Lifestyle, Military Life

When Friends Bring Rhubarb Pie

November 25, 2014

On moving day, Raquel came over with a strawberry rhubarb pie.

I didn’t even know that rhubarb existed outside of Cracker Barrel, but apparently it does and my friend Raquel knows where to find it and also how to make pie.

The big yellow moving truck was illegally parked on the curb as the Marines came in and out of the house hauling stacked cardboard boxes.   It was Memorial Day weekend 2012 and we were moving from a spacious suburban townhouse in Yuma, AZ to a compact urban apartment in downtown San Diego.  I felt intimidated by all the thin, bronzed beach people that were strolling the San Diego streets in aviator sunglasses and bangle bracelets. Women wore maxi dresses and gladiator sandals as if they were part of a mandatory, locals-only dress code. At one point Mike looked over at me and said, “Isn’t it weird how many good looking people live in San Diego?”  “Yes.” I said, “Emphatically yes.”

Boxes lined our walls and filled up rooms faster than I could open them. They blocked doors and windows and our dog who was unfortunately lost inside our house for a couple of hours.

We were out of room before we even unpacked. I looked at our skis and camping gear and excess night stands and heard Mike speak the two words we had sworn off forever: storage space.

800 square feet felt a lot smaller when I realized our whole life had to fit inside it.

I sat on the kitchen floor and took deep breaths. I read Sharpee-print labels on cardboard boxes and nodded my head as if I was taking a mental inventory when really I was strategizing how quickly I could buy aviator sunglasses and whether or not ombre hair was written into the bylaws of our HOA agreement.

That’s when Raquel showed up with her strawberry rhubarb pie.

She arrived with a southern meal stacked in reusable bags that even included metal utensils “because I wasn’t sure when you would unpack the box with the forks.” And before she even finished that sentence, she started unpacking my kitchen for me, pulling faded newspaper out of fragile stemware and slamming cabinet doors as she evaluated our storage options.

“Where do you want this?” she kept asking.

I only nodded — shrugging my shoulders and digesting the shock of a new city in a tiny apartment that felt impossibly far from home.

Raquel and I became friends a few years ago when our husbands deployed together. Before they left for Afghanistan, the four of us went on a double date where Raquel said so many inappropriate things in such quick succession that I had no choice but to love her immediately.

On the morning we dropped the warriors off for war, my phone rang at the exact moment I closed the car door to make the long drive home. It was Raquel:

“Soooo. Were you planning on having a long, ugly car-cry or do you want to do breakfast? I’m hungry, but I would understand if crying is more your thing.”

I chose breakfast.

Throughout the deployment Raquel and I talked on the phone for hours at night, commiserating the nuanced experience of deployment and fitting together pieces of long-distance conversations with our husbands that fused into a joint narrative of that hard, messy year.

There are friends that walk through difficult seasons with you and offer gentle suggestions or faithful prayers, friends who encourage you or remind you how strong you are in moments you feel weak and vulnerable.  But then there are friends that get up in that mess with you. They start unpacking boxes and slamming cabinet doors without asking permission.  They make you eat breakfast when you would rather drive home listening to ambient rock and sobbing in tones only understood by humpback whales.

Those friends are willing to endure the tension with you, navigate untidiness with you. And when they don’t have solutions, they come with pie. They outsource hospitality to exactly where you are.

Last night we stood in a corner of my kitchen— the same kitchen Raquel had unpacked two years ago—and we commiserated on a different sort of tension. Raquel is a writer, too, a smarter one than me, and she understands the tension of living in answered questions. Our whole life is one big, annoying writing prompt.

And in the kitchen we talked about how life most often changes from the inside out. Sometimes you can sense change before you can see it. It feels like an inner rebellion that doesn’t have a voice yet, a loud crescendo that no one else can hear but you.

And you suspect that this grating internal friction is somehow refining you in an important way. It is propelling you forward with necessary urgency. It is making you a more active participant in your own life. Restlessness always has a purpose, even when you don’t know what it is yet.

Raquel and I had this conversation with a moving truck parked nearby, because last night was the night before she moved away.  She and her husband have new military orders that will send her to a different kitchen that needs unpacking in North Carolina.

And in the midst of messy dinner dishes and a move in progress and the great distraction of an unknown future, I’m so thankful for friends that enter into the mess with me, that stand in the kitchen because the couches are too far away and because proximity to dirty dishes relays my intention to do them.

Sometimes the greatest friends are the ones that don’t offer any solutions at all; they just show up.

They show up and they bring pie and they stand brave and steady until the story finds its voice, until the writer finds her words, and until all the dishes find their way into a messy kitchen that’s starting to feel more like home.