[that all sounds like a very good time]
I stepped out of the car onto the driveway, and looked up at the house in disbelief. It was a big, classic Vermont farmhouse, a main house attached to a smaller house. (We used to sing a song in elementary school about such houses that was called "Big house middle house back house barn." I don't remember much about the rest of the lyrics but I'm sure they were equally thrilling.) The house was well lit from the inside and just a few steps away from the road, which in New England means it must have been very old.
During my near-decade of on and off (but mostly on) living in Seattle, I'd been suckered into the thinking that if you dared commit to and make a life out of art or creativity, you'd be committing financial suicide. If you didn't work 60 hours a week for the holy trilogy of employment- Amazon, Microsoft of Boeing, than you'd better get used to working a host of food service and child care jobs just to pay the rent on your interstate-adjacent grey carpeted apartment.
Both Grace and Evan are professional potters, and very talented ones. One of the very few things that I brought out with me to the West coast that I still have today is a mug that Grace made, her signature etched into the bottom. She'd given it to me as a graduation present. It's gorgeous and I could only imagine what an additional nine years has done to her work. Still, I was awed that they were able to live, with a six month old baby, in the kind of house that I'd decided was completely unobtainable if I was going to try this writing thing. (Unless I lived as a kept woman. Which I'll admit right now, I have given some thought to.)
Nate, Emma, Shane and I stepped inside into a flood of lamplight which bounced into the corners of the spacious front room and illuminated the dark wooden beams of the ceiling. I greeted Grace and Evan and immediately remarked on the beauty and size of the house. They both raised their eyebrows in bemusement. "We've been working on it nonstop," said Evan. "You should have seen it when we first got it."
I spotted Joanna, Grace's little sister who is one year older than me, standing by the stove in a dress and a long sweater. Joanna and I were best friends through high school. She was my first hiking partner. We used to go up to the White Mountains in wool sweaters and hand-me down long underwear. She went to college for glass blowing and photography and got engaged and I hadn't ever even seen her ring. When I saw her now from across the room, I ran into her full speed, knocked her on the couch with the force of a linebacker. (I like friendship, particularly of the long-lost variety, to be a very physical thing.)
The whole place was a photographer's dream, especially with baby Elias being passed around from person to person like a football. A very good natured football in little courdaroys and a small wool sweater.
Evan fed the stove and more friends arrived in a flurry of activity. I mostly sat on the couch and watched and drank wine. I used to melt into the background like this when I was younger. Because my parents worked outside of Vermont, my sister and I lived alone together for the majority of each week. That meant that wherever Anna went, I went. She is four years older than me. There was a lot of late night, winter driving, dark sledding hills, warm living rooms just like this only we were all more than a decade younger. And I'd sit there and feel lucky, wide eyed and eager to make idols out of all of them. (I blush to think of myself back then, those early teenage years, flat chested and more than a bit compulsive, taking myself quite seriously. Thankfully, most of these things have settled themselves out with time, including, thank god, the flat chest. By the time the braces came off at, what was it, 15, maybe a bit younger, I can safely say that the elements of irony and humor had began to appear on my periodic table of being. )
We did a lot of theater and performing and touring around New Engalnd. We were all incredibly dramatic. Everything was a production in one way or another. I've always found that certain things come easier to me than to others. Things involving interacting with people. Social things. Choosing exactly who to be at exactly what time and occaion.) I can trace it back those years. And having excellent role models. They were such good sports.
Things started to swirl together as I got lightly drunk very quickly. Next thing I knew I was back in my coat and mittens and running with Nate up a steep driveway, both of us nearly breathless, the rest of the group on our heals. The snow had a dry, grainy quality to it, useless for snowballs or other such weaponry but perfect for speed. The air was so warm that it had a certain, spring-like viscosity to it; it felt as if you could tilt back your chin and swim upwards into the millions of stars above.
Using only the thin light of stars and headlamps, we sled down the hill one after another, running back up for another run with the sudden energy of six year olds. We doubled up in sleds and raced each other, usually ending in the ditch, off of the bank or in violent collisions cushioned by down and wool. To start us off, runners put hands on shoulders and ran, pushing us until they couldn't keep up and were face down in the snow.
One by one people got spent and wet and cold until just a few of us remained up on the hill.
That was the end of the sledding. We limped back to the house and found the others, waiting barefoot around the stove, ready for the traditional new years barefoot run. I'd never heard of such a tradition but I knew that my feet, badly scarred from frostbite, could suffer some heavy damage through direct exposure to snow.
I took off my ridiculously insulated mountaineering boots and the expensive wool socks my parents had kept me supplied with for the past decade since the I got lost, and ran out the door with the rest of them.