Marisa is a good friend, dependable, steady, perceptive, patient. She is the secular equivalent of a godparent to my children, the executor of my estate, an esteemed honorary member of the family. She is there if I need someone to listen, or a ride, or a friend to fly to the other side of the world and just hang out. And I would do the same for her. We don't talk much, because we don't need to; our friendship occupies a space beyond performance.
In other words, though I never say it, I love her. And I miss her as much today as I did the day I moved away, so our fragmented infrequent visits are bittersweet; I feel like I spend a lot of time saying goodbye with a smile and crying in secret.
We make fun of our shared and individual idiosyncrasies, we have different levels of tolerance for all manner of nonsense, but we don't disagree about too much.
Except she has always maintained that we have plenty of time, moments and months and years ahead of us, an abundance of possibility, a wealth of potential, to alleviate fear and loss and pain.
I object, vehemently, replying You might, but I don't.
Our disagreement about the metaphysical meaning of time is profound, and without remedy. It would be ideal if we were neighbours, if we could perform together again. It would be easier if we could be casual, loll around on the front steps of houses in North Portland, go on long drives whenever the fancy strikes, sing together every Wednesday. Or just be around, somewhere nearby. But we did that, we were that: I left, she remained. Now we see each other maybe once a year, if we can work out the schedule.
We all have obligations and ideas, deviations and destinations, so even with seven weeks to choose from it was difficult for her to figure out a way to see us on this trip. But she did, flying down to Austin so we could sit around in the shade, drinking coffee and laughing.
She asked about my birthday and I rattled on about how exciting it is to get old, how much I adore the rackety life I created. My enthusiasm is genuine, verging on ecstasy: I didn't expect to get this far. The prospect of growing old is dazzling, not least because I have such brilliant companions going forward.
As we talked, I realised how long we have known each other, and that we were both right. It doesn't feel like it, but we've been friends for more than ten years - an extraordinary accumulation of time, just like she promised. Of course I'm greedy; I always want more. But what we have is fragile, genuine, precious - and it has survived across distance and years. How often can anyone say that?
We hung out with Jake, first encountered in the deserts of New Mexico with the circus, more recently entwined with Chicken House memories, Sauvie Island beach parties, a curious and decadent month of mysteries. See? My friends do indeed get around.
More coffee, more food, Marisa was subjected to my petulant complaints that I can't eat or drink anything (except of course coffee, though I take mine mostly milk) now that I'm old. We sat around in a parking lot watching celebrities and motorcycle enthusiasts. A friend who didn't know we were in town drove by and spotted us, though we never did manage to connect.
But a large portion of our friendship has been conducted on tour so a visit with Marisa seems somehow incomplete without a road trip. She suggested San Antonio so we coaxed the teenager into the car and set off with high hopes for a circus museum (closed years before) and The Alamo, though our cultural and historical understanding of the site could be summed by watching Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
What a surprise for us then to read up on what actually happened all those years ago. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to extrapolate my opinion.
Wandering along the river, taking a boat ride, looking at the grand houses, we were surrounded at all times by swarms of young uniformed military recruits. I've not seen anything like this in twenty years, and never in a civilian context.
The last time I talked to my original husband (a dozen or more years ago) he was living near San Antonio and managing the "largest gun store in Texas, which means the world." He reckoned he hated his job so much he either had to kill his boss or quit. I recommended the resignation option, knowing from previous travails with the fellow that even a joke about choosing the right weapon would make me an accessory to the crime.
Contrast between that life and this life? If I spend too much time thinking about it I get a headache.
Lucky Marisa was around. She listens to melancholy observations but never lets the narrative stray to morbid laments. When I point out that I was once a teenage army bride she just wrinkles her brow over the obvious idiocy of that choice, and we go back to matters more important. Like puns.
We were called "ladies." More than once! I bought some socks that read Victory or Death, then it was time to head back to our hotels, get ready to say goodbye.