Arms Wide Open
This post was first published on Dear Damsels.
We wake up early on our last day, and fittingly, it’s a Monday. It’s also uncharacteristically grey and cloudy, which might be San Diego’s way of saying Don’t go. I like to think so.
While she’s in the kitchen, I sneak into her bedroom to leave a couple of boxes of tea on her nightstand, together with her favourite chocolate digestives – because having a friend who lives in London has got to have some perks – but then she goes back in to look for a necklace and my surprise is ruined. It’s the thought that counts, I tell myself.
We make a gallon of coffee and drink it in the car. We listen to a podcast I haven’t heard of, complain about traffic, stop to get petrol. My coffee’s cold by the time we pull into the station, so time must have passed even though it feels like we only woke up minutes ago. Maybe I’m still dreaming.
She helps me get my luggage out of the trunk, and we walk to the platform in silence. It’s sunny now. Don’t go.
We hug but don’t speak. Touch but don’t move. Then:
‘Come back soon, yeah?’ she says.
Yes, I nod.
‘Thanks for the visit. Love you always,’ she adds.
Miss you already, I think. Or maybe I say it. I think sometimes with us, there’s not really a difference. And then I blink and she’s gone, so I stand on the platform with my eyes on the car park and my heart in my throat.
We’re lucky, I think while I gulp and try to hold back tears. We’re lucky to have this, something good, and we’re lucky we met because the way we did is so improbable that it could easily not have happened, and then we’d have been robbed of moments like these. Years like these.
We’re lucky, I tell myself. I just fucking hate goodbyes.
‘There’s nothing quite like sisterhood, is there?’
I turn in the direction of the voice and find a woman’s eyes on me. She’s sitting on the bench by the vending machine, shielding from the sun, and looks like the kind of grandmother you’d love to have over for a drink, or two; a warm, kind smile on her face and a big red poncho covering her shoulders.
‘You ladies have something special. It’s beautiful,’ she says.
I smile a big smile, full of teeth and teary eyes, and she smiles back like we’re sharing secrets.
‘I’m going to see my daughter in LA, and from there flying to New York to visit my sister. We’re very close, me and her, very close.’ Her hands move with her mouth, her long silver strands are in her face, in front of her eyes, still she smiles big. Secrets. ‘Are you going to LA, too?’
‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘Going back, actually, I was just visiting.’
‘So you live out there, uh?’ she asks.
‘No, I— I live in London.’
‘Did you have a good time?’
‘It was wonderful.’
‘What was your favourite part?’ She looks at me like she wants to know, like she’s actually interested, and I haven’t seen that in a while; not in London.
I guess for all its faults and cars and false bravado, America’s still a place where people ask questions like they want to know the answers. Funny.
My favourite part?
When we hiked while listening to a 2010 playlist and laughed ’cause we still knew all the words to that one Owl City song. When her parents had us over for dinner and made pizza from scratch because, ‘It’s in your honour, Anna’. When we saw a movie under the stars, and I met her friends and ate a burrito so big it took me 45 minutes to finish it but by the time I did I was smiling so wide you wouldn’t even notice that I’d spilled sauce everywhere and got pieces of rice between my teeth. When we sat on her couch and watched The Office all afternoon, because real friends are the ones you can spend an afternoon doing nothing with, and still have the time of your lives.
‘We saw some seals. That was really cool,’ is what I settle on. Then, ‘But I think— I think just being here was my favourite part. She always comes to me, you know? This was different.’
‘It’s very different. I love it over here. I’ve lived out East, too, but I never . . . I guess it depends on what you like. What you need. It can be everything, you know. Do you know what I mean?’
I nod. I do. It is everything.
‘What’s your name, dear?’ she asks, eyes wide open.
‘Oh, my grandmother’s name was Anna, too! She was so beautiful. Like you, you’re very beautiful.’
I smile another big smile. I knew it was coming. This is California, after all.