An unexpected reunion developed tonight; there were visitors, friends of theirs from Japan, and I’d been try to make plans with one of them, who is gone from it all like me, for a week. With others for longer. I expected a couple people I knew and an interesting evening of the translation barrier I remember so well. I was anticipating a quiet evening, pleasant smiles, and lots of hand gestures.
There were a lot of hand gestures (“shit just got real!“), but it was anything but quiet. With sixteen of us passing through, at least thirteen of us crammed together on benches and on stools around at any given time, it was hard not to be raucous. Almost all the members of our training group, save a couple who have moved from the city and a couple out on dates, and most of us haven’t see each other in months. Stories began flowing, and we realized something surreal. Almost a year ago to the day, the same people sat around a table 4 feet from that one. (Who am I kidding…this is New York…Make that 2 feet, not including chairs)
I can see it like it was yesterday. It was our first Friday after combat. We’d survived the first week, no one had cried while actually on the clock, and beyond the beginnings of some serious damage to our psyches, we were relatively unscathed. The happy hour specials were the same. Half off beers and appetizers, pitchers and 10cent wings starting at 8. We ordered nachos piled high with beef and jalapenos, artichoke dip, potato skins, Purple Haze—practically the same things. We were getting to know each other, deciding what secrets we would share and what secrets we should keep, what stories were fodder for polite conversation and which ones we wouldn’t bother with just yet. When the bill came, we screeched to a halt. No one had cash. What do you mean they can’t take all our cards? A card minimum? We pulled out phones for addition, pens for calculations, and at least half of us shuffled next door defeatedly to withdraw money we didn’t have from the ATM. Three weeks without pay? What kind of a place is this we thought? And little did we know …
Tonight we found ourselves in the same place. But one thing was different—us. Looking around the table, each of us had something about us that had changed. Longer hair. Darker lipstick. Different clothes. But most importantly, we were all people, friends, with one more year under our belts. We laughed more. We were one year older, wiser, closer to living the life we were dreaming of living.
For me it was refreshing for so many reasons. First, it was incredible to see so many of us together, and to see all of us doing so well. After dinner he, my fellow Midwesterner, and I were standing around when he said “everyone’s doing alright.” More than alright, I said. I think everyone is doing great! Sure, none of us have everything exactly perfect, but we’re all learning and growing, we’ve all traveled to incredible places and been moved to this incredible place now. And we live here. Maybe we work harder or longer than we want to, maybe we wish we got to do more of this and less of that, but really, who doesn’t? This is adulthood, this is life. It’s reality, not an episode of Friends. But the gift we had, that you could see in everyone’s face, was that we had grown and were better for it. And we were, and are, Friends.
Not only did I feel happy for them, but I felt happy for me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing all the right things, everything I could be, and if I’m missing something crucial that’s going to make all the difference one day. Sometimes I wonder why I’m not excruciatingly happy every minute of every day, and I wonder if I’m supposed to be, and if I am, what I’m doing wrong. And then I remember about me what I see in their faces. I’m just doing it. I’m not so worried about what it all means and what it could mean, and I’m just happy to be here sharing a table with these fine people.
And you know, when you take all the pressure and perfectionism out of it, we’re all doing pretty damn well. We’re living and working in one of the greatest cities on Earth. We’re making ends meat (or more than that in some cases), and some of us, including myself, are lucky enough to enjoy what we do. We’re making friends, dating, traveling. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll even write a book with a title so obscene it can’t even be be printed, like he said he would. I hope so.
When the bill came tonight, we split it between us. Most of us had learned by now that in this city you must carry cash, and all of us cared enough about each other (and had enough in the bank) not to worry about who at most of the 112 wings we ordered. (Though in his defense, they were really freakin’ cheap.) We said goodbyes, parted ways, and went back to our lives, ready to get on with the business of living, living in and through these formative years.
So, my friends, congratulations to all of you–to all of us–for making it this far. Cheers to the year that has passed and to many more to come!