I can be pensive when I need to be, to appear intelligent and aloof. I can do this as protection or for show, a drag I perform to keep myself entertained on the long flights and the short layovers. I play this game and wonder who think I’m interesting. In the liminal spaces of airport terminals, everyone wants to be an image of God, someone you’ll clutch and pray to when the seatbelt sign flashes, when turbulence hits, when the seat has to remain in an upright position.
I feel the same way about friends. Who will crash with me? Who will share their mask and let me breathe with them? So few people have met those standards, so few have tried. My circle of friends used to be loose and crocheted, a yarn of commonality from being bored in the same area code. Now, the scatterplot characters I call friends are in timezone drifts and desert plains, in metropolitan cities with crime rates and county fairs. As you get older, you begin to lessen the load, streamline the birthday cards to remember, the gifts to buy. The secrets you once told the room now remain between you, God, your teddy bear, and a friend. Whoever will listen rather than opine, whoever will not judge.
I have this in my friend, Carissa. I have this on a level unsurpassed by any other person I’ve met. We hugged tight in her car as she pulled up to greet me at the airport. She handed me fried chicken, we went to Taco Bell. A relationship built on unashamed enjoyment of dollar menus and drive-throughs, stopping at a fast food restaurant is intrinsic to our friendship. It’s in the DNA of who we both have become together because there is no pretense, no need for customs and waiters. We are happy to substitute a napkin for a shirt sleeve, we are happy to laugh at ourselves and who we have become.
After, we drove to her apartment, in a suburb of Philadelphia. In a two-bed-two-bath, with high ceilings and broken bar stools. I slept on the couch, the air conditioning turned on to combat the insidious humidity that unapologetically clings to your body like static. There was no getting rid of the heat, and I was introduced to it in Philadelphia.
And the next morning, when I dropped Carissa off at work to have her car for the day, I stripped my sweaty shirt off and sat for a while in the parking lot of her complex, marveling at the greenery and the way birds sang higher notes. Beads formed, breath shortened, and I followed the familiar zigzag of hallways that led to her doorstep. I drank the rest of my gas station coffee and found every movement of mine echoing in her airy apartment. I had time to think, to relax, to hear myself and my opinions. I had time, for the first time in a long time.
So I cleaned her apartment. I did the dishes and folded blankets. I put laundry away and wiped my spit from the sink. I did it because I wanted to show I loved her in a way she wouldn’t expect. I like to be kept busy, and I’m good at distracting myself from myself. The echoes were almost too loud, they drowned out the birdcalls I loved so much.
When it was time to pick up Carissa, we headed towards Richmond, Virginia, the overnight stop on our way to Pinetops, North Carolina. We shot down lanes, followed banks and rivers. We covered more mileage in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed than I had in years. We stocked up on snacks, and stopped once to buy lottery tickets outside of Baltimore. Carissa drove the whole way and I watched her lips move in the cold blue hues of her dashboard as we sang along to the radio. It was a night when the water made the air cold and we fogged up the windows from laughing at ourselves.
We checked into a Microtel that had bulletproof glass and slept in a queen-sized bed, waking up five hours later to pull into my brother’s driveway by nine the next morning.