The One Who Leaves and the One Left Behind

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The summer after my freshman year in high school, my best friend Tina announced to me that she was moving to a boarding school. We were fifteen. I was crushed.

All of my fondest memories starred me and Tina. Against varied backdrops — her bedroom, her cottage, a stretch of sand along Lake Huron, the auditorium at the Bay City Players, the Wheel at First Presbyterian Church, the back of their ’80s-fabulous van — we shared secrets and music and thoughts and dreams. We laughed uncontrollably at inane inside jokes, the basis of which I can no longer pull from memory. We weathered the hell that is middle school together, walking the long stretch of road from Cramer Junior High to Lesperance Court, where I dropped out, followed closely thereafter by our friend Andrew. Then Tina would continue on alone.

She was the trailblazer, always traveling, always going somewhere and doing something and sending me a postcard written in her huge, lefthanded script with the strange M’s that looked like a hammock strung between two trees — like the one in her backyard that I would never lounge in again. When she left, I began to scheme about a way to leave as well, not because I wanted to get out of my hometown or get away from my parents, but because I wanted to be the one who leaves instead of the one left behind, the one who was embarking on a new adventure instead of the one standing on the porch and watching taillights fade away in the distance. The one who leaves and the one left behind are both parted from one another, but it is far from the same experience.

I had the distinct joy of keeping in touch with Tina. After she graduated from her boarding school, she went on to Boston then Boca Raton then Colorado then Argentina and then back to Colorado with occasional trips to Cambodia and Thailand and Scotland. Whenever she was back in Michigan I tried to make it back to Bay City to visit. She was a better letter writer than I, and so occasionally I would get a card or note in the mail. I never felt like I had much to report back to her; my life was so tied to routine and the everyday tasks of the student, the worker, the wife. In 2002 or 2003 I sat with her in the cafe at Schuler Books in the Meridian Mall in Okemos, overjoyed to hear of an important change in her life. When I drove out of that parking lot to head back to Grand Rapids where I was living at the time, I could hardly see the road for the tears — tears of joy, yes, but also tears of loss. And every time I have thought very long about her since she left me on my porch in 1995 — my God, twenty years ago — I have cried.

Five years ago I flew to Denver to attend her wedding to a wonderful man I have recently had the pleasure of getting to know a little better. A few weeks ago, I flew out again to visit for a few days and meet their little baby boy. We rambled about in the mountains, shared meals at their table, talked of our parents and our friends and our families. And like all true friendships, we picked up where we had left off like no time had passed between us. But even now, as I type this, tears are in my eyes. Because I’m still the one who was left behind, and the ache never quite goes away.

Last night, my husband and I got the heartbreaking news that our closest friends in town are moving three states and ten hours away. It’s wonderful news for them — an answer to years of fervent prayer for a teaching position. And I am truly happy for them. Yet here we find ourselves again, standing on the porch while the ones who know you most deeply, for whom you put up no front of having-it-all-togetherness, drive away to a new life. We feel emptied of something that made us us. And it sucks.

My sophomore year of high school started without my best friend. I wasn’t sure if I would make another close friend — everyone else already had their best friends. They’d been best friends, most of them, since elementary school, just as Tina and I had. But then, a few weeks into the school year, I met a senior named Zach.

And five years later, I married my new best friend.

Proper Ladies, Nepali Dishes, Amorous Frogs, and Opera Outings

Sometimes you just have a string of great days full of irregular bits of life. We’re a family that is fairly set in our routine. Work, school, church, karate…over and over again in an endless but pleasant cycle. And then you get a weekend like this:

Friday – Attended the reading of a paper about 18th Century Gardens at the Lansing Women’s Club as the guest of a member. Very formal. Tea afterward. Did not embarrass my nervous host. ;)

Saturday – Ate the best pancakes my son and I have ever made. Began constructing an Itty-Bitty Bungalow for a contest at our favorite area nursery, Van Atta’s Greenhouse, out of items found in the garden and yard (pictures when it’s finished). Raked the leaves off the gardens (again) and trimmed the rosebushes. Ate scrumptious food and shared long and entertaining conversation at the home of some Nepali friends.

Sunday – Church (of course) followed by steaks on the grill and a phone call from my mother asking me if I had plans for the night (of course not). She happened to come into possession of two tickets to The Phantom of the Opera at the Wharton Center. Got into my jeans and walked around Fenner Nature Center observing foraging deer, mating frogs, and busy chickadees while waiting for mother to arrive in town. Changed back into a dress. Attended the opera. Randomly saw my sister-in-law and her family there, though they are from the west side of the state.

And then it got interesting…

Rather than deal with parking at the Wharton Center, I had asked my husband if he would just drop us off. Mom knew others from her church in Bay City who would be there and we could just ask them to bring us home. If they couldn’t, my bright idea was to take the bus, which is a fairly straight shot from MSU’s campus to near our house. Well, the people from her church had a pretty full car, so off we walked to the bus stop. However, I hadn’t thought about the fact that the buses don’t run as late on Sunday evenings. The last bus had picked up at our stop two hours earlier.

Zach couldn’t leave the house to pick us up without waking our sleeping son (who had school the next day), so I suggested we just walk home. It was a lovely night, the sidewalks are well lit, and there are no sketchy areas to walk through, so off we went. I figured it was about two miles. I lied to my mother and told her I thought it was about one mile. Turns out, it’s almost four miles. Which would have been fine, if Mom had been in tennis shoes. And if it hadn’t kind of started to rain.

After walking two and a half miles, we stopped at Quality Dairy and asked Zach to wake the boy up, stick him in the car, and come pick us up. All’s well that ends well, and at least we got some exercise! And now both of my parents have a story (about twelve or thirteen years apart) to tell about how I made them walk long distances due to a mistake regarding transportation and parking.

From the planned activities to the spontaneous, it was all in all a lovely April weekend.

The Trouble with Old Cats

We recently discovered (after a series of incredibly painful tests) that our six-year-old son is allergic to both of our pets, especially our cat. We’re trying a medication, we’ve banned both dog and cat from the second story where our bedrooms are, and I have been attempting to be more obsessive about vacuuming than feels natural. Lastly, I have been looking for a new home for our twelve-year-old cat.

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Yesterday, we were thinking (hoping) we’d found it. Lydia went home with a newer acquaintance of mine who is sweet and loving and who was looking for a friend for her older cat.

Today, Lydia came home again.

Here’s the trouble with old cats–or at least my old cat: she is set in her ways, used to her own home and family, and not interested in making new friends, apparently.

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Despite the fact that every attempt was made by her new potential family to introduce the cats the right way (separate rooms, etc.) Lydia was very open about her displeasure, hissing, growling, biting, escaping, fighting…you get the picture.

She is obviously a one-cat-household cat.

So now we know.

And now we have our Lydia back.

The trouble with old cats is that, much like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, all ways are their ways. They are tiny, furry tyrants. If cats were people, I doubt anyone would tolerate them long. But they’re cats. So they can behave as they wish, and we will still take them back.

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