I always found it odd that Ex didn’t have any friends. Okay fine, there was one guy he knew from high school. But this kid never returned phone calls and the one and only time he extended himself, he made it abundantly clear he felt put out. Like dude, I crossed a bridge and paid a toll to get here. We met up for vegetarian Indian to accommodate the friend’s dietary limitations. And as curry induced beads of sweat collected on my brow, the only thing I could think was how much of a douche this guy was. All he did was shovel food in his mouth and complain about the stress of living in West Chester. Hands down, this guy was dead weight.
Alaska didn’t really have friends either. I mean, there were people he qualified as friends but it all felt superficial, like he kept them at arms length. He float fished with one guy and skied with another. Hey, am I the only person who finds these two activities about as interactive as solitary confinement? Anyway, there also was a friend back on the east coast, someone he talked with often. But as tight as they may have been, I visited Alaska more in the one year of our entanglement than this friend did in the previous five years. I understand limitations, family this and job that, but at a certain point you have to acknowledge the imbalance and either resolve it or cut it loose.
“PJ, what’re you doing to celebrate?” my mom asked after she finished singing Happy Birthday.
“Going to dinner with some friends.”
“Maggiano’s. It’s cheap and convenient and we’re allowed to loudly linger until the cows come home.”
“Okay, well have fun.”
“How can I not? Um, hello, I’m wearing a tiara!?!?!”
A little after seven o’clock on Friday, with my toes freshly painted and my princess accessory in place, I swung through the Art Museum area to fetch Joe and Barry. They shuffled a sizeable box containing my gift into the trunk and from there we relocated to the restaurant. Joe made sure my Kir never ran low. Barry admired my tiara to the point of jealousy. Bess showed up toting the perfect cake, something Hope insisted on in light of her unfortunate absence. Kristen scurried through traffic to make sure she didn’t miss anything. And Melinda made me laugh until my sides hurt.
Unbeknownst to me, Leslie had called ahead to order one of every dessert for the table. I guess she figured it was the perfect occasion to feed my sugar addiction. From tiramisu to pistachio mousse, strawberry topped cheesecake to decadent profiteroles, there was enough to feed an army. As the clock ticked toward midnight, picked over sweets littering the table, the waiter arrived with a complimentary round of Sambuca. It was the perfect finish to an indulgent feast.
At half past midnight, awkwardly dragging the box out of my trunk and up two flights of stairs, I stumbled through my apartment door. I tore at the wrapping paper to reveal a glass faced, under-the-counter wine cellar. I opened the collection of cards I had amassed through the course of the day and there in the middle of my living room floor I read each and every one. I scanned the emails cluttering my inbox and all of the warm blog wishes that had piled up in my absence. It was almost two when I finally crawled between my pressed sheets and drifted off to sleep.
Turning thirty-five was everything I expected and more. But it had nothing to do with the overflowing plates of food that dotted the dinner table or the thoughtful gifts and personalized cards. It had nothing to do with my pink and silver tiara or pre-dinner spa pedicure. Nope. It had to do with my friends. The people who make my life richer regardless of the time of year. The people who listen when I need to blab, make me smile when I’m blue and remind me I’m not alone even though sometimes it might feel that way. Without them I’d be lost. Without them I might survive but it’d unquestionably be a lackluster life. So while I adore the wine cellar and can’t wait to cash in my pedicure gift certificate, I’d trade it all in for a guarantee that my friends will always be part of my life. That the people who made turning thirty-five more fun than turning twenty-one stick around for the long haul. And if I have to pop a cork on one of my chilled bottles of wine, well, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.