A few weeks ago, I took a little trip to Boston. I was there for a conference, but I also spent a good deal of time taking a good look at the city and getting some fresh air. I’ve been applying for jobs there and wanted to see if I could imagine myself in Boston. And I needed a few days to get some air. And the air, it was good.
So good I freaked out when I had to come home.
Of course, not everything in Boston was sunshine and happiness. In a typically spectacular fashion, Friday afternoon I gave into a craving for a street hot dog, bit into it, realized it was cold, and kept eating. Then, I had beer, 1/4 of a pastrami sandwich, and baked beans for dinner. Genius.
The next day, I could feel my hair sweating. While I would rally and have a pleasant time, digestive distress would make me miss several important things about that Saturday, something that I regret now.
Anyway, after a nice breakfast and time with friends, I decided to enjoy what was probably the most gorgeous spring day ever. While I should have taken a nap, the only times my name and “nap” are in the same sentence are as follows:
“Is it the apocalypse? Because Elizabeth’s taking a nap.”
“Elizabeth seems really sick. Look, she’s napping.”
And finally, this gem from my parents,
“John, get over here and help me get her shoes off. I think something’s wrong. She’s napping. Does she look okay to you?”
“I don’t know. Did she double knot these? Don’t wake her up.”
So, without plans or direction, I decided to walk around.
After I saw the Swan Boats, squinted at the sun, and ate an Italian ice, I realized that I wanted to read outside and that I wasn’t carrying my Kindle. So, I hiked back to the hotel, grabbed electronic device 2 of 4 (because I travel with the full load, like all obnoxious people), and set out for Boston Common. Again.
I was pretty nervous about the presentation I had to give that evening for the obvious (public speaking) and not-so-obvious (all my insides wanted outside) reasons, so I claimed myself a nice bit of lawn, dimmed the old e-reader screen, and dug back into Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes*.
And, at first, they were just annoying, placing their blanket three inches too close and spewing random nonsense that’s more or less white noise.
But then one of them — the clear center of the group — said the thing that made me pretend to read the same page eight times: “I just hate this. Because here I am, waiting for him, and I know he’s off doing something stupid and fun with his friends. And I’m just here.”
I almost got up and hugged the girl.
It was so true. And it reminded me of what it was like back then (and still is, sometimes), when actions are so dependent and it feels like stuff you want to be a part of is over there, but you haven’t been exactly invited.
Also, her boyfriend was clearly cheating on her. She just hadn’t figured it out yet. She probably still doesn’t know. For those of us who have been gifted us with that particular Spidey sense by experience, it was totally clear from her story/his excuses in her story and the stupid-ass look on his face when he showed up out of nowhere. But only time, and a particular type of asshole, give you that one.
But anyway, back to the important part. As these girls were talking about pain that sounded silly — but was real — I thought about the ways afternoons like these play out and then, if you’re lucky, shape your actions later. I started hoping that these girls would look back on a gorgeous day in Boston when they were 21 and wondering if an offer of beer would make boys include them, decide they weren’t going to waste another afternoon like that, and do their own stupid and fun things.
Because I think that’s what growing up is: Realizing that the people who will sit with you on a blanket and listen to you while your heart is breaking are the ones you want to spend your day with. And that day should be stupid, fun, and better than anything the dumb boys can think of.
* Which was an accidentally perfect choice. Where else should you read the story of Boston missionaries’ involvement in Hawaii but on their old stomping grounds? On a related note, I need to finish the book. So, who wants a house guest?