Entering my house through the back door, I quickly climb the stairs to the second floor. I run through the living room and into the kitchen, stopping at the sink to rinse the remnants of the protein shake from my water bottle. I wipe my wet hands on my shorts, glance at the clock and give myself five minutes to make my exit. I hurry up the stairs to my bedroom, running wardrobe changes through my head. A bit of cloud cover has cooled the day. Should I change into jeans or just throw on a sweater? Still considering my options, I brush my teeth and take a swing of mouthwash, spit and rinse. A big cheesy smile in the mirror to check my teeth, I better hurry. I slip into jeans for the first time in months, and grab a hat. Giant Jenga awaits, and so does the company of friends.
Back in the kitchen, I stand in front of the wine cooler, door open examining one bottle after another. I frown and quietly sigh, nothing worthy of the delightful hostess. Picking the best of the mediocre choices, I reluctantly put the wine in my canvas bag. Damn they always have amazing wine. I could stop and get a nice bottle, but I’m chasing fun and I don’t want to miss any more than I already have.
Unlatching the back gate and pushing it forward, it bangs hard against my bike which has fallen between the trash cans. I swear and squeeze myself through the small obstructed opening. I lift my bicycle, quickly scan for damage, and carefully place my bag into its basket. My favorite neighbor girls are chatting in their garage. I stop for a quick hug, and we make promises to connect soon. Gripping the handlebars, one foot planted on the asphalt and the other firmly on the pedal, I push off and begin my glide down the alley and ride toward Lori’s house.
Peddling faster now, the fall breeze cools my skin. My hat keeps my hair from whipping across my face, and tangling in the wind. After a weekend of household choirs, errands and work obligations, my body finally begins to relax, on this Sunday afternoon. My mind free of worry, I breathe deeply, grateful for this simple pleasure, and think to myself, I am so happy riding my bike, on such a beautiful day.
I ride the last block on the sidewalk along the houses, the laughter and chatter getting louder as I approach Lori’s house, famous for fun gatherings. I lean my bicycle against the mailboxes, grab my bag and make my way into the patio. Opening the gate, I am greeted so warmly, shouts of Christeeeeeeen! I am hugged, and kissed, and loved. Slightly embarrassed by the attention, I change the subject and ask the question, Which is the right thing to do? Bring mediocre wine, or come empty handed? The answer comes quickly and perfectly, It doesn’t matter, we’re just happy to see you. We spend the late afternoon and evening hours, laughing, sharing stories, drinking truly amazing wine (not mine) and playing three intensely competitive games of Giant Jenga. The teasing, trash talk, and inside jokes never end. But there are plenty of encouraging words and high fives for some pretty unbelievable Jenga moves. We sometimes surprise ourselves, holding our breath as the tower remains standing.
Talk gets slower and voices lower. Two by two, couples trail off saying goodnight. The few of us remaining order a pizza, and eat every last slice. Full, happy and sleepy, it’s getting late. It’s a school night and I say my goodbyes.
A glowing fingernail moon shines down on me, the ride home much slower. I carry the warm feelings of the evening with me; my heart is strengthened by the love of friends. I want to store this strength and call on it when I am feeling low, but I can already feel it slipping away. As I ride closer to home, I think about the contradiction that exists in my life. I am purposeful about not dating; quick to say no to any possibilities that come my way. I make strong statements about self-improvement. Now I wonder if it’s just an excuse to avoid being hurt, an effort to protect my heart. I am afraid, even after more than a year that my heart still wants what it cannot have. I want to walk into my home and tell someone about the Giant Jenga game, the good people in my life, the evening breeze, and my beautiful, beautiful most favorite moon.
I park my bike in the garage, stowing it away for another day. The day ends much slower than it began. In no hurry at all, I climb the stairs, turning off lights along the way. The quiet accentuates the emptiness. I undress, wash my face, and brush my teeth. Looking at my reflection in the mirror I say . . . be grateful.
Slipping between the crisp, cool sheets, I adjust my pillow and relax once more. I set the alarm on my phone . . . for reasons I cannot explain I send a text . . . Look at the moon . . .
photo credit: old friend Steve Crothers