“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love like being enlivened with champagne” ~ Samuel Johnson
It is my favorite Valentine’s Day memory.
There was no passionate lover, no heart-shaped box of chocolates, no Hallmark greeting card and certainly no red roses to speak of.
Instead, it was an unseasonably warm February day coupled with a pair of old friends, a rustic cabin, peach margaritas and a dock on a lake at sunset.
I was 21 years old and freshly separated from my first true love. I remember wondering how I would ever feel loved again, with all the overblown angst that you might expect from a young woman whose heart had been unceremoniously ripped out and shredded. Valentine’s Day seemed like a bad joke that year, one that perhaps I was better off forgetting. But with all the pink hearts and sappy love songs assailing me at every store, television commercial and radio station, the fact that I was officially un-loved that Valentine’s Day was hard to escape.
Jenny and I had been best friends since ninth grade. I credit her for saving my life. No, really. At a very dark time in my adolescence, Jenny came along and picked me up. We bonded over Elton John and horses, laughed about our crazy families and dreamt pie-in-the-sky dreams together. Partners in crime in every sense of the phrase, including knowing things about each other that no one else does, or ever should. We were pretty much inseparable through high school and TV school and for a bit beyond before first loves and other challenges would pull us apart. I always missed Jenny during those gaps, the way you miss that one person who “gets” you like no one else.
It was after such a gap in our friendship that we had made plans to get together on this Valentine’s Day. Brilliant blue skies had greeted me that morning and by afternoon the sun had warmed the temperature to a balmy 65 degrees. Coats and jackets and sweaters were flung aside to expose our pasty winter skin to the sun. With both of us between jobs and school and boyfriends, this February 14th seem to offer the perfect blank slate of a day to share and forget about this contrived holiday of love. Naturally, our first stop was the liquor store where we debated over margarita flavors. Finally settling on peach, we were in agreement that whatever we chose, it needed to be strong and fruity. Just like us.
At the time, Jenny lived in a quaint cabin on American Lake, just south of Tacoma. Surrounded by trees and pine scent, it seemed completely remote without being too detached from civilization. I worried about her out there, living alone in the woods with her cats and guinea pigs, but Jenny was nothing if not stubbornly independent. Her independence a stark contrast to my lack thereof, still living with my mom just a few miles away. I was late bloomer in more ways than one.
Arriving at her place in the afternoon, we immediately got to the task of blending margaritas. We used the entire bottle of mix and then some and filled a pitcher with the peachy-tequila goodness. Glasses and pitcher in hand, we carefully made our way through the woods to the dock that spanned out into American Lake. And there we sat, for hours on that February 14th, drinking and laughing and watching the sun go down on that surprise of a sunny day until the evening chill reminded us it was still winter, compelling us back to the cabin.
Perhaps the beauty of that Valentine’s Day was in it’s simplicity. Two pals on the cusp of their lives, reconnected over peach margaritas. Jenny and I sat at the end of the dock, our legs dangling off the edge, our feet occasionally dipping into the icy waters of American Lake. The lake, glassy and still, reflecting the brilliant orange-y pink of the sunset on it’s surface. We talked about dumb boys and cute boys and boys in bands. We shared our dreams for our future and plans for tomorrow. And there was silence. Silence as we listened to croaking bullfrogs and the lazy lap-lap-lap of the water on the shoreline. Silence that never needed to be filled by words, but instead was understood implicitly.
Leaving later that evening, I don’t remember there being anything remarkable about that day, other than having shared it with a dear friend. Never would I have imagined it standing out in my memory as brilliantly as it has. Little did I know that in just a few months I would meet another cute, brooding boy who would crush my heart but wind up being my best friend decades later. A year after that, meeting the boy who would be my Mister, and after that, settling into my career in television. But there was always something about that warm, winter day that has stayed with me–the naive idealism of our youth, hopelessly optimistic, ridiculously romantic and the ability to drink an entire pitcher of peach margaritas with no ill effect.
Oh, and that boyfriend who dumped me? Presently a full-bearded mountain man who worships Ted Nugent and whose Facebook profile features an impressive collection of shotguns. (Mom, you were right all along.)
Jenny and I recently got together to celebrate her birthday over Thai food and cocktails. Just one, each. No pitcher of peach margaritas but instead a civilized pear martini and something else with ingredients so refined and rare I can’t even remember the name. The drinks have changed and we’ve grown older but there is still talk about dumb boys and cute boys and boys in bands. We laugh about our crazy families and share pie-in-the-sky dreams. I still worry about her. Facebook, with all it’s drawbacks, has kept us connected.
Each year about this time, when I start seeing the hearts and flowers and chocolates and diamonds, promising me that these are the symbols of true love, I remind myself of that afternoon on the dock on American Lake. An afternoon where friendship and love was defined simply by the comfortable silence between two dear friends.