Saturday morning, I woke up early, and two of the three kids I have given birth to were in bed with me, their sweat-sticky legs wrapped around mine. This is often how we wake up in the mornings, and every once in a while, I lay there and think about how perfect it is, how perfect they are, cuddled against me. You can picture it, can't you? Light filtering in through the curtains. A distant bird--a jay or a robin, nothing predatory--calling out.
Usually, though, what I think is "why the hell are they in bed with me AGAIN?" Then I wonder if they will ever stop sleeping with me, if I will ever be alone for longer than ten minutes, and why I thought three was a good idea. Then I notice the curtains--Ross, $3.50 a panel--and wonder if I'll ever earn enough on my secretary salary to buy new ones. I think all of these things, in varying degrees and at varying times, because I am a sometimes selfish mother. This is known in the rest of the world as normal. This past Saturday, though, I thought immediately about their legs sticking to me, how I wanted to be alone, and then I realized I was about to drive them two hours north and drop them off. And then I was happy, relieved. And then I felt guilty. Very guilty.
Two hours north is where their dad lives, and it was his weekend with them, and so I roused them, dressed them, bought them doughnuts (a Dad Weekend ritual for the ride up), and proceeded to drive two hours there and then two hours back. I hit home around 12:15 pm and instead of going home, I went straight to Friend One's apartment. Why? She was moving.
A word on Friend One's apartment: it is teeny-tiny, a one bedroom with a postage stamp sized living room, and a small kitchen. It's one of the student apartments so frequented by un-employed doctoral candidates and other ne'erdowells*. So, it's supposed to be small. But Friend One had, two years previously, turned this small, dingy place into something out of a Martha Stewart Guide for the Graduate Set. She had a small red suede couch, a lovely old table, mismatched china, prints from Spain and art festivals, plants and flowers everywhere, and a bird named Pablo. She had cheap bookcases filled with wonderful literary books, and arranged with knickknacks in such a way that you didn't even notice the bookcases themselves were made of white particle board. We're writers. We're all good at turning nothing into something, but Friend One can turn nothing into something everyone else wants.
So, when I arrived at Friend One's apartment Saturday, I expected it to be a mess, but I didn't expect it to look like someone had blown up a Pottery Barn. But that's exactly what it looked like. Cake decorating kits, a mortar and pestle (marble, of course), delicate tea cups from France, salad spinner, sake cups--all of it had been tossed, pell mell, onto the countertops, waiting to be packed. "I'm a little behind," she said. I nodded. Then she said, "I'm so fucking glad you're here." This is not because we are close--sister close--but because she was planning on enslaving me all day, and it is much easier to enslave someone when they show up willingly at your abode and clamp on the shackles themselves. Which I more or less did when I said, "I'll start in the kitchen."
An hour later, Future Boy** showed up and started helping. Another hour passsed before Friend R rode up on his bike. He surveyed the damage--boxes piled on furniture, on the porch, the lawn, and said, "You're supposed to be finished packing everything before you have people come help you move." I wanted to tell him, "Look. It was much worse, okay? I've been packing for two hours!" but I didn't because Friend One looked stressed, and basically, when she's stressed, there's only one thing to do: throw Xanax and run.
We spent the next two hours packing and...packing. And succumbing to Friend One's type-A-ness as manifested in the Contents of Boxes List. This was a document that she typed up on Word and which we were compelled--no, no; forced--to add to as well, which listed the contents of each box. Worse? All the boxes were numbered. Still worse? Since she's going to Montana for a while, some of her stuff will have to go into storage. Some of it will go to Montana directly, and some of it will be saved for when she does her residency on some isolated river property, where she is sure to meet her death, either by cougar or Martha Stewart-in-prison-like solitude. Therefore, all of the boxes were numbered, but all of them also had to be marked with "M," "S," or "R." Then, once appropriately marked, one had to type the contents of said box onto said document.
There were several problems with this, as I am sure you can imagine.
First, Friend One said, "you don't have to put down everything in the box. Just the essential stuff." Perhaps this is true, but when I neglected to write the words "x-mas tin" as being in box "#36 (S)", she went all Bekins on me and said, "I need to know which box that Christmas tin is in!" Yeah, and I need to know how to make it through Packing With Friend One without committing a felony.
