Woody Ridge Trail | March 5, 2017 | 1:15pm
When it comes to friendship, I think Dan Savage puts it best:
"We all have our biological families that we're born into. And then we have our logical families - the families we get to choose."
I'm fortunate to have good people in both my biological and logical families. I even have one person who falls into both categories (shout out to my amazing brother - I love you Austin!) But my logical family really outdid themselves for my birthday this year.
During one of our afternoon walks across the UNC campus, Gia asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday.
"Let's just go to South Toe," I said. "Keep it simple."
"Cool. Who do you want to invite?"
"I mean, if we invite a bunch of people, half of them are just going to bail at the last minute," I say, thinking of past birthday weekend get-aways with big groups, and the headache of juggling all the conflicting schedules. We have awesome friends - but we're all too damn busy.
"I'll be totally happy if it's just you, and me, and Beth." I know I can count on B and G.
"Alright, if that's what you want," Gia says, shrugging.
Three weeks later, I walk into Beth and Gia's kitchen. I've been looking forward to this birthday dinner all week. I'm in the middle of remarking on how good everything smells when the pantry door springs open, and Katie Smith jumps out.
"NO WAY!" I yell impulsively. "YES YES YES!!!"
I run across the kitchen and slam into her, wrapping myself tightly around one of my smallest, yet most big-hearted friends.
"Are you here for the whole weekend??"
"Hell yeah baby girl," Katie says.
"So you're coming to the mountains with us?? Awesome!"
The weekend just got a lot more special.
Before we sit down for dinner I call my brother. "Get this shit," I say, tipsy off the wine and overflowing with happiness. "Katie Smith surprised me!" I tell him about our plans for heading to the mountains.
"Man that's so cool," Austin says. "I wish I could be there - I have to work." There is an air of longing in his voice, and suddenly I feel bad.
"I wish you could be here too dude," I say. "But don't worry, we can do something epic next year."
Damn. He sounds so bummed.
After dinner I answer phone calls from Texas and California. I can hear Jon Haas smiling into the phone and it makes me giddy. When I talk to Juberg, he sounds a bit distracted but sweet as ever.
"Darlin, that is so wonderful," he says. "It sounds like you're having a great birthday with all your favorite people. I love you, and know that I'm there in spirit."
The next day, I'm distracted at work. It's hard to focus on the cusp of an epic weekend in your favorite place with your best girlfriends.
When I finally make it back to Beth and Gia's house, my phone buzzes - a text from Juberg.
"Do you like apples?"
I have no idea what he's talking about. Is this some sort of silly Juberg pun? Is he referring to something we chatted about during our brief conversation last night?
I write, "I love apples." And then the doorbell rings.
When it swings open, I am stunned.
"HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?" Juberg yells. And then - in a blur - I'm on top of him, yelling, laughing, and crying all at the same time.
By the time we make it to South Toe, the surprises are non-stop. Gia has arranged with Van and Debbie for us to rent the birdhouse, and more friends - Jenny, Victor, Lena, Navarre - have made the trip from Durham to party with us. I can't believe it.
With a mountain house full of friends, I'm halfway through proposing a toast when I hear a tapping. I turn around to see Austin's face pressed against the glass door. For what feels like the hundredth time, I scream. I fling open the door, and my heart is in my throat as I squeeze him - I can't believe it.
"This was all my idea," Austin says, with a huge smile.
Later that night we joke about how fortunate it is that I'm in such good cardiovascular shape - if I wasn't, I surely would have had a heart attack by now.
The next day I lead nine of my favorite people up my favorite trail in North Carolina. Maybe it's the dappled sunlight coming through the trees, or the crisp winter air, or the fact that I can't stop smiling, but the trail has never looked more beautiful. It is a perfect day.
I read somewhere that our greatest need as humans it not be loved - it is to be understood.
These people understand me. Sometimes they understand me better than I understand myself. They listen and pay attention and commit. And I couldn't be more grateful to have them in my life.