Friday, July 11, 2014

Long trip; long odds

My sister left this evening from Birmingham, driving with our cousin’s fiancee to Tampa, a ten hour road trip to visit our madre who has recently moved to Florida. It’s a long drive, especially with a very young woman my sister only knows casually though my cousin. And then there’s Tampa. And madre. And who knows what they’ll find on the way as the foothills of the Appalachians around Birmingham flatten out around Montgomery to fall flat to the coast, where they will leave behind the trees and green for the Serengeti of coastal Florida.

I wish I were my making this trip with my sister. We need to have a long road trip like this together, especially if it’s to visit madre in her new home of Tampa, Florida. We need to explore that city together, to sit on the beach and make snide remarks about Florida, sidelong remarks that might puzzle our madre even as she pretends she has heard nothing.

My sister, Evian, has had long week. She’s fretted about a “friend date” as she calls it with a man we befriended years ago when I still lived in Birmingham. Not even a date, my sister just wanted to meet new people in Birmingham, make new connections, but she found the spectre of the rendez-vous with a near stranger overwhelming. Understandably, I should say.

I found myself recently in a group who started joking about how absurd it would be for young gentiles to try their luck on JDate, the Jewish dating website. They imagined awkward questions like, “So Jesus… Is he just some hot guy on a cross, or is he… your savior?” I stopped listening and my mind started to think about how in Islamic tradition Jesus is not the messiah but he is considered a prophet. And then I thought about the upcoming Ramadan holiday. I thought about the Muslim students in my boyfriend’s class who would be fasting.

The group had moved on from dating services to celebrity gossip and I knew that none of my thoughts would be interesting if shared. They wanted jokes and dirt and scandal and another drink. Often I want to talk about China and language and novels and the news when everyone else’s head is moving another way. Which doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like the company I find myself with, but it does mean that sometimes hanging out with some people at certain times isn’t as interesting or as fun as it can be for other people in the group.

Forging relationships, meeting new friends, can be difficult. Meetings between new friends require a great amount of concentration; one has to adjust to the mannerisms and speech and energy and interests of another person. One must defer to them; one must hear them and respond. Simultaneously one must not come across as too proud or cocky or sad or lame or boring or neurotic or judgmental. The pas de deux is difficult but sometimes it’s the only way to move forward.

Like my sister, I also find social engagements nerve-racking, energy-sapping, and awkward. And I feel many people feel the same way when first meeting a new person. There are those of us in the world who may be socially apt, who may find any social situation effortless, but I think for the bulk of us, it can be trying. We ease into friendships.

And to avoid loneliness, we just have to do it. We have to say hello.  We have to say excuse me, do you mind if I ask what you are reading? We have to say, could I buy you a drink? We have to put up with the awkwardness. And boringness. And insecurity.

I'm always grateful for the friendship I have with my sister. It's easy. When last in Birmingham, we drank margaritas together and watched tv and played with the dog. Simple, not boring. I miss her all the time. But now we need to start planning that road trip: Birmingham to Tampa, all the way down the Florida coast. All the way to the beach, to more margaritas and sunshine and private jokes and hours of all our favorite tunes.

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