On our way back from Harvard Stadium last week, Dennis drove us past the B & L Laundromat in Medford. He slowed the van down and said, “That’s where mom and I met!”
Maybe the girls looked up from their screens long enough to note the line of washers, the wall of dryers, the fliers, inexplicably in this world of Craigslist, still taped to the window. But we were past it in a flash, the setting of the How We Met story. Every year, it’s not our wedding anniversary that moves me, but December 3rd, the day we both happened to cross paths in that unremarkable space. We got married on September 30 because the hall happened to be available. But what forces aligned to bring us both to the B & L that December night, between loads, between lovers? The forces that bring us all into one another’s orbits, the near-misses and bullseyes that, thank God, lead us to one another.
I don’t know about you, but I love these I-am-a-part-of-all-that – have-met-in-these-really-miraculous ways stories, so I’m going to toss a few in every once in a while. In honor of my annual writers retreat (where I am presently) spent with three women I feel I have loved forever, here are my Bread Loaf soulmates:
The index card I was handed at the check-in desk read: Brandy Brook 6, a remote and tiny house reserved for commuters. I lugged my stuff back to my car and drove towards it. The card also read Roommate: Rebecca Kinzie Bastian. Hyphenated name, I thought. For some reason, this put me on alert as did the narrowness of our room beneath the eaves and the idea of sharing space with another writer. We could hold hands across the space that divided our twin beds. I felt a wave of homesickness, unpacked my stuff, and plodded back towards campus.
I would read at Bread Loaf and meet with an agent and have lunch with a writer whose work I was pretty ga-ga over, but the most terrifying moment of all for me was walking into the dining hall that first night and scanning the buzzing tables wondering where the hell to sit. I ended up at a table with the one person I’d met (who I can’t recall). I read the tag of the person sitting across from me. “You’re my roommate,” I said. She looked equally excited to meet me, but before we could speak, a woman named Brenda said, “So, does anyone have any pets?” Just get through this one meal, I thought, and then you can avoid her. Except she too had been sentenced to Brandy Brook, in the room next door.
The first night, I lay awake listening to something that sounded like the emptying of the municipal water tank. It turned out Rebecca used a metal water bottle while everyone else was still sucking on BPA’s and that, if you asked her, she’d give it to you. “Take it, really,” she’d say. “I don’t need it.” She arranged a still life on our shared dresser made up of things we collected walking back and forth to campus, and I didn’t mind when she shaved her legs in the room and she didn’t mind that I tend to blurt things out when I’m dancing and I’ve had a little wine. She loaned me some of her black dress-up clothes and I reminded her of people’s names and what time we were supposed to be places, and on these things, it also turns out, a different kind of love affair can begin.
We read together night two, paralyzed with self-doubt and the absolute certainty that we would be outed as frauds and sent back to our real lives. Afterwards, we hugged one another. “Aren’t you glad it’s over?” one of us said and the other said, “And wasn’t it nice that those two women from our dorm came?”
We had drinks with Sarah and Brenda at the barn and I did love the video of Nigel, Brenda’s mini daschund, riding with his head on her dashboard, and later in the week I was oddly proud when she kicked my ass in the poet/proser dance off. She did fan the Mini’s headlights over a couple of writers Bed Loafing it in a field and she didn’t get in an accident despite my shrieking: Go back! Go back! Over the white noise of her goddamned fan, I heard her rattle off the list of books that were now overdue at the Pittsburgh Library. “Did you really intend to read all of those during the conference?”someone had asked her. She said, “Well, I thought I’d be alone a lot.” “And were you ever alone?” the person asked, and, Brenda, of course said, “No.” And I thought: Not ever again if we can help it.
When I was alone for thirty seconds or so, I could hear Rebecca’s whispery tones on the telephone downstairs, perhaps telling her husband how her roommate was bossing her around a little – mostly in the mornings when she was trying to put on her make-up and her roommate was hungry. Across the hall, Brenda’s goddamned fan drowned out the conversation she was having with Sarah. I sat straining to hear, certain they were all talking about me, the center of the universe. This person who, for some reason, clung to them when there were hundreds of other available victims. Sarah was beautiful and got up early to go to the yoga class, the kind of person who must have always had someone to have lunch with. I could just imagine how annoying I might be to a woman like this, a woman sure enough of herself to wear silver clogs. So she was talking behind my back. So what? Don’t be a middle schooler, I told myself (though I was so old I had gone to junior high). Just go in there and ask them straight out: Are you talking about me? You never have to see them again. So I did. Marched into the room where Sarah reclined against her headboard like some Zen goddess. “What are you talking about?” I said, doing my best impression of a person who wasn’t defensive. I forget what they said, but it was so believable, I laughed. “What the fuck is your problem?” Brenda said, and I said, “I thought you were talking about me.” And Sarah said, “Oh my god. That is exactly what I would have thought.” That kind of relief, not at knowing you aren’t the object of someone’s derision, but that someone actually thinks the same stupid stuff you do? My infatuation was complete.
God, what if that index card had not said Brandy Brook?
And what about you? What have been the near-misses in your own lives that have caused you to feel grateful afterwards – many anniversaries later? I hope you share them with me. I love a good how-we-met story.