Friend #17: Susan (and Dirk and Alicia)

As I mentioned earlier, my high school friend Susan works at the Woodland Park Zoo.  She knows more about birds than anyone I’ve ever met.  I can literally point up in the sky, and she can tell me what species is flying overhead.  I have done this is several different parts of the country.  And if she doesn’t know, she has a book she looks it up in.  This is her in action doing the raptor show:

Susan and a turkey vulture

The spectacled owl

Barn owl

And she cleans up well, too!  She had a friend’s wedding to go to on Sunday and looked like this:

Susan all dressed up for a friend's wedding.

Now Susan and I have spent a lot of time together over the past couple years, considering we live so far apart.  I helped her drive cross-country when she moved to Seattle.  We traveled together to a friend’s wedding and to a reunion weekend.  We’ve talked on the phone pretty frequently.  It was such a comfort and a relief to know that at the end of this first week, I would end up with Susan.  That I could just show up on her doorstep at any time of day or night and have a home.  At this point, she and I have known each other almost 20 years (ouch), and so we are familiar with each other’s quirks.  I even told her, “I don’t even know what to write about you, Sus.”  She’s someone that I can just “be” with.  On Saturday night we went out to eat and came home and watched a movie with some popcorn–honestly not much different than what we would do in 7th grade–but it doesn’t matter.  What matters is just being together, getting to process our days, doing the dancing exchange of knowing each other and being known.  Susan is a true lifelong friend who I can count on through thick and thin, who will tell me like it is, who I can philosophize about the meaning of life or be silly with.  She is patient with my shortcomings and quick to point out my strengths.  I think that’s what they call love.

Even though Susan and I didn’t see each other a ton over the weekend, she was understanding enough for me to visit with some friends from my early days in Ann Arbor, Dirk and Alicia.  When I was a freshman at Michigan, Dirk and another woman, Wendy, would sit at a coffee shop (Cava Java on South U. for those who know) once a week for a few hours.  I was usually the only student who would show up, and in the chaos of freshman year, figuring out who I wanted to be and how to survive my first year of college, they were a steady, calming presence.  Dirk and Alicia mentored me through that time.  They valued what I had to say and treated me like an equal (even though Dirk had a PhD and Alicia was getting hers).  We all sang in a choir and played music together.  They got engaged and married.  I remember how humble and intellectual and passionate and fun they were.  Then Alicia was offered a professorship at the University of Washington, and they moved to Seattle.  The last time I saw Alicia was about 7 years ago, which we figured out because she was pregnant at that time and their son Rohan is now 7 years old.  At that time, Dirk was working an entry level position at a construction materials salvage company, Second Use.  Now he is part owner of that company.  Basically, they sell home-building materials that are acquired from unused materials from construction sites or from demolition sites and the like.  But what Dirk, who is a classic engineer in many ways, loves most about the work is the stories.  The stories of where the materials come from and where they end up.  The stories of the families on either end.  They themselves have trim in their kitchen from the Seattle Opera House!  Meanwhile, Alicia has taught and researched in the field of linguistics at UW.  And they have raised and amazingly intelligent, talented, and creative son.  There were several moments throughout the evening when I felt this kindred resonance with them.  I wish I could better put words to it–it wasn’t quite nostalgia, but it was more than a warming of my heart: an excitement at talking about ideas in a way that I only did in Ann Arbor, an empathy about walking through some painful experiences, and a mutual understanding of the community and culture we came from.  I was reminded of how sweet that time in Ann Arbor was with that group of friends and of how I will always consider them some of my kindred spirit peeps because of it.

I ended up staying around an extra day in Seattle in order to see Dirk and Alicia and meet Rohan, but it was so worth it!  As a result, I had a quiet day to catch up on emails and blogging and planning (of which there seems to be an endless supply for this project).


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