I wake up at 4AM feeling like I need to sleep about 2 more days, but unable to go back to sleep. I lay in bed for another hour before I give up and tip toe out of the bedroom, trying not to wake my sister-in-law who, visiting for the weekend, sleeps on an air mattress in the living room. My foot cracks with a sharp little “pop” with every step. I do my best to silence it, but my bones seem determined to announce themselves. Fortunately, my sister-in-law sleeps through the sound of my creaking feet and I manage to get a glass of water, scoop up my laptop, and go out onto the balcony without disturbing her.
The early hours on Sunday morning are quiet. There is no traffic and even the birds are mostly still sleeping. I appreciate this time in the morning. I remember my mother telling me that even as a baby I was not a morning person–I like having time and space to wake up before I engage with people. It’s as if each morning only part of me wakes up, leaving the extroverted part dozing until it begins to vibrate with the excitement of a new day and I am suddenly ready to be with others.
After sitting alone for an hour or so, I go inside to discover that Megan has awakened and started getting ready for her departure. We decided last night that we would try to Longhorn for breakfast. It’s a small little diner that Pat and I have walked by dozens of times, intrigued by its ’50s diner architecture. We have been wanting to try it and they open for breakfast at 7AM on Sunday morning, so it works well for our purposes this morning–Megan wants to be on the road by 8AM.
Once we have all gotten ourselves ready, we take the short walk over to the diner, arriving just after 7. Two women in Longhorn shirts sit at the counter. When we try the door, it’s bolted, but one woman is already on her way over to let us in. The restaurant consists of a row of 2-person booths lining the windows and a long, formica counter top with metal trim and short metal stools fixed to the floor in front of it with burgundy vinyl tops. We pick 3 stools in the middle of the counter. The coffee is made, the grill is covered in nearly done bacon, fresh biscuits are piled in a basket, and the hashbrowns sit prepped, waiting for their turn on the grill. I wonder what time these women got started this morning. They are both tiny, frail looking women who wear years of experience on their faces. One could be my age or 10 years older than me; it’s impossible to tell. The second could be old enough to be my mother. Although they appear physically frail, there is something about both of them that makes me think they have strength that has seen them through a lot of hard times.
Pat orders decaf and is surprised that it, too, is already made. The second woman, still sitting at the counter, asks how they get the caffeine out of coffee. Pat smiles and says that they use chemicals that aren’t good for you and she laughs a big genuine laugh that lights up her face. Her smile transforms her instantly and makes me smile with surprise at how beautiful she is. She reminds me of one of my aunts who used to laugh the same way, dropping 20 years every time she showed her teeth.
The food comes quickly and hot. There is nothing fancy here, just various combinations of eggs, meat, and potatoes, but it’s good and my eggs are done exactly as I wanted them with the whites still soft but not slimy and the yolk runny and bright yellow. I appreciate a good over-medium egg. We sit and talk of when we will next see Megan. My youngest nephew is turning 18 in October; my sister-in-law assumes we will not come now that the drive is so much further, but I’ve never missed my nephews’ birthdays by more than a few days and I don’t intend to start now. We talk about his pending graduation in May and I think all of us are struck by the impossibility of being old enough for both of my nephews to be out of high school. Having no children of our own, Pat and I often measure the passage of time by the milestones of other people’s children. It comes as a shock each time I realize that another child is no longer a child.
More people arrive and sit in booths as we continue to talk over our coffee, our food long gone. I don’t want my sister-in-law to leave, but I know she must be looking forward to returning home after being gone much of the past 3 weeks. I reflect for a moment on the friends in my life. I am incredibly fortunate when it comes to friends. They are an assortment of people who have come into my life through random circumstances and stuck in a way that makes me feel both honored and humbled. Megan is one of those people. I suppose I should thank my brother for bringing Megan into my life. She is someone who makes me a better person even though we have always lived hundreds of miles apart. I cannot imagine having gone through the loss of my mother without her–she also lost my mother and our shared grief got me through in ways I don’t understand and Megan probably doesn’t even know about. As we leave the restaurant and walk her to the rented mini-van parked behind our building, I find myself missing her already. The sense of being alone in Chattanooga without my support group rises in me and I suddenly find myself missing all of my friends in a sudden mass of self-pity. Having just returned from Columbus a few days earlier, it’s as if the loss that I felt leaving my friends behind suddenly caught up with me.
We wave goodbye as she pulls out of the parking lot and return to the apartment. I plop on the couch, deflated, much like the air mattress that now sits rolled in the corner. I find myself wishing I were back in Columbus where I could get a hug from my best friend. The thought of her intensifies my sadness to the point that I turn on the TV just to have a mindless distraction. I have had many friends move to remote locations where I see them only once a year or less. We stay in touch and when we talk, it’s like we just saw each other yesterday. I know that this is how it will be now that I have moved. I know that my best friend doesn’t care less about me and I hope that she knows that, if anything, I care more about her. But for a few minutes I wallow in the sense of loss. I ponder how I could have been looking forward to being back in my own bed when I was staying at my best friend’s house and, now that I am sleeping in my own bed, I long to be back with my best friend. But the TV distracts me and I find my eyes drooping. I set aside my sadness and give in to the pull of much needed sleep.