Goodnaturedly on that March afternoon in 2001, I’d agreed to grab a bite with the boys at a sports bar in Anytown, Midwest, somewhere along our route from Evanston, IL to Hilton Head, SC via Columbus, OH, where the lads knew some other college pals. As we drank beer and consumed unhealthy pub fare, the Hawkeyes faced off against my alma mater, the University of Illinois and its Fighting Illini, during the final game of the Big Ten Tournament. It should have been an easy win for the Illini but the travel gods of confined spaces would not have its so, and it is in this post’s opening scene that we find our heroine (me) all but hating her life.
The roughly 10-day jaunt, punctuated by a return stop in Cleveland to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, came at a critical phase in my then 22 year-old existence. Pre-9/11, I was excited about my first ever professional promotion: the opportunity to get out of the travel agency call center and sample corporate communications. It’s no coincidence that I’m a busy and successful manager in that field today. Fresh out of college, happily employed and not yet touched by the reality of terrorism in the 21st Century, a vision of uninterrupted young American exceptionalism was unconsciously entrenched. I’d not yet been laid off and unable to find another position in the field (as I would be six months later). I was still able to believe that my hard work and ambition would always be enough.
G and I had been dating for about five months, and even before I’d agreed to this sausage fest of a journey, we both had suspicions that the relationship had run its course. I was dragging my feet about saying the words because it was already kind of hard to imagine life without him. I didn’t yet comprehend that the friend who might not be “the one” could outlast your two failed marriages, career and health challenges and everything else life can throw, to become family. I didn’t have the experience or the maturity to consider it possible.
And I absolutely didn’t understand that the adventures I’d have with G and the boys, including being kicked off an Ohio dance floor with my gay partner for being too “NC-17,” are the stuff of which memory-filled laughter is made. That H and I would still be emailing vignettes years after G and I took a post-breakup hiatus from each other.
Next weekend for the first time in 12 years, I am going to get in a car and travel four hours to be in the same room with three of my favorite men. I’m G’s plus one at a wedding in Iowa. The other boys are going to be there, with the wives and families they’ve raised in tow. The alcohol consumption may be lighter. The hijinks and hilarity might conclude somewhat earlier. But my awareness and appreciation have never been more acute. These dudes I thought I might just back over with the station wagon more than a decade ago loved me before I lost weight, ditched the co-dependent monogamy and figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I can’t wait to hug them just before the eye rolling starts.
I remain grateful that wedding dress code prohibits the damned Hawkeye bibs.