My old college friend, Cory, came to visit my 2-year-old daughter and me at our home in New York City this past weekend.
He drove more than 8 hours each way to catch up with me and to actually meet my daughter Ellie in person, after hearing and reading so much about her. It had been far too long since we were able to have one of our chats in person.
But before we get to our reunion of sorts, I must give you the backstory to our friendship because, at first glance, my friend and I appear to be barely compatible at best.
Cory and I went to college together and crossed paths in a creative writing class. He met my large personality with an even larger one, and on one particular Spring afternoon, he was wearing a bright red polo shirt and a huge opinionated demeanor that I countered with super short hair, a nose ring, and equal fervor.
We went toe to toe about hunting laws and firearms –- and although I have no idea how this conversation made it’s way into our creative writing class, it did.
I believe the professor sided with me, class was dismissed, and I made my irritated way out of the classroom…with him following closely behind.
At one point, I looked over my shoulder, making eye contact with him, and he noted that despite my strong disagreement with his position, he still found a particular asset of mine appealing, to which I responded, “YOU are disgusting.”
A few days later, Cory’s roommate (knowing nothing of the episode in creative writing class) thought my broad shoulders were an indication of athletic ability, and asked me to be on his co-ed softball team.
I accepted the invitation because I thought this friend was cute and I did, in fact, enjoy softball. And in turn, the friend invited me over to his apartment, so I could meet his roommates and my future teammates.
I arrived at the fairly large and well-kept residence, wearing a sports bra and a bandana, knocked on the front door, and standing there in the doorway was Cory, “the guy from writing class”. He laughed, I feigned irritation with his existence, he offered me a cheep can of beer, and an amazing friendship was born.
I’m not exactly sure how it was born, but it was…I guess sometimes the universe just intervenes.
In those year at college, we would sit on his front porch drinking beer, after beer, late into the night, talking about what we wanted our lives to become, where we pictured ourselves to be down the road –- blissfully ignorant to the million variables that actually exist in a life outside of our own heads.
When I was studying in London, and the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Cory was the person I called after calling my parents, prompting him to send me a CD of country music to make me feel better when all I wanted to do was end that semester and go back home, where I felt safe and protected.
When his father passed away suddenly, two weeks after his graduation, I made my way to Maine, along with nearly a dozen of our friends, as quickly as I could.
He was one of the first people I called when I found out I was pregnant and single, and he offered a lot of advice without an ounce of judgment, which is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me.
He has seen me through every relationship (attempted or otherwise), every job prospect, every moment of self-loathing and boasting…and I would like to think I have seen him through much of the same.
And so many, many times, when I would cry about how things didn’t work out the way I had planned for them to, he would say, “Ah…Car…you need to remember: ‘The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out but I’m glad I had them.’” (a quote borrowed from Bridges of Madison County).
Sometimes his repetition of that phrase would just make me cry harder, as I explained that this was not how I wanted things to work out…and other times, the reminder would make me feel so much better.
And when he was here this past weekend, despite more than a decade passing since we originally met, and almost four years since we last saw each other – we laughed just like we used to, fed each other advice (solicited and un-solicited), and talked about our future plans.
And it all felt so incredibly nice and familiar — despite how completely unfamiliar my life as a single mother can feel at times.
At one point in the weekend, my daughter was napping and I hopped into the shower, thanking God that if she woke up, there was another adult to watch her while I finished shaving my legs.
When I got out, I thanked Cory for being a second set of much needed and welcome hands, for putting the dishes away while I showered, and for making the trip down to New York City. Even if we could only connect for a short time, it was still better than not connecting at all.
And while I was standing there in my messy living room in New York, I flashed back to those times on the porch…the porch where we planned our lives…and I acknowledge that I am nowhere near where I thought I would be.
Back in the day, I was determined to become a network news producer, to win an Emmy, and to do so by the age of 30.
But if someone told 19-year-old me that just days shy of my 30th birthday, I would find out that I was well on my way to single motherhood, and that I would then navigate my way through my career, while growing into and attempting to redefine that title of Single Mother, all while living in New York City…I would have laughed in their face.
I not only reminiscenced about what I thought life would look like when I was a sophomore in college…I also thought back to what I feared life would look like when I was single and pregnant and scared out of my mind, and I recalled the post I wrote the night before I delivered my daughter…feeling a rush of emotion that reminded me how incredibly afraid I was that life as I knew it was over.
I went on to explain that despite the fact that my life is not at all where I planned for it to be, and regardless of how damn hard things have been at times, lately I have really been feeling that every moment before this one has led me to exactly where I am right now.
And where I am right now is really, genuinely, happy.
The feeling hit me like a ton of bricks at an important work meeting I had last month, when I looked around the room, taking in the magnitude of it all, and thinking, “Oh my god, THIS is exactly where I am supposed to be. And I would not be here right now if everything before today hadn’t happened.”
And since that breathtaking moment, that feeling of being exactly where I need to be hasn’t waned in the least –- in fact, in the past couple weeks, it has been becoming more woven into everything I do.
And by realizing that, I also have to acknowledge that I was correct in thinking that my life was over when I found out I was pregnant…my old life.
But that wasn’t a bad thing at all.
Yes…the constant recalibration of focus and endless amount of adaptation that comes along with unplanned single motherhood can be a bit difficult. And yes, I get wistful for the days when I could sleep in, and not worry about school forms, or ear infections, or finding a way to explain the complexities of life to an inquisitive toddler.
But without all of those things, I wouldn’t have what I have right now –- which is an amazing life, with incredible friends and family, who have held my hand on this crazy ride, and have, more importantly than anything, taught me how to love and be loved.
And so, just as my friend’s refrain holds true — “The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out but I’m glad I had them” -– I might also add: “…And I am better for them not having worked out.”
I can only hope everyone is so fortunate.