Few of my houseguests fail to figure out that the large trash container next to the dogfood dish in my kitchen is for recyclables. Just one visitor in fact, just can’t remember and keeps putting trash in it.
This visitor is such a good friend, she could put her trash in my fridge and I wouldn’t care. Wait. I think she did that once.
I met the young woman we will call “Emily” at the orientation to the George Mason University MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program. It must have been 2012.
The very blonde, inexorably exuberant girl, (I CAN say that because that’s what she really is inside,) was upset about A) a boyfriend breakup; B) the delay in availability of the apartment she’d rented; and C) the sudden astronomical increase in room rate at the hotel where she was staying.
She seemed harmless and innocent … and quite stressed.
“Well, if it comes to that, I have a spare couch.” It was all I could offer.
But Emily took to the fold-out futon couch with grace and love and honest-to-dog pure as clouds appreciation. She would do anything for me.
She was an absolute human sparkler.
When I offered that couch, I bought a friend for life.
And Emily’s friendship has been a great ride. We have gone for dog walks that have ended up in ankle-soaking frigid creeks. We have exchanged so many hours of girl-talk over boyfriends who are too-well-endowed, too-poorly equipped, too boringly equipped … that we just run out of talk time.
I love her writing but warned her to use a pseudonym. She advised me to clarify my intent. She got a stalker, no one understood me.
But Emily, with a small amount of training, got me. She learned to love my overly-affectionate lab-cross. She learned the garbage can I kept next to the dogfood was actually for recyclables … but only after I put a label on it.
For the next three years of grad school I could depend on Emily to tell me which professor she suspected of sleeping with which student; which party was going to have OUR people, which was going to be just the poets. I was in my late forties schlepping kids to band practice while she was early thirties teaching undergrad composition courses. She kept me in the loop.
Then we graduated.
A year passed.
Our lives changed.
Suddenly she was in a PhD program in Ohio and I was planning a move to Colorado.
We were both upset about the misogynist who was overtaking our government. The day after the election I had 12 people planning to stay at my northern Virginia house for the D.C. protest march. When Emily contacted me a few days later, I welcomed her to the floor of my laundry room. She wisely chose the more comfortable digs chez Katy.
By the time inauguration and the women’s march arrived, my friends from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, California and Wisconsin had all, to a woman, reneged. Just east coast friends were headed my way. The airfares had exploded, the despair had set in, the work calendars had become prohibitive. And they had organized local marches, which seemed even more powerful a statement than descending on Washington.
So the day before the march on Washington, I actually had a bed and two couches still available.
That morning I received the following text:
“Okay so I know you told (your husband) only people you know would stay for the march … my little sister is coming and her friends told her there would be room for her at their hotel and it turns out there’s not. You met her once. Does she count as someone who could crash on your couch? (smiling-with-big-teeth emoticon)”
Followed quickly by:
“She’s a very sweet house guest and will likely bring you wildflowers.”
And: “(she’s) like a human sparkler.”
I consented immediately. Another Emily? You bet. And yes, Emily is the one person I know who could find wildflowers in January, so surely …
Audrey expected to arrive earlier but finally sneaked in the side door as instructed at two a.m. She hardly slept in the bed her sister had procured, excited about the march.
At seven she was up cooking herself eggs –after washing the dishes in my kitchen sink that she needed to do so.
She had just carpooled with a chain-smoker from New York, but had washed her hair and couldn’t stop thanking me.
I told her about the recycling bin—how funny it was that Emily always thought it was the trash (and I remembered, having taken care of her cats a few times, that in Emily’s apartment, a similar receptacle stood in her kitchen, but it was actually for trash. I felt I had to defend her.)
Audrey and I and my houseguest from Boston stood in line for almost two hours to get Audrey a metro card, reasoning that it doesn’t matter which women arrive first, us or someone else. We chatted as we inched into the station at the western end of the orange line about her boss not wanting to give her the day off even though she’d warned him for weeks; we talked about ironing (she loves to iron and was thrilled, THRILLED I had left an ironing board and iron in the guest room … My hubby had left it there, I loathe ironing.)
As we shifted from one foot to the other in the interminable queu, she ran into a friend from school several states away, a man she hadn’t seen in seven years. She shrieked. Once through the turnstiles and down the escalators, we held hands and raced to cram into the last car on the train, the entire population of the car cheered when we stepped inside.
Such is the life of Audrey.
We arrived at L’Enfant station three hours after leaving home. My other houseguest and I headed south. Audrey’s family was north, near the capital, some six blocks of solid human flesh away. We said goodbye and watched her cross the street, her auburn hair trying desperately to keep up with her. My friend from Boston produced the only adjective for her: Glamorous.
After marching down Constitution Avenue and squeezing onto an outbound train at Farragut North, my Boston friend and I made it back home late that afternoon.
When I opened the galvanized can in which I keep the dogfood that night, I discovered just precisely how closely related Emily and Audrey are.
There was the trash Audrey had sought to throw out, a paper coffee cup and crumpled fast food bag, neatly piled on top of the dogfood.
How can I not love these sisters?