This, however, turned out to be a bright point in the ordeal, for as the day went on, we expanded our descriptions: "Box 42 (R): A bundt cake pan (which you have used only twice), a Hawaii tile, a tartine because you thought you would cook ethnic food for awhile there, and four various and sundry bottle openers which you will never use. "
Around 4:00, we broke for an early dinner, and Friend One took us all out to a local pub with a lovely deck on a river (not the same one she'll be living on). We sat outside, soaked up the sun, and ordered burgers and sandwiches and pints of beer. Except for Friend One, who ordered cocktails like someone was paying her to. We talked loudly, got a little drunk, and were those people: flush with alcohol and laughter, talking over each other, repeating beloved stories. Don't worry, we weren't all nostalgic-like then. No, we somehow got onto the topic of hand jobs, which lead, naturally, to Friend One's now-famous statement "I just prefer cheese over masturbation." This, of course, led to a discussion of whether or not the kind of cheese mattered in this statement (I still contend that there is a world of difference between Velveta Singles and a good, triple-cream brie). Future Boy loved this, as did Friend R, although Friend Two was seriously disturbed. He is like an older brother to Friend One and me, and can barely tolerate the idea of us and sex.
We lingered over our food, ordered cajun tator tots and ranch, a dessert, and talked. We paid and finally headed back, because we had so much to finish, but none of us really wanted to leave.
Back at the apartment, the alcohol and conversation made us all prematurely nostalgic, mostly in an annoying way. Friend One and I sorted through her cosmetic museum***, leaving the men to load the (17-foot-for-one-bedroom-apartment-I-am-not-kidding) U-Haul. Friend One and I made piles of old lotions and hand creams, doll tubes of lipsticks, and talked about nothing. Nothing at all.
I don't know what I'm going to do without her.
We kept working. Kept packing, loading, swearing loudly. We also kept entering content descriptions into the stupid computer, but by now they had gone from snarky and biting to maudlin. Note that this was not necessarily an improvement: "Box 53 (M): This is the bottle of wine I bought you for your birthday because it reminded me of that bottle of wine you brought back from France years ago and saved and then, out of nowhere--remember?--that night at Christmas time, we opened it and drank it and sat on you couch and talked? Do you remember that?, and in this box is also all the magnets you own, and a whole load of pictures, and three of them are of the kids. From when we first got here, two years ago, and the kids--they looks so young, can you believe it? Look at Thing Three's little pudgy face."
It went like that.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 9:00 om, we started winding down. Friend Two and I sat at the picnic table outside and ate leftover pizza and talked. Friend One came out with some remnants from her cupboards and fridge: blue corn tortilla chips, Camembert spread, four expensive chocolate bars, a new bottle of champagne, and a half-drunk bottle of Vermont White vodka. The five of us sat, sipped vodka straight from old party cups, broke the chocolates into squares and passed them around, and scooped up the cheese with the chips. When the vodka was finished, we started in on the champagne.
I don't remember what we talked about, only that it was like every night we've all spent together here. Usually, it's been the three of us--Friend One, Friend Two and me--holed up at some cafe, or the library, heads down over awful pedagogy texts, or arguing over tone and voice and the precise meaning of the word "diced." Once, the three of us traveled to Vancouver, B.C. together on a train, spent four days downtown at a conference, and then took the train back. We argued and bickered, but on the train home, the movie Field of Dreams came on over the televisions. We watched the movie as the light outside slowly faded, and we all--exhausted and fed up with each other--cried at the end of the film. And not because it was particularly moving, though it is, but because we just needed to do something together, feel something together again.
A year later, we flew to Austin, Texas, and the two of them, in various ways (not all of them helpful) talked me through my intense fear of flying. We drank too much, stayed up too late, ate at restaurants and clubs we will never see again. And Austin is an amazing city--a city giddy-drunk on itself--but it was that those two were there, that we were there together. I don't ever want to go back, eat at Las Manitas or laugh at undergraduates puking in the gutters, unless it's with them.
The evening was finally winding down, all the boys were tired. Friend Two hugged Friend One, said goodbye. Friend R did the same. Future Boy packed up a few extra things while the two of us said our goodbyes. We cried. We cried for a long time. Long enough for Future Boy to come in and out--and in--my line of sight. Then I got in my car and left.
What do you say about something like this without reducing it or making it sentimental? I don't know. What I kept returning to was a line from an Amy Hempel story called "Today Will Be a Quiet Day," in which a father takes his teenaged son and daughter out for the day and a drive through rural California. At the end, his daughter is at the wheel, and she says, "It's getting dark. We have to go home." And he says, "no, keep driving. It's getting earlier." That's what I think about now. Friend One is in Montana, and not unhappy. And I am here, not unhappy either. It isn't that we want things to go back, exactly, or that we want a reversal. We just want to believe in our ability to keep one thing. A friend who has cursed your ridiculous men with more spite than you could ever manage. A falling down house, a story that doesn't work. Thin legs woven in sheets.
This is a particularly bad, sentimental billet doux. But I refuse to apologize for it.
*I so just wanted to say "ne'erdowells." It's the elephants adnoids.
**Future Boy is Friend One's boyfriend, so named because he shaves his entire head. Which makes him look alternately like he's one of those creepy aliens from Dark City or from the year 2102. When I'm mad at him, I call him "Crazy Alien Boy."
***Yes, "museum" is the only appropriate word for it.