Decatured

As Godsmack once so eloquently said, “Never did I want to be here again and I don’t remember why I came.” It was Summer 2019.

I’m a sucker for strolling down Memory Lane and Decatur, Illinois is a treasure map.

I resisted the urge to turn down Foresyth Blacktop and test my memory of getting to Latham from the backroads – I doubt I could navigate it anymore. Was it Beardstown Road? Bearstown Road? Instead, I turned down the road I knew like the back of my hand.

I can’t come to Decatur without driving past the house.

I turned into the upper middle class neighborhood – by Decaturian standards – and stopped in front of it. It hadn’t changed an iota in all these years. This was his house, he who’s name I’ve successfully forgotten. So many things happened here: I met a best friend, first sip of alcohol and hangover, learned to shoot pool, an invalid pregnancy test. The basement had a false wall in it too, with a secret passage. But like me, he’s long gone. I managed to get myself lost in the neighborhood trying to get back to the main road, much like I used to do when I would jog these streets all those years ago.

Somethings never change, I suppose.

My next stop was Millikin University. It looked the same too. I tried to find his old apartment, but I couldn’t find it. I remember railroad tracks, but there were no buildings by it. Was it razed? Was my memory wrong? It was all a bit hazy. The old bars were right where I left them, seemingly untouched by time. The gas station by campus is where I stopped on my first roadtrip, twenty years previous, nostalgia filled the air. My windshield survey was enough: it was time for lunch.

I found a darling little bistro on Prairie Street and parked my car at the intersection of Main and Main – quite possibly the most Decaturian thing ever. I ordered French onion soup, a sandwich, and treated myself to a martini that was basically summertime in a glass. I slowly sipped the martini and ate every bite of lunch, a perfect end to my Decatur foray.

As I left the bistro, with plans to keep driving south, I noticed my lips had gone numb.

The eight mile run that morning had caught up with me, the only explanation for getting a buzz off a drink with a meal. I logged too many hours working in the Emergency Room to even think about getting in the car, so I walked a mile back to Millikin to sober up.

What else could one do on a hot summer day?

I walked down Main Street – I know what you’re thinking and I was fine – my only encounter was a gentleman who made it known he approved of my curves. I ignored him and kept going as if Jim Millikin was my great-grandfather.

Oh, Decatur.

I cooled off in the main building, Schilling Hall. I forgot a small theatre was here. I paced the hallway, looking at stills from student plays gone by. I missed my theatre days and suddenly had a longing for a matinee. I strode around the “quad” if it can even be called that and sat down next to my favorite Millikin guy: the bronze man on campus, a statue. He was still here, reading the same book.

I thought of my other favorite Millikin guy – the one who’s old apartment I couldn’t find – and if I still had his phone number, I would have sent him a picture of me sitting outside Schilling Hall. “Guess where I am.” But that contact had been deleted a long time ago. I sighed. I hoped life was treating him well, wherever he was.

With my liver downshifting into second gear and my parking meter running out, I made it back to the car, completely sober.

I sauntered through Fairview Park by the Pavilion until bugs got too buggy. A cop pulled me over as I was exiting, apparently I was going the wrong way. He spent five minutes yelling at me about it, but didn’t cite me. He didn’t notice my North Carolina plates or listen to the fact I had only been here with a native son years ago.

And with that, I drove straight to Amish country, too annoyed to stop for custard at Krekel’s.

Oh, Decatur!

The Third – три

A glass of wine convinced me to find the loves of my past, which is something I’ve never done. Without much thought, I held my breath and plunged my head beneath the watery surface of the past.


The third one was probably the most difficult for me. I wanted nothing to do with him ever again and said so the last time we saw each other, several lifetimes ago. His page was locked down, so his public posts were old and few. Nonetheless, I scrolled. He’s married with kids. His wife’s smile could power a house for days. The few pictures strewn about showed an incredibly happy couple. I was pleased to see that big stupid grin of his, I knew it spoke of his genuine happiness.

