Dateline: November 19th, 2004
My Dad and I thought we'd try flying me home via a different route: LaGuardia to Indianapolis, as opposed to Chicago or St. Louis. It's about the same drive from all three cities to my hometown of Springfield, IL, and Dad and I like to road-trip together, and the airfare was cheap...
Let's just say we won't be doing that again.
I had come straight from work. No makeup, no jewelry, no hairdo, just scraggly red strands flying around my shoulders. I really don't give a damn what I look like at the office. Over my badly fitting work clothes I wore my most recent birthday gift from my Mom: a long black leather trenchcoat. I find it oddly comforting, as though I can hide behind it and a pair of dark glasses, like a secret agent, and vanish into the crowd. Only in New York.
I stepped off the escalator from the terminal and charged into the baggage claim area at the Indianapolis airport. My Dad was waiting there, and his big bear hug revitalized like a shot of espresso. I smiled in spite of myself.
"You look so glamorous!" he exclaimed.
"Only in Indiana," I snorted. Never underestimate the power of a leather trench.
After indulging in double cheeseburgers at Steak 'n Shake, we set out for the 3.5 hour drive to Springfield, Illinois. I was eager to hear Dad's opinion of the production of Death of a Salesman that Mom has been performing in. Apparently she had gotten high praise in the newspaper reviews, from a particular reviewer who never has anything nice to say.
"You know Ouiser, this play has been so good for your Mom," Daddy said. "I imagine it has," I replied. Dad told me about a letter to the editor which had been published in the paper, praising the play and especially pumping up the actors. I thought about my Mom, who always thinks she looks fat, who complained nervously to me that she was still not remembering all the lines, who had been only marginally appreciated by her little hometown theatre community all her life. I remembered how it felt when I got my first good review. I remembered how good it felt to do a great role in a great play, knowing I was kickin' ass, knowing the production was kickin' ass, feeling the pride. "Mom needs this," I said.
I thought about the rest of the cast, which included several old acquaintances, who I was vaguely dreading having to socialize with, which is generally how I view the entire population of Springfield. Yes, it's unfair, but I was miserable there.
However. It just so happens that one of the guys in Mom's show is a curly-headed motorcycle rider, who, at 13, I just thought was the bee's knees. The summer I met him, I bought a blue stamper with his name on it and stamped it on everything - every page of my 8th grade notebook and then some. I cut hearts out of red construction paper, stamped his name all over them, and carried them around in my pockets. I wrote love notes between him and myself, and carried on an entire Junior High affair in my own fantasy world. (Ah, he wrote such simple, sweet notes…)
Of course by ninth grade I had an actual boyfriend, and Curly faded into obscurity, but you never forget people like that. Especially when they resurface 3 years later to date your best friend. For two years.
But really, I was fine with it.
Coming home in 2004, I will see him for the first time in almost 20 years. I know he is married, and I hear he has kids, and I'm certainly very happy in my current relationship. But... I may be a far cry from the shy dork I was at 13, but my heart still fluttered a bit at the thought of seeing him. I knew I'd be meeting him, in essence, for the first time. I'd heard from so many people what a nice guy he grew up to be. I was very much looking forward to finding out.
The other wild card in this scenario was an ex-boyfriend and ex-buddy of mine. He’s a real down-home Springfield type of guy. I believe that he and I should never have tried to be anything more than friends, but we were both so starved for love… it just seemed natural to fall together. The whole time I was obsessed with someone else, but Buddy’s loyalty to me was astounding, so when he started talking marriage, I felt I owed it to him to at least consider it. And consider it I did. It didn’t take me long to realize that it would never work, but I had to move to New York to find the courage to let him go.
I always felt bad. I knew he hated me - people told me. I didn’t blame him. Id probably have hated me too. I was very young, and very emotionally battered. I really had no business letting anyone think they might be able to marry me at that point in my life... but I didn't know how to break my best friend’s heart.
Ten years later, he is married to someone I know from college. I never knew her very well, but she was a nice, homey gal. Pretty much just the type we always thought he'd wind up with. I also heard that he and his wife are adopting a teenaged African-American girl, that he is still working the same job he was ten years ago, and that his wife looked pretty much the same as she did when we were in college. Simple folk. Who, I mused to myself as we rolled through Vermillion County, think I'm demonspawn.
Ah, whatever. I'm here for my Mom. And to get my hair done.
I knew I had an appointment with my old hair stylist at 11AM the next morning. By the time we rolled into Springfield, it was 1:30AM. Mom was, of course, still up, as was her best friend Donna, who was visiting from out of town. I had a grand old time chatting with them, and sure it was another hour and a half before I hit the sack. I fell asleep dreaming about my hairstylist and wondering what I'd look like later that evening, when I faced all these old memories.
I slept like a rock.