"I want you to go," I heard her say.
The words stunned me.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Are you sure" I asked again.
"I want you to go," she said.
I hadn't even thought to ask. Hadn't dared.
"Are you sure?" I asked a third time.
"Yes, I'm sure. Go."
The Reunion Tour, Michele had dubbed it. Getting the band back together. Michele, Dan, Bob, and myself, along with our partners. Gathering at Michele and Kevin's place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Three of the four best friends in my life, together again, one night only.
Once upon a time we stomped on the terra. We met while living and working in Albany, NY, in the early 1990's. We ran in the same circles. Worked in the same institutions of progressive politics, drank in the same bars, partied in the same basements. A lot of people in those circles, people we befriended in one way or another, but in the end, we befriended each other way more. We turned into a thing. Like a band, without the actual music and shows, though Lord, did we listen to some music back in those days.
Dan owned a house in town back then, a two-family, and he lived in the upstairs apartment with a revolving cast of roommates. His place was headquarters. Michele and I lived within walking distance, Bob did for awhile before he moved out to the country. We'd sit in Dan's living room and listen to music and pontficate on life, music, politics, and baseball, not necessarily in that order.
For awhile it seemed that we'd go on this way forever, but by the later part of the decade, things began to change. In the summer of '97, Dan went to DC for a gig slated to last a few months and then never came back. Spring of '98, Michele got offered a slot in the city on a campaign that would end in November. The day she left I hugged her goodbye and tried not to cry. "You won't be back," I told her. She argued otherwise, but she's been down there ever since.
Bob and I worked together for several years after this. Once or twice or sometimes in desperate moments even three times a day, we would trudge on down to the Daily Grind on Lark Street for large coffees. We'd sit on a bench in Washington Park, drinking our coffees and watching the world go by.
The four of us would get together when we could, a few times a year, and then the few times would turn into less than that. In June of 2008, seven months after my first wife died, I quit the job where Bob and I had worked together for eleven years. I had three young children and some money in the bank and I thought I should stay home with them in light of everything.
The four of us seemed to spend less and less time in the same place. Four or five or six times a year turned into two or three, and then one, and then, over the past two years, into none.
Michele emailed a few weeks ago, imploring us to get together. You know how it is with your best friends: you may not see each other much, but you're still best friends. We talked on the phone here and there, emailed each other. We may not have seen each other much and I missed them all terribly, but somehow they never seemed too far away; the months and years apart seemed temporary, just something to get through until we broke on through into the next parts of our lives when we'd get to go back to seeing each other more often.
Some sort of consensus emerged: we'd meet at Michele and Kevin's place in Bay Ridge. Sheila and I expored various childcare options, some seemed promising, but in the end, nothing worked out. We weren't going to get there. This past Tuesday, while downing my first pre-work cup of coffee, I sat down at the computer to type my resignation letter to my friends, a message to tell them to have a good time in our stead. Sheila happened to walk by, looked over my shoulder, and saw what I had written.
"Oh yeah, that's this weekend, isn't it?"
"Yup," I said.
"I want you to go."
I asked, again and again and yet again, if she meant it. I gave her every chance to back out.
"I want you to go. You need to see them." She laughed. "Don't worry, you'll make it up to me."
And I will; I started to before I even left, and I'm not even a quarter of the way there.
The whole thing was a whirlwind. I ran around the house doing dishes and laundry all morning. I made a nice turkey chili so Sheila could give them all a good dinner. I did some cleaning. I wanted to make sure I left things in good shape. Around two, I kissed them all goodbye and hit the road, flying down the Taconic and then the Saw Mill and then 9A and then under what they now call the Hugh L Carey Tunnel and on into Brooklyn. I got a little lost right near the end but Kevin got on the phone and talked me on into Ridge Blvd, or is it Ridge Pkwy, I can't remember.
Bob mixed a fresh batch of ice-cold martinins when I arrived, some sort of hand-crafted gin that had a distinctively piney flavor to it; the drinks veritably exploded upon my tongue. Fine music played in the background. I busted out some schtick. The years and the distance between us evaporated.
We're no spring chickens anymore. By eleven, Bob had cashed out for the night. By midnight, Michele, Kevin, Emily, and Cindy had thrown in the towel. By one o'clock Dan and I were the last ones awake, and not long after that, we were done, too. Seven hours is what we got together. Seven hours.
I slept fitfully, fearing that I would really let go and pass out and find myself staring at a clock that said something like, "12:09." I promised I'd get home as soon as possible. I woke up for good at 8:30, milled around for awhile, had a cup of coffee and a bagel, and then hit the road.
Coming off of 4th, staring down at a printout of directions, trying to decide which of several right-hand turns to make, and I made the wrong one, and I was on the Belt Parkway East instead of West, and I thought about getting off and turning around, but I feared getting lost inside of some maze of unrecognized Brooklyn streets, so I just kept going.
At some point, I realized I was headed toward JFK, and I can get from there to upstate in my sleep, and then I wondered if I had subconsiously missed that first turn so I could make a little pilgrimage.
Because I realized, drifting East instead of West, that I was exactly twenty years to the day removed from something. From a goodbye not from friends, but from a lover. Twenty years to the day, I had dropped Lauren off at JFK for her flight back to the UK after her two-week visit.
Damn, I thought, as I drove the middle lane of the Belt Parkway, but this day looks exactly like that day. Bright sunshine, mild temperatures feeling spectacular after a long winter, the winter of '93 went on forever, snowstorm after snowstorm, capped off by the blizzard in March.
We drove from Albany to New Jersey. On the Thruway we got to talking about next steps, the relationship was new, and difficult, given we lived an ocean apart. But I knew then and there I would wind up marrying her and somewhere a little south of the Kingston exit, I told her that.
The traffic moved slowly, but eventually we got near Kennedy. I looked over toward it, remembered the ride on the Carey bus from Port Authority out to the airport, remember how the closer we got the less we said, remembered feeling like I was about to vomit. Remembered her sending her luggage through and then the two of us at the place that divided passengers from everyone else, remembered us in a desperate embrace, remembered her walking away, remembered sitting down in a chair and weeping openly, right there in public, after she'd gone through.
I hit a lot of traffic on the way back, stopped a couple of times to get a soda and get my bearings. Took me four hours to get home, a good half hour or more longer than it should have.
I pulled a left onto my street and found a spot. Evie and Riley were playing outside. They ran up toward me as I walked up the driveway.
"Dad! I missed you!" they said at the same time. I hugged them both tightly and walked on inside. Bailey was watching the Knicks implode on the television. "Hey Dad," he grunted. "The Knicks suck today."
Sophie was napping in her room. I went on into the bedroom. Our bedroom. Inside was a beautiful woman wearing an olive green skirt and a dark t-shirt, lying half-asleep on the bed. She turned toward me and smiled.
"Hey baby," she said.
"Hi," I said.
"So did you have a good time?" she asked.
"Amazing," I replied.
She got up out of bed. I hugged her with all my might.
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you."