Despite being the stereotypical family man from his musings on social media, he looks exactly the same as he did all those years ago, which surprised me. The lines around his eyes are a little deeper, but outside of that small detail, it would be difficult to tell if they were from the distant past or recent. Even his body hasn’t aged, he is still very much that tall lanky kid from the absolute worst city in Illinois. He’s in his late thirties now, but he might as well have been in his late teens. His handsomeness hasn’t changed either, those daring eyes like the sea were the same ones that I fell in love with when I was young and impetuous. I found myself smiling at his picture. Despite the destruction he wrought in my life, I’m glad he is happy. I hope he and his family found Jesus, too, that would be the real icing on the cake.

His kids, for lack of a better term, are cute. They have his facial expressions and the professional pictures of his family in a park looked like an advertising shoot to sell anything to middle America. I hope those pictures reflect his true story, and not just for the camera.

I didn’t recognize the company he works for, so I googled them and was still confused as to what he actually does. A mutual friend of ours had always been very close with him, and I didn’t know they were the combined family vacations type of close. I’m glad they’re still in touch and support each other.

I always hope I will run into him randomly in a restaurant in my travels, where I see him but he won’t see me. If I did, I would secretly pay for his meal, write an anonymous note referencing Final Fantasy VIII, and send over a round of lemon drops. It would be my calling card, a throwback to an era where chastity and sobriety went out the window because of him.

Maybe he’d know it was me. Maybe he wouldn’t. But it would make him smile.

Cardinal Directions

Stand by for tachycardia.

I was smiling as I merged onto the interstate, on my way to the crown jewel of the road trip. I didn’t need the GPS, this route was engraved in my brain long before the age of cellphones. This time, cornfields appeared scenic rather than adding to the dullness of the drive.

Naturally, I hit construction. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I crept along and ended up turning on the GPS to see where I was. The markers I once had were lost to time. I was closer than I thought.

I would see him soon.

Cue for tachycardia.

He was my companion all those years I called McLean County home – good times, bad times, he was there through it all; he was the only thing that never waivered in those years of gross uncertainty. It had been ages since we reconnected. I even got a hotel room nearby so I could spend every moment possible with him.

And then I saw the sign: Bloomington-Normal Next 3 Interchanges.

Go for tachycardia!

Just like the old days, I could feel my pulse quicken with shallowed breathing. I instinctively turned off Exit 164, heading south towards campus. I made a left on Raab Road to the free parking lot there – an oasis in a town that would tow a car stopped at a red light. I saw him standing at the far end of the lot, looking as he always did. I wanted to burst I was so happy. He looked the same but with better signage; just like me. I jumped out of the car and glided into his embrace.

His name was Constitution Trail, a nineteenth century railroad track turned running trail.

I threw my headphones in and took off at full speed, heading north. I had to see my old silos. In my day, the trail went straight, as the steam locomotives once did. Now, there was a giant curve that rerouted the trail under I-55, along Linden Street, before it swung back west to the original trail.

I, too, have had my trail rerouted under the interstate. I don’t follow the same path that I used to either. I’ve blazed my own way, too.

I had no idea how I far I had gone, as too much adrenaline was pumping for me to care. The silos at Herrick, my old endpoint, had disappeared! In its place was a cellphone tower. This was peak 2019 for me. I noticed the trail extended past its previous end and I had no choice but to follow it. Where did it lead? I figured if I hit Hudson, I went too far. Spoiler alert: the trail ended in a cornfield. I-39 loomed off to my left with a backdrop of wind turbines that never used to be there. I didn’t recognize Ziebarth Road, but I should have, as that was part of the short cut to my internship. Like Constitution, I have also been extended from where I was 20 years ago. My silos have disappeared as well.

I barnstormed back south into Uptown Normal, the biggest change I encountered yet. Normal and I both got a roundabout. Traffic flows better and the greenspace reminded me of London. I, too, no longer have a four way stop. My life is much more organic and go with the flow than when I was raising the red and white banner. I’ve grown into my own.

I walked towards my old apartment, as a lump formed in my throat. I brushed a tear away as I turned around to head back to my car, quite a distance away. I needed to check into the hotel and clean myself up for dinner. It was a long slog back to the car.


