|My friend Jenn at her job at the middle school.|
Having grown up in the Bay Area of Northern California, and lived there all of my life, in 2005 I packed up two bouncy boy children, a two month-old baby, a pet mouse, two hysterical cats, and the man with whom my life had become inextricably joined, to move to Los Alamos, New Mexico. On the way, the mouse succumbed to the heat of Death Valley and was dead by the time it arrived in Arizona. My life in New Mexico would be mouse-free, which is something that I cannot ultimately regret.
I left behind Earth flags, hipsters and Puerto Rican food to alight in a place where, to my chagrin, everything closed at 8 P.M. and people talked comfortably about Jesus in mixed company. Bidding farewell to the land of peace and justice centers, community gardens and the birthplace of such earthshaking phenomena as Starhawk, Metallica and U.C. Berkeley, I moved into a cozy nest under the wing of the National Laboratory which gave the world nuclear warfare. (Ironically, my maternal grandfather's admonishment against the celebration of the mushroom cloud image graces our local Historical Museum.)
The thing, though, that I ended up missing most was my friendships. In California, I had been lucky enough to be invited to attend a group of people who gathered for periodic meetings known as Almond Roca Senior Socials. The moniker of Almond Rocas came not from the menu but from the general topic, which was the nature of being human, summed up as this: You know how when a cat takes a shit in a litter pan and then covers it up, afterwards with the litter pebbled all over the exterior of the turd, it strongly resembles an Almond Roca? This is how humans are about everything–trying to disguise shit as candy. These conversations were far more interesting than I am making them sound. My point is that I had a community which was intellectually involving, and which also was knit together by the exposure of raw feelings and pained hopes–candy revealed to all of us together as crap, which restored the crap to a kind of value.
At the center of my life there was my friend Amy. She deserves her own essay, so I won't write it here. Suffice it to say, she was my closest friend, present at the births of two of my children, and the only person with whom I have never had sex who would pull her car over to the side of the road in order to try and hold onto cell reception, so that she could talk to me a little longer, because I needed talking to, or listening to. Amy definitely does not live in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She is as much a part of Northern California as manzanita or Coast Redwood. After almost seven years here, my soul is still sick with missing her.
However, after I had lived here two years and went to work at Mountain Elementary School, I met Jenn, who was our school counselor. Jenn is the most refreshingly honest person, besides Amy, that I have ever met. She is honest even when it would be far better not to be. She cares deeply about the people in her life and can be counted on to be an unshakable friend, going further for people than the bounds of friendship dictate or demand, which is what extraordinarily kind people do normally. Because I sensed all this about her, she was the first person in Los Alamos I dared bare any real part of my soul to, and she has proved more than worthy of that trust. For all these things, I treasure her. But even more so, I treasure her Facebook profile.
This status update captures the essence of what I–and I think many others–love about Jenn:
This morning I found a fortune cookie fortune in my purse that says "Investigate the new opportunity that will soon become an option." So, I booked myself on an 8-day cruise with my friends.My life is full of task boxes set up up neatly at the start of my day, whereas Jenn seems to be a helium balloon lofting from rooftop to rooftop and alighting long enough to share joy with people. Somehow, despite this, her house is always lovely and mine is always messy. Recently, I had a long conversation with Jenn, who, in her extraordinary way, manages to be a great friend to both my mother and to me–which makes a kind of sense, since my mother is a great friend of mine. On this occasion, though, I had turned to her to help me bring the perspective of the mother of an adult woman to bear on my experience. My mother and I both were muddling through the difficulty of my still being ill and how this might affect both of us. Jenn decided we should all three have dinner and talk. A few days later, when I hadn't heard from her about cementing plans, I texted her to confirm and got this response:
I don't know anything about this. Did I forget? Do you mean to be texting someone else? Did we have a conversation after I took Ambien?...which made me burst into a fit of giggles. Perhaps this sort of thing happens to everyone and they merely cover it up. Perhaps it only happens to Jenn. Either way, I find it completely charming. After the dinner, when Mom and I were sitting in the living room of my house chatting with my husband, Jenn called and told me she had been stopped by a cop. She was sober, but he had her get out the car and examined her. While she was out in the howling wind by the side of a main drag, a wholesome-looking family rode by on their bikes and clearly saw the now middle school social worker undergoing a field sobriety test. Later, she posted all the details to her Facebook profile.
I just got stopped by a cop. He made me get out and he made me follow his pen with my eyes. It was mortifying! This was after a dinner of tilapia, baked potato, AND ICED TEA!!!! He said I was on the center line going around a curve. I couldn't explain to him that I just needed to use the bathroom! But, he knew from the eye test that I hadn't been drinking so he didn't give me a ticket. But, SHIT! I know people who know me saw the whole thing! It was SO EMBARRASSING! He didn't realize that I am just am oblivious driver! No alcohol!
I didn't have a problem with doing the tests because I knew I hadn't done anything wrong but it made me SO DISCOMBOBULATED that I first pulled out my Visa card and tried to hand it to him! Then I told him that I hadn't been drinking and I was the middle school counselor and I'd just eaten tilapia. I was all over the place. It's amazing he didn't arrest me just for how I was behaving. And, since he didn't know me personally, he had no idea that THIS IS HOW I ALWAYS AM!
Perhaps, if Jenn gets to suddenly and without forethought, book an eight day cruise with friends and I do not, she also is the unfortunate soul who will suffer the indignity of a public inquisition of her virtue. These two things, I believe, are linked. In the end, I believe that she would deem the field sobriety test a fair price to pay for the spontaneous trip, and I would not, and that—I suppose–explains our lives. I don't want to suffer the indignity that comes with a life of weightless spontaneity and yet that is what I love Jenn for, and I am sometimes extremely jealous of the lightness of spirit she brings to the same potluck where I come with a casserole made of lists and analysis.
Jenn is good people. Really good people. She has a blog where she is journalling her weight loss journey, and, whether or not you relate to or care about weight loss, she is a delight to read. She brings to it all the humanity that makes all of her communications ring out like a sounding bell from the ordinary falsetto drones of small talk. It is about scraping off the outer coating of what looked like candy to find a cat turd. It is about laughing hysterically. It is about loving oneself, everyone else, and the world and still daring to want more for all of them.
Because of Jenn and Kristine and Kimberly and a litany of others like them, I think it is O.K. to live in Los Alamos. Mountains have not supplanted oceans in my heart, but have finally won a place next to them. After all these years, I have planted gardens as if I finally know I am staying here.
Home, in the end, is wherever your friends are.