May 30th, 2017
“Old Friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends.” – Paul Simon
Jody was a moving target. Karin and I wanted to meet with her, after three decades of separation. We had initially thought that we could visit with Jody in Pacific Grove, near our old stomping grounds at Monterey. That was not possible because Jody wasn’t in Pacific Grove. She wasn’t anywhere, at least not for long. Jody was on the move. She was riding her bicycle in a basically southerly direction, stopping at the old Spanish missions, and exploring a California that was both her home and terra incognita. Jody had a blog at earthpilgrim.org, and she would send us updates on her progress.
Karin and I were also on the move. We were working our way west through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally southern California. As we closed in on Jody, we started sending texts. We needed to narrow down times, dates, and locations.
“Jody, where will you be on May 30th?”
“Near Santa Inez.”
“How near to Santa Inez?”
“I’ll get settled there around four. Does that make sense?”
Karin and I had a reservation at a Quality Inn in Buellton. We checked in there before looking for Jody. Buellton is a town of about four thousand people, slightly inland from the coast. It was sunny there, and the hills were golden brown, the color of perfect French fries.
We got a text: “I’m here.”
“Flying Flags RV Park.”
“We’re on our way.”
It’s odd that, even as we approached Jody, her presence seemed more elusive. We got to the RV park, and I couldn’t figure out where she was. The GPS got us really close, but somehow not close enough. We were parked next to some tiny houses, but Jody was at a little campsite that eluded our detection.
“Where the fuck is she?” I growled.
Karin said, “Don’t worry. She’s on her way here. She’s looking for us.”
And so she was. Karin saw her first; a figure in the distance, who was waving and smiling broadly. Jody came to our car. She got in and we drove a short way to her campsite.
Jody had set up her one-person tent, and her bicycle was parked next to it at the campsite. There was a picnic table on her site. The three of us sat there.
I looked at Jody intently. There was briefly a sort of disconnect between my dim memories of her former appearance and that of the woman who was actually sitting across from me at the table. I’ve had this sensation before. It’s both confusing and unnerving. It takes a moment or two to reconcile the present with the past. Two images have to merge, and there is an intense sadness in that. The older image, the image from our youth, has to fade, and that is a small death.
Who did I see? I saw a woman with grey streaks in her hair. I saw a woman who was thinner then I remember, and weathered. She wore glasses, and I don’t think she did so thirty years ago. The smile was the same. Her voice was the same. The eyes were the same: gentle eyes illuminated from within. Her eyes hadn’t grown old.
We sat at the picnic table and spoke. Where do you start a conversation after thirty years? You start with now. Who are we now? It is impossible to bridge the gap. Too much has happened. Too much has changed. Start fresh. Meet again for the very first time. The past still exists, but it doesn’t own us.
Jody had a small bag of grapes. She took the grapes out of the paper bag, and she laid them on the table. She never actually offered them to us. She nudged them in our direction until we ate with her. As she spoke about many things, her hands would push the grapes toward us. She silently invited us to try them.
I don’t remember of what we all spoke. I imagine that we talked about our kids. I’m sure we did that. I know that time went swiftly and the sun was getting low in the sky. The shadows grew long.
Hans called me on my cell. I walked away from Karin and Jody on order to talk to him. In a way it seemed rude, but it also gave Jody and Karin a chance to converse without me. They could talk as two women, two mothers, without a man present. Upon my return, the decision had been made to go out to eat. We decided to seek out a Chinese restaurant.
Buellton has one Chinese restaurant. We sat in a booth. We ordered. We asked a waitress to take a picture of the three of us, as if we needed proof that we really met. Our conversations continued.
Jody asked me if I felt strange being a liberal in Wisconsin. I asked her, “Am I a liberal?” She was under the impression that I was. I responded that, in many cases, I could be seen that way, but in other ways I am not. I don’t agree with abortion. I don’t believe in gun control. The three of us had a long talk about what we believed.
The check came. I reached for it. Jody said, “No, I’ll pay it. You two came so far.” We did. Sometimes it is best to accept a gift graciously. Sometimes it is best to let others make the decisions.
Jody sighed and said, “I’m tired.” She had been on her bike all day. The meal ended, and Karin and I drove Jody back to her campsite. We hugged. We said goodbye.
I thought briefly about maybe meeting Jody the next morning for breakfast. I rejected that idea. A person needs to know when to stop. We had met again. That was enough. It was best to make a clean cut.
A moment in time. A blip on the screen.
Did it all matter?