Ten years ago this past weekend, I did maybe the most bonkers thing of my twenties and, given how much of my twenties I was hypomanic and doing bonkers things, that's saying a lot.
It was the Most Bonkers Thing not because I did it, but because I somehow convinced a number of others to do it with me. Back in 2009 I had a blog and, while it never got to be anything to really crow about, it had a few dozen loyal readers and modest number of regular commenters. For a number of reasons, that January I had decided that, in late-February and early March, I was going to go to an AHL game in Upstate New York followed by a trip down to Washington, DC to attend my first NHL game. A few weeks in advance of the trip, I put a call out to any of my blog followers to let me know if they wanted to join me. To my surprise, several of them responded. One lived in DC and had season tickets and suggested we meet up for lunch before the matinee game. Others drove from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky. I flew from British Columbia. All to attend a hockey game.
None of us had ever met in person before that weekend.
Nowadays, saying "I'm going to meet someone I met online" is oddly familiar and comes with perhaps a couple of polite safety questions ("Do you need me to check in on you?" "Are you meeting somewhere public?"), but in 2009? Only two people told anyone the truth. I, for one, lied to Homeland Security. Several people lied to friends or family. (One of the two who didn't was only 18 at the time and told her father, who insisted on meeting us before she ran off with us. He was lovely about it. None of us minded.) We had a lovely day the lot of us (if you can call a visit to the Holocaust Museum lovely... we were all big nerds, so even if it was an emotionally powerful place, we were all moved by the experience and glad we'd taken the time to go) followed by a fantastic hockey game. Penguins versus Capitals in 2009? How could it be anything but?!
But perhaps the most powerful part of the weekend was the part I didn't plan.
Three of us had split a hotel room. That evening, after the game, one of us had to leave to get back home for commitments the following morning, so Lauren and I had a couple drinks at the hotel bar and chatted late into the evening. The following morning, I had arranged to see an old friend from high school, Jim, who I hadn't seen in the the nearly seven years since we'd graduated. He met me at the hotel and asked Lauren if she wanted to join us. It hadn't occurred to me to ask her; I'd simply assumed she had no more time to spare and had to go home. I was wrong. And I ended up being so glad I was wrong.
Jim and Lauren and I went out to the Pentagon to see the 9/11 memorial and then to Arlington National Cemetery. We wandered in silence, unknowingly all looking out for the headstones of any Muslim soldiers. Jim eventually had to go, but Lauren and I ended up going to see the Lincoln monument and a few other things things that didn't make quite the same impression. A moment I didn't know she'd captured on film was a moment we took to stare out over the Potomac as it rushed under us. She sent me the photo a few days later, captured truly candidly, a moment when I was letting the day settle in my heart. She captured a moment of true serenity in my soul, a flash of calm in the personal storm I was the eye of, a deep breath when I was flooded with gratitude that I could have perfect, magical days. The day seemed like a gift from the gods, a promise that if I followed my heart, there were more to come. The true gift was her time, her quiet enthusiasm, and her mutual fascination with cemeteries.
It was one of the few days of my life where I knew exactly how important it was as it was happening. I was so grateful for it because I had been on the verge of going down a much darker path. Lauren kept me in the light without ever realizing what she was doing.
That night, I wrote in my journal: "What made me happiest was the fact that, as we hugged goodbye, she said what I was thinking: we have to do this again sometime."
We did. Lauren and I have birthdays on consecutive days and, two months later, we celebrated our birthdays together with a number of other friends in Pittsburgh. That August, a group of us took a trip to Toronto. The following Christmas, I spent the holidays just outside Pittsburgh with Lauren and several others. And in February of 2010, Lauren and two others came to Vancouver to take in the Olympic festivities.
Things tapered off after that largely because people began graduating and getting jobs and a few of us had tapped out our savings a little, but what was built 2009 began largely that weekend in DC, but was cemented by that bonus day I spent with Lauren.
That weekend heavily influenced the next three years of my life, which ultimately led me to where I am now. There are several friendships that were solidified that weekend that have lasted a full decade now, and that is nothing short of magical for me. There have been ups and downs, there have been periods of radio silence, there have even been falling outs, but there have also been bridges rebuilt, channels of communication reopened, and amends made. (Shockingly, like they're real relationships or something?!)
If anyone ever tells you that the internet is no place to make real friends, you can tell them to stuff it on my behalf.
And Lauren? That day in DC remains one of the most perfect days of my life. Thank you for all of it.