Day began with Natalie here.

Day ended with Natalie 600 miles away... And my five-day vacation from work is over.

Most of my moody MP3s... Sinatra. Creed. Billy Joel. Ben E. King. Nat King Cole. Some City of Angels & Leaving Las Vegas stuff.

Warmed up Papa John's.

Going back to work tomorrow.

29 Oct. 2001
No entry.

29 Oct. 2000
Death up close.


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Quote du jour:
"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly's the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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 flourished.

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 for long.

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 to leave.

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 daylight 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 Franklin 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, "Franklin City - 48 miles."

We stopped by Lakeland 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 Lakeland 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 in.

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 Franklin 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 again...

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 notice.

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.

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