The next morning, after my standing order at The Coffeehouse (toasted plain bagel and iced mocha), Constitution and I ran the south part of the trail. The excitement had faded into utter joy. I was in my element under the canopy of trees, a perfect summer day for a run – basking in the nostalgia and the beauty of the day. I wanted to bottle up that moment to relive it later. This part of the trail hadn’t changed a bit, it was as if I was a college senior again.

There are parts of me that are the same and will never change: my crazy sense of adventure is one of them.

I always turned around at Atwood Station, but I knew this time I was going further – I eventually hit the end of the trail and then off-roaded through a neighborhood on Bunn Drive before turning around just before I hit Veteran’s Parkway. I would have taken the spur along GE Road if I had another day. My hips were at their breaking point with nearly 20 miles under my feet in under 24 hours.

I’m not 22 anymore. The scenery of campus and my weary body were stark reminders that time had moved on. There’s only one person left from this era who knows my heart in real time. A couple of them will occasionally pop up in my inbox or text, but it has been awhile. I thought about reaching out to ones lost to time, but I didn’t want to submarine anyone – appearing out of no where without context.

I was hesitant to leave. Like parting lovers, I wanted just a few more hours, days, weeks with my Constitution. I would have grabbed lunch downtown Bloomington on my way south, but I couldn’t remember where anything was and the city center seemed stoic and uninviting. Before I knew it, BloNo was in my rearview mirror.


It warmed my heart so much to be back in McLean County. I’ve decided this will be a retreat – when I need a place to write, I’m coming here. The days of the birds are gone and they’re not coming back. Perhaps I can make another footprint here with words. My entire left atrium is dedicated to this place. Despite the distance, it is never far from me.

BloNo? I say BloYeah.

11 September 2001, Revisited

Since the attacks, outside of its anniversary date, I hadn’t dwelled on it much. I didn’t arrive in New York City until 2014; this place was unfamiliar to me until then.

In a tradition I started, when a niece turns 16, we go on a trip together. When my niece Aimee said she wanted to go to NYC, I was completely on board. My historic and nerdy soul wanted to drag this poor jock to all the museums, but I let her choose what she wanted to do.

She wanted to hit all the main touristy places, which was fine. And then she added, “I want to go to the 9/11 Museum.”

The what? I did a double take.

She was in the womb when the towers fell. Why on earth would she want to see that when she had no experience with that dark, dark day? Then I realized that she had never lived in a pre-9/11 world. She didn’t know anything prior to that, like I had never known a world without microwave ovens. Her entire life was lived in this shadow of the falling towers.

She was insistent about it, and so we went.

It was the last stop on our trip, after a French breakfast in the financial district, we got in the long line. I had no idea what to expect.

It was like a tomb, because it was. Everyone talked in hushed voices, if they talked at all. Every so often you’d pass someone sobbing quietly. We walked down the staircase that so many survivors did. It looked like it was hit by a bomb. We paused at the blue memorial wall – behind it was the final resting place of the many victims and first responders. That was difficult to take in.

We sat in a room that projected pictures of people who died in the tragedy, with a bit of their life story. We sat there awhile, my niece completely spellbound – drawn in by these ordinary folks, caught up in history. It was personal.

We walked through the main exhibit, where it walks you through the day, phone calls played, news broadcasts, shows, what happened at all the specific times – it was that horrible day all over again. There was a walled off section where you could watch the more sensitive footage from that day. I’m an empath, already overwhelmed by the exhibit and my memories of the day, so I didn’t go. My niece went in and I didn’t stop her. She walked out of the alcove and gulped. “That was…. yeah…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to finish her sentence. I knew.

We left heavier than when we arrived. “That was really intense,” I said. “Yeah, it was,” she replied. I shared my story with her, what I was doing, where I was, how I felt. The whole train ride home carried the heaviness of our experience.

“I’m glad that’s the last thing we did,” I said. “I need time to process all that.”

“Me too,” she said.

Here I am, 18 years later, still processing it.

11 September 2001

Tuesdays were my favorite.

As a member of the Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college, Tuesdays were the only day I didn’t have to line up in formation at 0600 on the other side of campus for PT (Physical Training) – or Physical Torture, as I called it. It was basically an hour long gym class from hell.

