My first Starkville visitor left after we dined at Mugshots last night. We drank our final beers, toasted with our last shared glasses of red, sneered at the LSU fans sitting at the bar. She ate veggies, I ate fries. We hugged.
I didn’t cry.
You know why? Because she gave me a new set of eyes. She allowed me to see things differently. Opened my heart to current realities and new possibilities.
My friend, Andrea (aka, Shmee) is many things. She’s fun, sassy, irreverent, smart, garrulous, generous, loving, and kind. And she’s one hell of an extraordinary life coach. She was exactly what I needed from Sunday – Wednesday.
We drove the kids to school together in the morning. As has become the Willis family ritual, I quoted a line from “The Help” to them on our journey. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” They, of course, rolled their eyes and groaned and turned their iPods up. Andrea loved it. She loved it so much that on the one morning she didn’t commute with us, she texted them the “You is…” mantra instead.
Nothing like having two mothers for four days to throw you into a tailspin.
Our new home is quite a bit smaller than our former home. So much smaller, in fact, that we decided loft beds were the best space-saving solution for our four kids. And you can guess what that means. We have five bedrooms and no real guest bed.
Chris and I offered up the master bedroom to Shmee, and she replied by sarcastically saying, “Yes. Could you and your husband please move on to an air mattress in the middle of the family room so I can sleep in your King-sized bed all by myself. And could you please bring me tea and crumpets every morning?” And we then rescinded our offer and suggested that perhaps she’d be most comfortable sleeping with the bats and mosquitos on our backyard hammock.
Mary Claire graciously gave up her bedroom in all its purple glory for our guest. Shmee was delighted. She loved re-living her college days by sleeping in a loft bed in a college town. If we’d have filled a kiddie pool with ice and beer on the floor of Mary’s room, Shmee would have been in hog heaven. Instead, we made her walk the ten steps to the kitchen.
We spent a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing. I took more pride than I thought I would in driving her around our new little hometown. “That’s my favorite restaurant. And here’s my favorite place to write. And this is where we get the best Q.” And we talked. And then we talked some more. And then we had a glass of wine and talked some more. We talked about life, we talked about our families, we talked about Karma, we talked about religion, we talked about politics, we talked about my upcoming hair cut and what would look best on a round face in the Mississippi humidity. I’m more than certain that the ad nauseum discussions about my hair were my friend’s favorites. They were most definitely my husband’s favorites.
We spent a day at the Noxubee Nature Refuge. You can read more about that in “Adventures with Shmee: Part Two”… Coming soon to a Table for Six blog near you.
I taught her how to buy tampons. “Just throw them unapologetically up on the counter,” I said. “No need to camouflage them with Tic Tacs and lipstick. In fact, throw a 2-pound bag of M&Ms up there, too, and loudly proclaim, ‘I’m next in line.’ I guarantee no one will fuck with you.”
And although tampon purchasing is most assuredly a skill worth perfecting, Shmee taught me some much greater lessons over the past four days.
“You know,” she said to me over a damn good BBQ salad at Harvey’s. “I was surprised at how emotional you were over leaving Indiana. I mean, you told me multiple times that you were ready for a change.”
I looked up at her as JOOOAAN (Pee Wee Herman fans? Anyone?) refilled our unsweetened Yankee-style iced teas.
“Well, I was ready for a change,” I agreed. “Our family was ready for a change. I was ready to extricate myself from some less-than-steller relationships, Chris was ready for a new career, and we were ready to give our kids a different life experience.” I paused. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tough leaving my family and friends. There’s a bit of a mourning period that goes along with that kind of departure.”
“Oh, I get that,” Shmee said. “I’ve seen the Crying Pictures on Facebook. I do understand. But you know what you told me many times?”
“‘My life is too frenzied. I need to slow down. We need to slow down. I need time to write. We need time to be a family.'” She grinned. “Be careful what you wish for, Girl. It doesn’t get much slower than the South.”
And I’ll be damned if she wasn’t 1,000% accurate. I DID ask for this lifestyle. All along, I’ve been claiming that I made this move because of Chris’s new career. But I wanted it as much as he did. It may not look exactly like I’d pictured it, may have hurt a little more than I was expecting, may have left a little bit bigger hole in my heart that I was prepared for, but I got exactly what I wanted.
“And, my friend,” she continued, “you have THREE agents waiting on your finished manuscript. THREE literary gurus who want to read your latest novel. THREE people who’ve said, ‘I’ll be damned. She’s a good writer. We want to read her stuff.’ And you’ve got all the time in the world to write.”
“So are you going to sit around and cry about how much you miss everyone? Are you going to fill your days with unimportant and petty errands? Or are you going to finish that damn book? Which button are you going to wear?”
Sidebar Explanation: Earlier in the day, Andrea had given me a hand-sketched sheet of paper. I had been lamenting about whether or not it would make sense for me to go back to work, whether I should be contributing more to our financial bottom line. Her paper read:
YOU HAVE THREE CHOICES:
1. You can BE a writer. You can own it, show up, and do your job.
2. You can call writing your hobby, leave it at that, and get a “real” job.
3. You can flail — like the rat running back and forth between love and fear (a brilliant Martha Beck story and image) — never choosing and always falling short.
WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?
Then she drew three circles and labeled them:
I’M A WRITER.
I LIKE TO WRITE.
I’M A FLAILER.
“Every day, I want you to choose a button and wear it. I’ll call Chris and find out which one you’re wearing, so don’t think you can bullshit me.” And then she demonstrated true flailing, flapping her arms and sticking her tongue out. It was nearly as unattractive as my Facebook Crying Pictures.
I know what you’re thinking. I can be a bit dense at times. I know that. I get mired in my own sadness, trip over my own feet, get in my own way. Sometimes it takes a loving reminder (or an irreverent one, depending on the friend) to shove me back on the path.
“Life,” Shmee said, “has a way of giving us everything we need to get exactly what we want.”
If truer words have ever been spoken, I’m not sure what they are.