The First Trimester of Forty: Intriguing

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I often say I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and it’s true: I have much to be grateful for. I say this about the small, simple things: witnessing a spectacular sunset, the perfect poached egg, a serendipitous meeting. Now that I think of it, most of the things that prompt me to refer to myself as the luckiest girl in the world probably cost less than fifty cents. In fact, the majority of them are gratis which is precisely what elevates their values to priceless.

One of the many things I’m grateful for is simply that one of my favorite people on the planet, Miss Emily Ann Walter, has nearly the same birthday as I do, and we were even born in the same year. As far as the world goes, we were even born fairly close to each other—just five hundred miles apart—which, as the world’s circumference would have it, is technically within hand-holding distance. {My next blog post will be a collaborative effort with Emily, about an epic hand holding…}

Emily and I have actually been friends for less than three years, which blows my mind with all we’ve done, said, conquered, planned together—but it’s as if we were destined to find each other. This year we turned forty together, in Portugal. It wasn’t so much my birthday or her birthday, but rather it was our birthWEEK; it was a celebration of us. It was amazing.

We were more or less lost the entire time, and on my birthday eve in Lisbon we humped our asses uphill only to find the restaurant we sought was closed, and we were in a peculiar residential area for a restaurant to have ever been. On our way home, nearly all the way, we happened upon a place where I sat with a tremendous snarl of exposed wiring over my head but where we had the best octopus salad of the trip.

Our way home was no easier, and although we were a stone’s throw from it, we found our way back to the apartment via a serpentine, circuitous route on the Alfama district’s unmarked paths and alleyways. We eventually identified our apartment because of my ten days worth of laundry squeezed onto the wire line, which we spotted at the same time, pointing “there!” like a modern, feminine version of Lewis and Clark. We laughed so hard, and in that glowing light I instructed Em to have a seat so I could take her picture. Like her, it’s a keeper.

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Post Portugal people asked me what I saw there, and as they rattle off their lists of sights and not-to-be-misseds, I hesitate to tell them that I saw exactly what I wanted to see: my friend with an incredible backdrop. Yep, laundry can make a hulluva a view.

Sure, I talk about the colored tiles against that impossible blue sky. I talk about the light, because you can’t begin to discuss Portugal without considering how the place is illuminated, even at night. I talk about how the most destroyed looking paintjobs and bricked over windows are somehow spectacular in Portugal.

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I talk about the streets that are cracked deeper than even the deepest heart break, but how sometimes the streets break clean into the shape of a heart. It’s safe to say this one appeared when we were temporarily off-track, because that was our usual state, but if two people are laughing, smiling, telling stories and living in the present I beg to state with complete confidence that that is about as ON track as a people might ever be.

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I talk about the eleven-foot waves we watched from a safe distance in Lagos, and how we wondered why most everyone else had their backs clear against the rock wall, as far from the sea as possible. A couple of wet books later we realized that the sea rises fast out there on the former edge of the earth.

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I talk about the many ways we ate octopus. The olives, the wine, the cheese, and the fact that they only mediocre meal we had was around the corner from the bus stop so it’s hard to tell if it wasn’t good, or if it just tasted a slightly sour due to the fact that we’d just purchased our bus tickets, and when we returned to the station we’d be going in different directions.

If people still care at that point, I continue via a backtrack about how the bus ride that Emily and I took together, between Lisbon and Sagos, was not only an all-time bus ride, but also an all-time journey. It occurred in the days between our birthdays, that bridge period of time where there was no more attention on either of us, though truth be told, the line was always slim. It wasn’t me or she: it was us; it is always us.

Our departure from Lisbon was sweaty. I had to get up early after a late-ish night (#thisis40) to run a load of tile and other extras to the post office (an elusive bugger in Lisbon, let me tell you), while Emily tidied the apartment for checkout. The gal we rented from was long-winded (yes, that speaks volumes coming from me…), and told us about her cousin’s place in Sagres after we had to explain how and why and for what we’d spent my birthday afternoon in the decidedly non-touristic village where she grew up. (I’ll get back to that in a moment…)

Once extracted from our enthusiastic host, we took the metro to the bus station that would take us out of town, but they seemed to hide the thing and we walked several hot circles until a sweet University student guided us there. We thought he was the highlight of our day, but we really had no clue.

We went from being in old, craggy, beaten-down-and-built-back-up Lisbon to a smooth, paved highway with few cars. The bus had wifi and a sweet woman bringing miniature cups of Nescafe for a single euro. Emily and I chose the front seats, right behind the driver, and had a fabulous panoramic view through that enormous windshield. We spent that time having a fairly serious talk, but the kind that’s pivotal and transportive. The kind that, despite its seriousness, invites giggles.

Nearly everything in Portugal made us giggle and smile, so I guess it’s safe to say that in Portugal I saw Emily giggling. I saw her smiling. I saw myself reflected in her, and she reflected in me. If I was given the opportunity to change anything about the trip I might say, “Sure, I suppose it would’ve been nice to have a convertible to drive around in,” but then we would have missed the loveliest bus ride or all bus rides. I guess it would have been nice to get daily massages, or to have found fabulous pairs of boots or hand-woven cashmere shawls with reasonable price points, but maybe those “luxuries” would have taken away from our simple joys. Maybe we had everything we needed. Maybe definitely this luckiest gal wouldn’t have changed a thing. Not. A. Thing.

On my birthday morning Emily came upstairs to my roost in our awesome, wee apartment and we opened the cards my mother and Lucky had sent, listened to some of my favorite songs, even on repeat…Em’s that kind of trouper…

We lounged in jammies and drank an iffy pot of coffee without milk until we were so hungry we absolutely had to move on to the next location, which included some of Portugal’s knock-your-socks-off pastries and a walk to a flea market.

