A day-and-a-half into the Not Boyfriend's cross-country move, a day after E's birthday and only two days after the strike was settled enough to open school doors for teachers and kids in Chicago Public Schools, we took off. It felt abrupt, abandoning two school days to travel when school was just getting going again and sloughing off the schedule both Lil E and me were missing. But it was all for a greater purpose, one that makes it OK to press pause on Everyday Math and 35 minutes on the Stairmaster and a deadline on hold.
LuLu, one of my very best friends, was marrying her love in a park in Portland. And we were going to be there to watch her walk down the aisle. (Remember Lu from this fierceness and this deliciousness?)
The Not Boyfriend met us there, heading north from San Francisco with his bike and camping gear stowed on top of his little car. We flew in, talking about what the three of us would do in the down time between dinners and the ceremony and any other wedding excitement.
Portland has been a home in some way to all three of us. The Not Boyfriend lived and cooked there in two different stints for a total of six years. I frequented the city during grad school escapes and to visit friends and my former in-laws for a decade. Lil E still pops in several times a year with his dad. We each know our own nooks, each have our own experiences, each wanted to see different spaces. This time, though, we were there together.
I hadn't seen LuLu in person in three years. In that time, we've reliably talked and texted every couple of weeks, and sometimes spoken every single day for months and months. As close as we feel to me, I didn't realize until I saw her at a dinner the night before the wedding -- glowing and gorgeous in a Joan-esque jade dress -- how much I missed her face, how much I missed touching her arm as we spoke and whispering an inside joke rather than sending it across my phone in hasty type.
We met the women-friends she's loved her whole life. We were reintroduced to her family. We laughed with a few of her clients and talked to friends she's made through her now-husband. It was intimate, simple, sweet.
Still, I ached a little to be there. It feels like a lifetime ago (and in many ways, it is) that Oregon was a center-point in my life. I longed for my favorite beer, wished we had time to stop in my favorite spots, heard Mt. Hood and the Gorge and the hiking trails around my old apartment calling but could not answer. I missed the proximity to my friend.
The uncomplicated event we were there to attend had me wrapped up in knots.
Until LuLu came down the aisle. She was radiant. Berry lipstick, delicate flowers at the nape of her neck, a silk dupioni gown made perfectly for her body. She was the most beautiful bride I've seen make her way to her groom.
The complexities unraveled and I felt at ease. This was just my friend marrying her love in a state I used to be in.
It was literal and figurative and all very fine.
We talked and ate and danced to a song or two. Lil E whipped off his tie, untucked his shirt and ran around in the side-yard with the other kids well after dark. There was cake, wine, funny messages in the guest book.
The next morning, we took our time getting up and out. With a whole day to ourselves, we all agreed on to see two places -- the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden.
Lil E and I sat in meditation, mostly for a photo opp, in the Japanese Garden with LuLu three summers ago.
I went there then seeking a few moments of peace then and found it again, dipping fingers in the pond at the giant koi fish. sitting quietly next to the raked rock gardens, touching the delicate fingers of the Japanese maple leaves.
It was quiet, at least in my heart, and we wound through the paths, talking about how to make a waterfall in our own little yard.
Steps away is the Rose Garden, lined with bushes and placards showing off more varieties than you could hope to find in late September anywhere. Some blooms lay open and curled and worn at the edges with the age of a few days showing fully. Some were pursed tight. Some were just opened, precise and sharply edged with citrus and vanilla and grandma-soap perfumes that covered us as we stopped.
Lil E raced through the rows, bounded up and down a grassy hill, threw rocks toward a stage settled 50 steps or so from the roses. The Not Boyfriend wandered, snapping photos, lingering over the variegated roses striped with deep golds and lipstick reds and sweet pinks.
I took my own path. The colors were magnificent, soft and lovely lavendars followed by sunset-smeared corals and then the palest whites and blood reds. The folds and cups of the petals were mesmerizing, scattered and still ordered to form flawed and perfect flowers. So many of the roses held a feeling for me. I am not sure why. I looked into their centers, bent to view them from underneath, lightly touched their outermost petals, and when I did, I felt a swirl of sweetness or sadness or stillness right there. It sounds silly -- these were just roses. But they made me think of my grandmother, who would name flowers and plants as we walked, and my mother, who cuts bouquets from her garden and wraps them in water-soaked paper towels and aluminum foil for me to bring home. These roses, thorny and fragile, made me feel reassured and calm and completely at peace.
I wanted to capture each one in its own photo. I got a lot of them before it was time to go.
We drove past places where the Not Boyfriend baked bread and lived and shops that I'd frequented and restaurants we all knew. We did the things you are supposed to do in Portland -- drank coffee so good and finicky it is as if it has been lovingly caressed into the cup, with beans told they are both pretty and smart; sipped beer that could make a meal; ate organic ketchup and quinoa salad.
When it was time to say goodbye, I felt ready to get home, where I would meet my love in a less than a week, where we could return to school and schedules and those waiting deadlines, where the coffee and beer and tomatoes are not nearly as good.
I don't know when I will see LuLu next. Her life is different now, and she's made a pretty big commitment to spend it with the man who is now her husband. I don't know when I will return to Portland since I've also made a commitment to the city where I -- and now where we three -- live. Working out those relationships, negotiating that past, figuring out this big future -- it's not all as simple as it seemed when my friend walked down the aisle with a resounding "yes" on her lips and flowers whispering in her ear.
But maybe the delicate and worn parts and the complicated and estranged parts can be just as achingly beautiful as the fresh and folded parts. Maybe it is just about opening up to what is right there, standing in the sun, beckoning you to breathe it in, hold it gently, capture it quietly, and then turn back home.