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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Calling Megan

This morning I called a friend I haven’t spoken to since we were both waitresses in a lobster house in Maine 11 years ago, when we were both single and in this healed-up, hopeful place in life, surrounded by a bunch of people (mostly Russian, Czech and Connecticut residents) who were also happily hanging out in dead-end jobs in a national park.

I called her an hour after she had left the scene of the explosions at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, and she pulled over to take my call. Her voice, in the car, was shaky but exactly as I remembered it, Southern warmth and all – I suddenly remembered how she used to say ‘’baby girl’’ to me - maybe when she wrapped her apron around her and tied it, or while we were counting tips, or when I was a passenger on trips through Acadia, down to Portland, and around through hills and oceans in between to hike up mountains and then go out for pancakes in Bar Harbour before our shifts. I was phoning because, according to Facebook, she was a block away from the explosions when they happened, and I needed to find someone to interview.

Like every journalist in every newsroom around the world that would likely have this event as a front page news story the next day, I was called by an editor just after the bombings happened and asked if there was anyone I knew who might be in Boston right now.

I pulled off on the side of the road and went through my newsfeed. Megan had posted hours before how proud she was of a friend who was competing, and I messaged her and asked if that friend would be comfortable talking to me.

Megan messaged me back: ‘’I was there.’’ And she sent her number for me to call.

The last time I saw Megan was when I was 25 and she was 29, and she was dropping me off at the bus station in Portland, Maine, so I could get to Boston, and then eventually get back to California for a job in San Diego. I remembered that week at her place before I left the East Coast, and it was early winter, and we went for walks around her new neighbourhood drinking chai lattes, our boots crunching on fallen leaves and the air smelled like rain. I’m sure we talked about boys and careers, and places we still wanted to live in, just like we had all through that late summer and early autumn. I remember that season in Maine as one of the most beautiful times in my life, and Megan as my older, wiser, cool sister/co-navigator who put an arm around my shoulder and pointed out that everything was probably going to work out just fine. In my mind, waitressing at the lobster house and living in Seal Harbour, and eating popovers slathered with blueberry jam was a whole chapter of my 20s, but it probably lasted less than three months.

The tragedy of social media is that you can know so much of someone’s life, without speaking to them. It only occurred to me how weird it was to be calling Megan now, more than a decade later, as the phone was ringing.

A normal conversation would have gone into how she met her husband and how old her daughter is and if she loves motherhood as much as she thought she would, when we talked about it over nachos at Applebees.

Maybe we’d talk about the guy who would come in for lunch, order a bottle of wine, declare everything was ‘’Fabu’’ and would always tip 100 percent.

Or that time that waiter Joe, an out-of-work pilot from Canada, spent three hours arranging furniture on the front lawn to say ‘’Happy Birthday’’ to that girl from Alabama (Lauren?) he had a massive crush on, then arranged for her to fly over the lawn in a private plane?

Would she remember that time we all fought over who was going to serve Stifler’s Mom (actress’s name? Does it matter?) at table 12, or that time the Secretary of the Interior came for dinner and John, the head waiter, wore his CIA shirt? Or the conversations we had sitting in the car, with gas station coffee and the radio on (it was the summer of No Doubt’s ‘’Underneath it All’’ and we all piled in a car to go see ‘’Sweet Home Alabama’’)

This morning she said everything you would expect someone to say after walking away from an area and then minutes later, feel it explode.

Her mom had just called to tell her there had been a third explosion. Her voice broke, and mine did too, ‘’hearing her heart’’ as she would have said, in that Carolina lilt, if we had been sitting on a park bench somewhere.

I felt cheated hanging up and then writing Megan’s words up to be absorbed with 100 more testimonies in a news article. I wonder if journalists have gone through exactly this, today, mining friends they’ve lost touch with, for disaster stories.

But I thought about this too, with three televisions in the newsroom playing CNN coverage of the bombings continuously, in front of me, behind me, and to the left of me since I arrived at work 10 hours ago: maybe its cliché to say that people come together in these times and so forth.
But, you know, all day I’ve been thinking about blueberry pancakes and orange juice in plastic cups, American Pie quotes, and train trips, and lights glowing from houses in Seal Harbour, and remember sitting on a wooden bench in an outdoor church and singing It is Well with My Soul alongside Megan under the pine trees, and terror and fear of the world, isn't what I feel.