure, all I wanted to do was find an excuse not to have to leave.
It’s a funny thing, all of this leaving and staying. And not quite as simple as the grass always being greener in your neighbor’s yard. I’m not sure what it all means yet, or what it means for me, but what I do know is that as soon as I saw Stefan waiting for us at the mouth of our gate in his dark blue jeans and slouchy hat wearing a smile as wide as the ocean we just crossed, nothing else mattered. They hadn’t Left and we hadn’t Stayed. I hadn’t Left where I Stayed to come and see them. We were in the same place (was it here? or was it there?) and it just felt good to be together. To be breathing the same air again.
It’s like that when you’re with your People.
Spending a week in Bologna allowed us to find the rhythm of our friendship again. Yes, being in northern Italy was amazing, too. During the days we toured the countryside and tasted 100-year-old Balsamic vinegar. We drifted around on the canals in Venice. We visited ancient churches and went shopping and out to lunch in town. But my favorite time of our days that week was just as the sun was setting and, one after another, my friends would wander into the kitchen. Soon enough the first glass of frizzante was poured and we’d make a plan for food. We’d cook together and eat together and then sit around the fire with grappa, talking about nothing and everything and laughing (about nothing and about everything) and yelling at the kids.
In those moments it wasn’t the food or the wine or the gorgeous vineyard vista outside the window that made the air crisp with joy and peace and that something that, if we’re very lucky, makes a few moments of our lives seem endless and immediate and utterly real. It was the people in that room sharing the most ordinary of daily tasks. Food. Drink. Conversation. My holy trinity.
God willing it will be again.