They arrived one by one, each bearing gifts: chocolate, wine, hummus and veggies, homemade baked goods, a pitcher of our favorite margarita recipe, and a pitcher of sangria. And despite having a wide array of beverages at our disposal, we quickly realized we were missing one thing: dinner.
As we waited for pizza, we stood in the kitchen chatting and hovering over the goodies, leaning our elbows on the kitchen island, picking at the hummus and asking about the ingredients in the homemade cookies. Our faces were close, much closer than we would have been pretentiously perched around a room on overstuffed couches sipping tea. We could see each other’s eyes and we could follow more than one conversation at a time, and we could skip from topic to topic with mounting volume and enthusiasm. It was warm like the family dinner table. It was cleansing like church.
We leaned against the island and each other, and we laughed. No matter how many times my friend tells the story of inadvertently getting her breasts massaged by a beautiful woman on a Greek cruise ship, I laugh. I know that she’s going to make the phhhhht sound of a nearly empty ketchup-style bottle to describe how the oil was applied, and I know that she’s going to tell about the instant at which she realized what was about to happen – the moment that her boobs would be sculpted by a woman resembling Richard Dreyfus making a mashed-potato mound in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But still, she says it, and still, my side hurts and still, I’m gasping for air. And I look, and she is holding her side and gasping, too.
Though she loves to tell this tale, I think I’ll leave exactly which friend tells this story enshrouded in internet mystery. You know, for the sake of her heretofore anonymous breasts.
We got down to the business at hand, and the project du noir was a clean sweep of the playroom, something that I knew a pile of merciless moms would be up for. We started with a room where you couldn’t see the floor and ended up with a room right out of the Cluttery Homes and Gardens “don’t let this happen to you” feature of the month. It was fabulous, and it was done. There was half-completed project. There was pile of toys for a garage sale someday. Everything was whisked away to Goodwill, never to be seen again.
When the pizza arrived my girlfriends evacuated the kitchen and ran to the door like teenage girls grasping for a ringing phone. But it wasn’t the pizza that held their attention. It was the smiling man in shorts with a food catalog who happened to arrive at the same moment as dinner. They came back and forth to me like chickens shouting, “LORI! LORI! IT’S GARY THE SCHWAN MAN! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! IT’S GARY THE SCHWAN MAN!”
That’s right. It was Gary, The Schwan Man. I wrote about him two weeks prior and unfortunately many of my girlfriends read my blog. And here he was, perched sheepishly at my front door, hesitating to guess why women he had never met were running around my house shouting his name.
By the time I got there, he was definitely blushing, and so were some of my girlfriends. I tried to decide whether to tell him he had been the subject of a blog post in which I had compared him to a UPS man of delectable deserts, or whether to let him go on thinking I was secretly lusting after his foodstuffs and describing to my girlfriends how happy he made me. But I just couldn’t choose. Both were kinda true. And before I could say a word, my friends were telling him all the sordid details.
“When does your husband come home?” he asked. “Soon,” I said. “Good, ma’am,” he said.
He left faster than any man I’ve ever seen who was working on commission.
As we stood and ate our pizza and laughed some more about the fortuitous arrival of the Schwan delivery truck, time hovered and sputtered for an instant and I looked around the room at my friends. I took an inventory of memories.
These are souls that I’ve known for so many years that I can tell you what kind of underwear they prefer and what kinds of pain relievers they stock in their home medicine cabinet. I thought about a dinner where we debated the inherent evils of public nakedness. I remembered scaring the pants off my friend from behind as I ran by her under the bridge. I recalled relying on one friend’s driving skills as we chased my husband down a dirt road for a dress left in his back seat. I remembered the only friend who could keep my cranky newborn appeased during a “relaxing” visit to the beach, and I remembered the friend that brought me stool softener at midnight. I remembered the boat in Mexico that nearly capsized and drown a dozen of us, and the lasagna test of wills, and the peach fizz fiasco. I remembered all of us weeping upon learning that cancer would take one of our husbands. And I remembered the looks on their faces when I told them my husband was being mobilized to the desert for a year.
I soaked in the looks on the faces around me. Several were laughing so hard they were crying, and one was dabbing the leaking mascara from the outside corners of her eyes. One was holding her side with one hand and covering her mouth in disbelief with the other. One was lurching and gasping for air. The story-teller was waving her hands between fits of laughter, and I found my cheeks red and throbbing from terminal smiling. I haven’t felt that way in a long time. It was breathtaking. And not at all because we were (probably) talking about sex.
I love them, and they are mine.
They feel like my family.
Not the one I was given,
But the one I chose.
The one that chose me.
Thank you to all of my friends for your support during this deployment. Thank you for holding me up when I wasn’t ready for what was ahead. Thank you for screwing my brain back in when I was ahead of myself. Thank you for raising my children when I was absentee. Thank you to all of those who used their gifts and talents rather than trying to poke a square peg in a round hole, and thank you to everyone who hugged and prayed and called at just the right time. Thank you to the men and women of the internet who reached out and cajoled and encouraged me. And most of all, thank you to the readers who came back again and again. Your rising numbers forced me to push the nonsense out of my mind. The exercise of attempting to put my “problems” into words has helped me to realize how truly small they are.
Military families are made in the midst of challenge. And I consider you all a part of mine.