Last week, I was out for a local lunch for the first time in two years. It was St. Patty’s Day and my friend and I had decided we needed to commemorate the Irish with something green. So, at 11:30 a.m., we ordered two limey cocktails and toasted.

I had dressed up for the occasion, worn a green blouse, carried an emerald purse I’ve learned is called a wristlet. I felt slightly ridiculous being so dressed up, but at the same time, it felt important to acknowledge the fact that I was finally out on the town.

Because we need to be extremely careful in our house, I spent eight weeks basically on lockdown this winter as Omicron surged. But now the positivity rate is low, and I was free.

I felt every inch of that freedom as I sat in the nearly empty restaurant and sipped on my painfully sweet drink. I stared at my friend and marveled at how nice it is to sit at a table, expecting food, talking about things like facials and makeup.

Then my friend mentioned she was headed to a retirement party in Auburn the following week. As I sat there, the before-noon cocktail sinking into my bones, I imagined her on the road, the wind in her hair. Then I imagined myself sitting beside her, us listening to music, considering which fast food restaurant we were going to stop at for lunch. Just a couple of girls crossing the country, headed to a place I’d never been, the journey as important as the destination.

Instantly, all the other road trips I’ve taken in my life stacked up in my mind and I rifled through the memories. Sipping Sprite through a straw. Chewing on Twizzlers. Consulting maps. Slipping in mixed tapes and singing as loud as you can and thinking, yeah, I do kind of sound like Whitney Houston.

“I could come,” I said without thinking. “I could come and keep you company.”

My friend, who is exceptionally polite, smiled warmly. “Of course you could.”

“It would be so much fun.”

“Of course it would.

“I have a friend, Cindy, who I’ve wanted to see for years. She lives in Birmingham. I could see her while you’re at your retirement party.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“I’m imposing.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m inviting myself.”

“You are. And that’s OK. I can show you where I went to school. All of the haunts I used to go to.”

Getting to know this part of my friend’s life suddenly seemed not only important, but essential if I wanted to call myself her friend at all.

All at once, I felt bubbly. I forced myself not to do the white man’s overbite while sitting in my chair. I could take off at a moment’s notice, couldn’t I? I could be that girl. I could have that life.

“Talk to Cindy, look at your schedule, and let me now. It could be really fun!” my friend said.

The lunch ended and we parted ways. I decided to take the long way home as I stared at this bright, shiny, whole, big, wide world that was now open to me.

Not to get political here, but remember in December 2020 when the vaccine started rolling out? Suddenly, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel, this promising end that meant that we had made it, we were safe now and life could resume. I think a lot of us started thinking about how to celebrate that end, what kind of parties we’d throw, what kind of gowns we’d wear. I got so excited I bought myself a mink stole thinking of the Great Gatsby parties I’d be invited to.

Alas, none of that happened, at least in my world, and I think back on those hopes with bittersweetness. I now know that those parties probably won’t happen for me, but I think I now have a new outlook I can rely on. Things are good now so I need to jump on life now. Pandemic or not, we’ve never been able to predict the future, so I need to squeeze all of the fresh juice of the present and have a heck of a good time savoring it.

Alas, when I got home to my daytimer, I realized I had made exactly one plan for the month of March and it fell on the night I was considering going to Auburn. And that green cocktail had worn off.

Alas, I won’t head on a road trip on a moment’s notice. But I can say that that shiny feeling hasn’t left me. I’m now making plans that are both exciting and in accordance to my schedule. And, my god, dear readers, I hope you are too.

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