One peculiar and lovely truth about my friends is that I never, ever worry about introducing them. I think I take it for granted that because I adore each of them, they will, in turn, at the very least, get along, if not find one another as charming as I find each of them. I take this all for granted, but for good reason: some of the happiest moments in my life have been those moments when the people from different parts of my life meet one another.
I want to tell this story because it makes me so happy, but as a friend, I will have to edit myself a bit here to respect certain boundaries of privacy. I’m not going to name names here or define the relationships too precisely. I don’t do this to tease you, dear reader, nor to make myself look like a Woman of Mystery. But our personal lives can be delicate little creatures that must be handled gently. And the thing about personal lives is that inevitably your personal life is not just your personal life—it intersects with that of your friends and lovers and family and their friends, lovers, family…it’s like the proverbial stone tossed in the center of a quiet pond. The stone breaks the surface, and the ripples fan outward, reaching toward the edges, seemingly eager to find the boundary that will stop them and return the pond to its peaceful state.
This weekend I went to Austin, Texas for the first time. It’s a trip I have wanted to take for a long time, but it took me a year and a half of Texas living to make it happen. There were details that needed to be worked out, like transportation and lodging. I don’t have a car, and while life in College Station is manageable on foot or on two wheels, road trips are an entirely different beast. Then there was the question of lodging, which can get pricy. I find hotel prices stunning—the amount of money that one can pay for what amounts to a roof overhead and a bed in which to sleep! I’m underselling hotels a little bit here, I know, and our lodging in Austin was comfortable and reasonably priced—I have no complaints. But still: if you are new to paying for a hotel room like I am, it takes some motivation to bite the bullet and find your credit card.
My road trip buddy and I worked out the details fairly painlessly: she drove and paid for the gas, I booked and paid for the hotel room. We did a simple overnight trip, leaving on Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday. The rest of our trip was planned by our handsome Austin tour guide, who treated us like honored guests, showing us his favorite places in Austin, plying us with coffee and cookies and a terrific nature walk during which we felt like we were climbing up and down a mountain, so steep was the elevation in parts of the trail. And as a reward for our persistence, we were treated to stunning views of a valley with a winking, sparkling river running through it.
For dinner on Saturday night, we went to Fino, which our tour guide described as a Spanish-influenced restaurant with touches of Tex-Mex style in its use of ingredients and certain dishes on the menu. It was really a magical evening for me, not just because Fino’s food is delicious and the service impeccable, but because of the company with whom I dined. There were four of us, me and the three friends brought together by their connections to me and each other. My road trip buddy is my newest close friend and my best friend in College Station. My oldest friend at the table is the one I see the least, but to see her was to be reminded of all that we had shared years ago, when we worked and played together in Chicago. Seeing her was like slipping into a favorite but neglected piece of clothing; indeed, her hug felt so strong and sure that I felt this rush of affection and regret for letting so many years go by without seeing her. We’ve kept in touch by phone, and I always try to remember to send a little card for her birthday, but it can feel intimidating to keep up a long-distance friendship. I am guilty of letting our friendship settle into a dusty corner in my mind, but that doesn’t diminish my feelings. Some old friendships are like a fine wine—they can not only tolerate some time in the cellar, but they actually grow better with age.
It was through this old friend of mine that I met our tour guide, who was the one most responsible for the fine meal we ate together. As we sat there over coffees at the end of the meal, after small plates of goat cheese toasts and chorizo-stuffed dates, bowls of white almond gazpacho (a revelation of flavors and textures—it was amazing), and big plates of trout, bone marrow, and vegetable cazuela, I marveled at the day, the evening, these people who have brought so much joy and laughter to my life. I thought about the ways in which we met each other—two of us through work years ago, another two of us through work more recently, two of us at a long-ago party, two of us through a friendship with me, two of us meeting that very evening because of the other two, and finally, two of us through my oldest friend at the table. We were so lucky, I think, to have found each other in whatever way, but more than that, we were lucky that we found ways to conquer time and distance so that we could still be in each other’s lives.
I can be a bit territorial about some things—my home, my work space, my time—but somehow, through some act of grace, I’m not territorial about my friends. I don’t feel possessive or selfish about sharing my friends with each other. I love bringing people together, being the Kevin Bacon for two people who otherwise might not ever meet. As I get older, this desire to share grows stronger. I like the excitement of making a new connection, of attaching faces to names for my friends who have only heard of one another and have little context other than my stories. That evening, around a table for four, I just felt surrounded by love. I was practically drowning in gooey sentiments, swimming through sappy, happy contentment. If I could live a life where those moments of loving and sharing are not too far apart, then I think I could consider my life a good one.