The apartment isn't quiet. The slow &
mellow sounds from my MP3 player prevent that. But the place does seem still
-- something it's not been for four days -- and empty.
It was the twenty-first of May -- I looked
it up -- when the person I used to call "my fan" stepped up from sending
random e-mails to the real-time world of instant messaging.
Natalie was the first reader to e-mail me and take me up on the offer
to "keep in touch". Something about her interested me from our first messages
back and forth... And when we began chatting online, that feeling
Sometime this summer, I cleared security and she gave me her phone numbers.
If memory serves me correctly, I didn't instantly put them to use... But
with free nationwide long-distance on my cell phone, I didn't put off calling
In the four months I've lived in Franklin, she's become a regular part of
my life. We've managed to talk frequently -- at least once a week and usually
more often than that. In every friendship I've ever had, there has been one
thing that's drawn me to the person... But with Natalie, our personalities
blend together seemingly for no reason at all. It's a feeling that is somewhat
perplexing yet very refreshing.
Natalie had been planning a "world tour" of sorts since the early
part of the year with stops in various states to visit friends & family.
A few weeks ago, we sort of worked it out so that Franklin could be a stop
on her route. A unique scheduling situation at the fire department gave me
enough time off to spend pieces of four days with her.
I'll admit, my feelings ran the gamut in the weeks prior to her arrival.
I went from excited to very wigged out. I ran the "what ifs" through my head
several times. I thought about many of the ways her trip could be great and
all of the ways it could be a disaster. I thought about things I could say
to cut the visit short... And wondered what I would do if I didn't want her
Saturday afternoon, after she'd passed the point of no return, I was totally
calm and collected. Maybe it was the home court advantage. After all, if
she thought I was hideous or something... I'd just go back inside while she'd
have to drive hundreds of miles to get home. But, in reality, I think it
was the realization that meeting would just be an extension of the friendship
we'd established... And it would be the next logical step.
After a day of driving, she made it to my
place about 9:30 Saturday evening. I gave her a hug as she stepped out of
her car... And maybe because of that, she never once felt like a stranger
to me. With the exception of Saturday night -- when I spent time studying
a face that I'd only previously seen in photos -- the entire weekend felt
like a visit with an old friend.
Saturday night, we ate a late dinner at TGI Fridays, bought a cheap bottle
of Smirnoff and headed back to my place. I had a couple of cocktails, which
in retrospect, probably wasn't the ideal first impression. We hung out together
on the couch and talked until the wee hours of the morning... And somewhere
mixed into the conversation, I kissed her.
Don't worry... She kissed back.
With the clock displaying a time closer to sunrise than to the previous day's
sunset (adjusted even for the end of
saving time), we shut up and crashed.
We slept late and ate fast food before taking
a leisurely drive through what many urbanites call "the country" and what
many people in my state call "the backyard." It was Natalie's first
Sunday afternoon drive and it was more fun than I imagined it would be.
We drove through the small hills near
and viewed the early autumn colors of the hardwoods. In my mind, I kept setting
points to stop and turn around... but neither the desire to explore new territory
or the quality of conversation waned quickly. When we finally turned around,
the first highway sign on the return trip read,
City - 48 miles."
We stopped by
so that I could give her the dime tour of the city that pays my bills. We
had only been in town two or three minutes when my department was dispatched
to a fire. I don't spend a lot of time in
off-duty, so I felt obligated to go help. Unfortunately for Natalie,
this resulted in some solo time for her in my truck in the parking lot behind
our station. (Yeah... I know, I'm a terrible host.)
After the excitement, we rented Monsters, Inc. (because I'm terribly uncultured
and had never seen it) and had Papa John's delivered (because I'm terribly
addicted to their pizza).
Although the clock showed that it was 30
minutes past noon, I was asleep when my day started with a phone call. It
was one of my fellow firefighters calling to say that our department was
working a serious fire. I earned my second strike in the terrible host category
and left Natalie alone at my place for a couple of hours to go pitch
After I returned from the fire, we caught an afternoon showing of Tuck
Everlasting and went out for dinner at a local barbecue place. We came back
to my place and watched television for a couple of hours. Sleeping late each
day notwithstanding, our late nights caught up with us and we were ready
for bed shortly after the evening news... However, in a fashion similar to
the two previous nights, we stayed up longer than we should have.
I was still in bed when it came time for
Natalie to begin her 600 mile journey home. She laid down next to
me and we sort of cuddled for a while. I know that I must have dozed a bit
as we laid there... but it was easy to do because it felt so safe and secure
lying there with her.
Finally, the time came for her to go. I helped her load her car and her visit
ended just as it began -- with a hug. Sitting here more than 12 hours after
her departure... Sitting here in
while she's safe and sound at her home so far away... I don't think I hugged
her enough. I don't think I soaked enough of her up.
I didn't hug her like she was someone that I'd never actually seen before...
I didn't hug her like someone that I wouldn't see for some time to come...
All weekend, she seemed like a friend that I had in college. She seemed like
someone from down the road and not several states away. In some ways, I think
I sent her on her way as though I'd see her next week. As she drove further
away, I regretted that because I really don't know when we'll see each other
The apartment has felt weird all day. Everything
here is a reminder of the weekend we spent together...
The vodka bottle with the $9.99 price tag that she laughed at me for getting
Saturday. Sunday's leftover pizza in the fridge. The boots still dirty from
the fire I left her for Monday. The couch pillows arranged around where we
sat watching Third Watch last night. Her towel on the rack in the bathroom.
She was only here for pieces of four days, but her absence is easy to
I don't know how or why my friendship with Natalie works... I can't
explain it. But I know that it does because I miss her now that she's gone.
The apartment isn't quiet. The slow & mellow sounds from my MP3 player
prevent that. But the place does seem still -- something it's not been for
four days -- and empty.