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.
If memory serves, January 4th is the off-day between the semi-final and the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Junior Championship in Pardubice.
Last year was a doozie. 2007. It sort of sucked. But was also bonkers? You did two semesters of full time university, went to the UK to visit J because it was cheaper than going home (and why would you want to do that anyways?), then did emergency medicine training between summer classes, work, moving, and that trip to Mexico City to see the man of the hour. You didn't sleep much. At first that was okay, but it began to wear you down. You're trying to do it all. (And you'll keep trying for another few years because you don't learn lessons quickly.) But it did blow up. That relationship ended, this past semester bombed, and you were so done with it all that you tried to just relax on Christmas Eve and bake and read Harry Potter and have a really quite day.
Then the phone rang. The ex. The one you dumped two months ago. Begging you to forgive him, to give him another chance, to ignore the fact that he has not changed and is not actually promising to change. He wants you back. "I need you. I want you. My life isn't the same without you." You didn't think men said those words outside of Hallmark movies. You tell him you want three days to think about it. (In your head, you are a hard NO.) He calls two days later. Nope, nope, nope. You go drinking with a friend, see an ad for the very first NHL Winter Classic starring non other than the 20-year-old it boy of hockey (and your favourite team's captain), Sidney Crosby.
You joke that, forget real men, you're simply going to admire Crosby from afar since you will never meet him (Vancouver is a ways from the Burgh) therefor he can never disappoint you. Your friend jokes back that by the laws of RomCom you are now destined to meet him and have him fall for you. You laugh, but concede that that might be the most Canadian RomCom plot you've ever heard. Your friend tells you to write it.
It's December 26th. You are on winter break. It's not like you have anything better to do, so you start writing it that evening after the opening games of the 2008 WJC.
Here's the thing... by January 4th, you've picked favourites on the Junior team. You don't know this now, but two of them will go on to have great NHL careers, one will have a record-breaking run as a rookie and fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, and your absolute favourite will, sadly, never play a game in the NHL. But he will still be your favourite. You'll fly across a continent to see him play, you will dare him to score for you (AND HE WILL), and years later, when he's retired and coaching, he will remember you. And he will still be your favourite. Not because he sent you a present one time when he missed a road trip to your city due to an injury, but because you immortalized something you saw in him in writing. You put that fire you saw down on paper and gave it a name and a different face and made other people fall in love with him: with a fictional character who had the same spark you saw in him. Something you admired so fervently because you so desperately wanted it for yourself.
By January 4th, 2008, you have over a hundred pages in a word document. You don't know it then, but that itch in the back of your mind? You're going to listen to it. You want to finish this, just to prove that you can write a novel, but what you don't know is what this story is going to do to you, to your life, or where it will take you.
You're going to publish it on a blog, just to see if anyone likes it. And they will. Just enough people are going to LOVE it, that it convinces you that maybe this story has merit, maybe you can write something other than academic essays about security studies and genocide. This story is going to make you friends that you will have for years to come. Sure, you lose touch with a few. Sure, you fight with a few others. And, in time, you reconcile with all but one because sometimes even good writers can't find the words to fix things.
The thing is? Eleven years from now, in 2019? The anniversary of the day you realize that maybe you should finish writing this story? You're going to actually publish it.
You're going to sit at your computer crying your face off because, for most of the past decade, this was not a day you could have imagined. You couldn't do it. You were too sick. Too unstable. Too depressed. Too discouraged. You're crying because this feels like EVERYTHING all at once: all the fears, all the hopes, all the dreams, all rolled up in a novel that is now out in the world.
And I need to tell you right now that it is 100% worth every second you're going spend on this. This feeling, as painful as it is, is - I can only imagine (but I'm pretty good at that) - an emotional equivalent to giving birth. I'm ugly-crying at my desk at 2:56 a.m. and I am not sure I have ever felt happier. It's a complicated happiness, one rife with terror and uncertainty and apprehension because it's very possible that this book will not sell very many copies.
But that's the kicker: THIS is the Win. Not sales. Not the NYT Bestsellers List. Publication. Plain and simple. Everything else is gravy. No matter what bipolar-distorted daydreams 2008-you had about what being a published author meant, I can promise that you never imagined it felt quite like this. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't think you ever imagined it feeling THIS MUCH.
So, no matter where you think this story is going to lead you? I promise you that where it takes you is so much better than you imagine. The road will not be easy, but you will get there, and when you do, you'll finally have something to balance out the worst day of your life.
Because this might be the best day of my life so far.