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The flea market was a bit of a bust, though I Emily and I both bought tiles to do something not yet determined with. We’d been hunting for days, and it was one of our missions for the market, so when I spied thirteen of one type I knew, what with my May 13th birthday and all, that those were the ones with my name on them. I even got one for free, and only two broke enroute to NYC.

Em and I had nine days together, which is a fair amount of time, but it went lightening fast, and before we knew it we were ejected out of a wonderful passage to live out forty separately, though we’re in constant contact, so separate is relative. If I had to describe the sensation it was like taking when the training wheels come off and having your parent (in my case one who can’t ride a bike herself, which was awfully brave of her) let go of the back of your banana seat. That first, free glide down the street left me so excited at what I was doing that I nearly forgot how to operate the brakes.

The more things change the more they stay they same…

Friendships, like life, aren’t perfect, and Emily and I had a short lapse in communication shortly after my return from Spain, where I’d spent another ten days on my own before heading home to New York. It was a stressful time for both of us, with things happening (and not happening) that were difficult (god, that’s an understatement) to process.

We rode without our training wheels.

And we survived.

As we hashed it all out in real-time it felt like we might never get caught up on al the bits, and then Emily brilliantly described this time in our lives: we’re in the first trimester of forty. First trimesters of anything are tough, and I should know because my college operated on a trimester system, and it seriously took the rest of my four years at William Smith for my GPA to recover from my first trimester. I learned time management the hard way.

I believe the first trimester can be summed up to growing pains.

Perhaps because I hated the way math seemed to work against me in my efforts to become an honors student, I was pushed to work that much harder which had a lovely side effect of learning more and getting a better education as a result. Hard is hard, but it isn’t always bad. In fact, it can sometimes serve us well. I wrote about it at a time where life seemed very, very hard.

I haven’t been pregnant, but the first trimester of a pregnancy brings growing pains: morning sickness, bloating, back pain, feeling fat without looking pregnant, though what happens next, and I’ve witnessed this in my friends, is a terrific glow, amazing hair, and strangers smiling at you because even in an outfit that tests spandex’s resiliency pregnant women are simply adorable.

My very first best friend, Debbie, has four kids, and she has not so subtly suggested over the years that I become a mother. She thinks I’d be a good one and she doesn’t want me to miss out. I love her for her faith in me. Five years ago Deb suggested I freeze some eggs, but I 1) didn’t want to pay for that, and 2) have always felt like if it’s meant to happen it will. Deb and I have known each other for thirty six years, hers was one of the first hands I held outside of my family, and her encouragement doesn’t feel like pressure so much as a stamp of approval: you’d be a great mom.

Right before I left for this run through Spain Deb sent me a text that said:

I have an assignment for you. Go out and buy the July issue of Real Simple magazine and read the article that starts on page 47. Ever since I read your last blog post I have been thinking that you really should get pregnant this year. What do you think? (Here’s a link to that p.47 article.)

I loved this for a number of reasons. I loved Debbie’s honesty and willingness to tell me this. I loved her belief in my potential. I loved how sometimes often our friends can see things in us that we can’t see in ourselves.

I’m currently working as the chef at a yoga retreat that I attended in May, the last week of my last decade, which was right before I met Emily in Portugal. A few of the girls I befriended back in May had a little chat behind my back and on the last night, as we ate heart-shaped, rocket-topped pizzas, one told me: we think you’d be an amazing mom.

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{If anyone is either worried or excited that I might be pregnant, I’ll spoil it and let you know right now that I am not. I mean, not yet. I never, never ever say never. Sometimes I even say yes.}

Emily had this reoccurring thought while we were in Portugal that, despite my lack of partner, I’d be pregnant next May. When she spoke of it I watched her face and imagined that in her mind’s eye she saw me in a bikini with a big, round belly. We already decided that a holiday with your bestie in the middle of one of the years’ finest traveling months does not have to be “just for turning forty.” Who knows where it will be (Em has her eye on Turkey…), or if it will ever live up to the ease and bliss of Portugal, but next year we’ll be giving it another go. But we’re not going to compare it, because it will be different. It will be new, we’ll be different, our lenses will have altered in a year’s time so that nothing will ever look quite the same.

Sunday morning I wandered a fabulous market in the small town of San Joan on the north side of Ibiza with my new mate Trevor (he’s British) when he suggested tarot card readings. He said, “You know…just for fun…” and I said, “Yeah…” because we both knew that while it surely had the potential for fun, we’d known each other long enough (a week is sometimes enough) to know that we both had a few truckloads of burning questions.

Like any memorable time, the birthday-week trip to Portugal had a few catch phrases that stuck. When Emily and I got caught in a rainstorm it was “We love getting soaked to our skin! We love wind!” Getting lost led to “We love walking!” and “We love hills!”

Basically, in short, we loved. As Em says, “Choose love.”

Another one was, “Remember the time Aunt Jaime/Emily….blah-blah-blah…” It was a way of both capturing the moment in the present and also preserving it for the future. We did this with the confidence that, despite being already over-ripe, we believe that we’ll have families and play Auntie to each other’s children. We imagine in another decade or so we’ll tell our travel stories until the kids can mime the words behind our backs.

Em’s recent one was, “Remember the time Aunt Jaime went to Spain for a month that turned into a decade?”

So. About the tarot card reader…

…to be continued…

Until then, here are a few pictures that tell a bit of the story, though the truth is I won’t know it until it plays out. I just have a few clues. It’s all we ever really have.

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Huh. I added these images in the opposite order than how they appear, but as it turns out the story is nearly the same forward or reverse. Huh.

 

 

 

 

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