Lily sent me a talking card for my birthday featuring David Hasselhoff. (As one does.) When you open it, he says, “Hey! I’m David Hasselhoff, and I’d like to wish you a very happy birthday. Also, I am not wearing a shirt.” (And he isn’t.)
David delights BG, who likes to open the card approximately 800 million times a day and has recently developed a game where he opens and closes it as fast as he can, so that David can only get the first word of his greeting out. The result is David Hasselhoff saying, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” on an endless loop. Also, there was the part where BG announced to his grandmother: “Lily sent Mama a card with David Hasselhoff on it, and he’s NAKED!”
Ah, Lily. She’s my ray of Gothic sunshine, and I got to see her over the holidays since we made overlapping trips back to Minneapolis. BG, Mr. Mock, and I had dragged our sick selves there, brewing all kinds of microbes and exhausted from three days without power thanks to a wicked Toronto ice storm. Mostly we cocooned with Grammy & Gramps, but one freezing night Mr. Mock and I ventured out to meet Lily. It was bone cold as only Minnesota can be. Minnesota cold is clear and dry and sharp, a knife that slices away all the bullshit. You can’t be wishy-washy in cold like that: you have to know where you’re going, you have to walk fast, and you might as well laugh and chat along the way because the alternative is paying an inordinate amount of time to your own suffering, and that’s never attractive. I think this is what people mean when they say cold is invigorating: move fast and try not to die.
We settled at a restaurant that managed to be fancy and cozy at the same time—huge crystal chandeliers and mismatched sofas around low tables. (I’m a sucker for the whole Shabby Chic thing. It gives me hope that someday my house will look nice. Hey, I have one of the two categories already covered.) Lily and I snuggled on a sofa in the window while the gentlemen sat on the other side of the table talking about Doctor Who.
To get the restaurant we’d walked from another bar along the Loring Greenway, which is a walkway-urban-planning-thingy that is hard to explain, so you should just google it. We power-walked through the cold, and I looked at all the lights on in the buildings adjacent to it and sighed.
“I’m imagining an alternate life,” I said to Lily after several ridiculously delicious dishes had been consumed. “We never left Minneapolis, and I live in a condo on the Loring Greenway, and I’m a writer.” (Okay, I AM a writer, but in my fantasy I’m a different KIND of writer.) “I come here every afternoon at four o’clock with my laptop and order a Prosecco and edit what I’ve written for the day. And you live somewhere around here, too, so you can meet me at five.”
This fantasy is mostly about missing Lily, about how life is brighter with her around, and about how her proximity gives me a little ping of satisfaction in my chest that doesn’t happen when she’s not here. But, always good with details, Lily picks up the narrative immediately and tells me about her rundown loft on the river. If I hadn’t already had three drinks at this point, I would be better equipped to give you more details about this fictional loft. There might be a darkroom in it, I’m not sure.
The best thing about Lily is that we both know instinctively that even though the point of this fantasy is that we get to be together, we don’t actually live together. Because we’re totally mismatched that way. No, we just overlap a little bit, every day. Writing that sentence makes me cry a little because surely that’s what heaven will be: overlapping a little with Lily every day.
So we spin out our little fantasy for a few minutes: Meet you at five o’clock at Lurcat EVERY DAY! To which we have both journeyed from our respective PERFECT apartments.
It’s so cold that it’s even cold inside. Ice crystals have formed on the window we’re sitting in. They’re blooming in elaborate patterns that make me think of snowflakes.
Alternate lives are like snowflakes: different facets of the same whole. The older you get, the more you realize that the life you have is a product of a bunch of decisions. When you’re young, you think these decisions are super important. They paralyze you with their weightiness. But really, you just muddle through the best you can. If you’re lucky, like I am, you end up with awesome people like Mr. Mock and BG.
But part of the rub of having a lucky, charmed life, is that you start to realize that aging is about coming to understand that every turn in the path means there’s a bunch of paths that you’re never going to go down—that you actually don’t have time to do it all, as you so brazenly believed when you were young and invincible. And even though that’s okay, it’s sometimes hard to let go of all the other possibilities. Aging is about mourning the other lives you didn’t get to have.
But when it’s 20 below and you’re with Lily for one night in an impossibly beautiful restaurant, it’s like the divide between you and your alternate lives narrows. Or like that snowflake: it turns, and suddenly there’s another facet facing up, even though you know it’s going to melt before you can get a good look at it.
It seems like lately the internet is all about us versus them. The singletons versus the marrieds. The stay-at-home moms versus the working moms. Click like, thumbs up, thumbs down.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: aren’t we a lot more complicated in our souls? Aren’t we all of these things at once, like a snowflake turning over? Aren’t we always missing whatever version of us we buried so that we could become who we are?
And wouldn’t it be awesome to meet Lily every night at five o’clock at Lurcat? It would, but in this incarnation, I’m going to have to settle for a talking David Haselhoff birthday card. Happy 40th to me.
P.S. If you are going to Lurcat, eat in the bar. This all took place in the bar. I cannot vouch for the cafe. I think it might be too fancy-fancy.
P.P.S. We ate in the bar, but they let us order off the cafe menu. This is getting confusing.
Jenny, this was beautiful. Thank you for this. You perfectly captured the bitter sweetness of best friends living separate lives in different places.
So beautiful Jenny, one of your best. Love thinking about mourning the lives I didn’t get to have. It articulates well this season for me. Never stop writing!