I’ve known these friends since circle time in our polyester blue uniforms. Since playground games of Little House on the Prairie where we gathered twigs, timber for the winter months, and stacked them in careful, monumental piles under the big, knobby pine behind school.
They know me in the way that only old, old friends can know you. They told me that I cried weird when I fell off the wide slide onto palms and gnarly gravel. I forgave them. They made me bowls of cheesy fondue for my 13th birthday, sang “Mambo Number 5” with the windows open, helped me choose my outfit for important and unimportant occasions, rubbed my back while I sobbed, told me the truth, explained Latin conjugations, and plotted aspirations all night. These girls are family. I dream about them.
I haven’t seen some of them in years. We live in Boston, DC, LA, Princeton, and New York. We’re growing up, grown up. We’re making documentaries and planning cities. We’re living, and loving, and changing, and staying the same.
When there was an invite to a weekend at Blackberry Barn, my “yes” was unequivocal; exuberant.
We meet in the Hudson River Valley in a big barn on a gloriously bright-skied day. Prolific wildflowers are absurd shades of yellow and purple; the sun is ebullient. Out back there’s a little, scummy pond, and a canoe. We take it for a joyride until it starts to spit up water at its seams. We set up croquet even though nobody knows the rules. We dangle our legs on the porch swing. We head to the little market and the farm stand and stock up on juicy peaches, furry ears of corn, arm-sized cucumbers.
C. and I share the bed in the middle of the house. Everyone can see us — our sleeping will be like performance art, we decide. There are ceiling-high shelves of videos (VHS!!) and we plan our movie lineup, but we can’t stop talking. C. DJs the records, everyone sings along. We dance in the living room, the old wood floorboards humming under our happy feet.
It takes us forever to start a fire at night, the wood is stubbornly soggy, but we manage. We push up close to the flames so that our feet and legs are hot, the grassy air still cold on our necks.
“Maturity is the art of roasting the perfect marshmallow…patience, technique,” E. posits. Perhaps, but C. still likes hers burned to a night sky-black char. I like mine golden brown, the sweet skin yielding to goo and ooze.
The next morning, we scramble up rocks and hike and sing our 8th grade remix of “You are My Fire,” by the Backstreet Boys, rewritten as “You are my Toothpaste” (an ode to Colgate).
The sun is sinking and our stomachs are rumbly. E lights the grill, because she can do that kind of stuff. I season ground chuck with lots of salt and black pepper, and shape the patties in my palms. We stand over the glowing charcoal with glasses of prosecco and flip sweet onions, sunshine yellow corn, crimson peppers, spears of asparagus. We top the burgers with provolone, watch it melt, toast the buns, dig in.
For a minute, we are quiet: A burger meditation.
“This is a perfect burger,” E. declares, a statement that nobody takes lightly.
Mine is magnificently juicy, meaty, smoky, savory-rich. We have thick slices of tomato from down the windy road. The candy-sweet corn does wonderful things, kissed by singe. I’ve dressed up the fleshy cukes with sesame oil someone left in the cabinet, and flaky salt.
“I’m so sad,” S says. “I’m only two bites in. But soon, the burger will be gone.”
“It’s just the start, and already you’re mourning?”
“Yes! Soon it will be history.”
The burgers, they go quickly. So does the weekend.
Today, I take a rush hour A train home, my duffel bag heavy on my shoulder. New York is sweaty and raucous. I turn on the AC, sit alone, and write. My shoulders and the tops of my feet are sunburnt.
I love the time and love that goes into finding the perfect roly-poly tomatoes…their skin taut and shiny, slicing their bodies, firing up the grill (or E. firing up the grill), and pouring the wine into our glasses, and sometimes even the happy-sadness of washing the dishes, putting everything back in its place, and squeezing into bed next to my beautiful friend C., who I haven’t seen in years.
I miss these girls, our burgers…I missed them before the weekend began, and during, and now, and already we’re planning next summer, next feasts; more longing, more hunger.