I slept in.

I awoke around 0930, central time, in my dorm and turned the local rock station on the radio. Sometimes their morning show DJ got a little raunchy. This morning, the main guy was going off about something, I was only half listening. And then I caught, “….yeah, and then planes flying into the World Trade Center, man. I mean, wow, the devastation and <insert odd giggling here> ….this is….I’m so….people are dying, man.”

I strode across the room and turned it off. That was a new low for this radio station. Joking about planes flying into the World Trade Center in New York? Wow. That was beyond diabolical and had no business being on the air. I was disgusted. How could you even joke about something like that?

My roommate had already gone to class, as I stood there. I was in the middle of Illinois. It seemed really odd to me that they would be joking about something so specific, so far away. I wondered for a moment if there was any shred of truth to this. I turned on CNN to check.

And the breath got caught in my throat. The second tower had just fallen.

Like the rest of America, I sat glued to my television screen. That odd giggling of the DJ was not disrespect: that was the utter disbelief of what was happening in real time and the rule of no silence during a radio broadcast. My boyfriend lived down the hall (I was on a co-ed floor) and I ran to his room, trying to make sense of it. We then heard the Pentagon was hit – his mom worked near there. We tried to call her but the lines were busy all day. We were on eggshells, waiting for her to call. We learned later she was safely evacuated.

I called my dad at work. After everything I said, he answered with, “I don’t know, Simonne. I don’t know.” This was new territory for all of us.

I walked to my human biology class in a daze. The large lecture hall only had a smattering of students, all of us dazed. Our prof walked in with tear streaked mascara and shouted at us, “What are you doing here? Go back home, just go back! Class is cancelled.” She grabbed her stuff and sobbed as she walked out.

I walked like a zombie back to my dorm, not sure of what was suppose to happen next. I had never been to New York. I never knew anyone from New York. Yet in this moment, I felt like New York was home. It was a very strange juxtaposition that only made sense in the wake of the tragedy.

PT resumed the next day and I couldn’t wait to hear what my Lieutenant Colonel, the highest ranking officer on campus, had to say about all this. Right before our run, he huddled us up and spoke about the terrorist attack. “We got this, they’re not going to win, we will respond. Don’t worry. We got this.”

Hoowah! America would come out swinging and win, just as we always had.

Our college put together a rally on the Quad with a speaker from the Army. Classes were cancelled so everyone could attend on that sunny September Thursday at high noon. My boyfriend chose to stay in the dorm and play video games, but I was there. Everyone showed up, every group was represented. It was like a funeral, everyone was somber and quiet, yet it helped console the student body.

The Saturday following was our first home football game. I was part of the ROTC Colorguard during the national anthem. When we were out on the field, I can’t even begin to describe the silence. The stands were filled to the brim and yet when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was standing alone in the stadium. No movement, no sound, no babies crying, nothing. It was the strangest, most ethereal silence I have ever experienced. Nothing else has come close to it.

We had a Field Training Exercise where we were suppose to take Blackhawk helicopters to the location – needless to say, we took school busses instead. Five months later I got on a plane to fly out to Washington DC for a week. Friends freaked out, “How can you fly after what just happened? Aren’t you scared?” No. I also walked alone at night and refused to live in fear.

Today, 18 years later, this post-9/11 world is still unfolding.

Windswept, Part II

While Matthew was a gentle and confident lover, Florence was into bondage and had a water fetish.

Should we stay or should we go? My husband I debated it like an impending divorce. My pastor who was staying in Wilmington said, “I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they say.” We decided to stay.

The day before she arrived, I brought supplies to a friend who had opened his home to the extreme poverty stricken, as many could not get into hurricane shelters without valid ID. Driving home, Wilmington reminded me of my college town in the summer: you could feel in the air that 20,000 people had left.

We took in a couple who had no where else to go. The four of us rode out the storm together.

My experience with Florence was a lot of talk and not a lot of action. Oh, you’re making the trees bend in half and defoliated everything? Fine, whatever.

At the Dovecote, we had loads of wind and a large tree branch come down. I kept walking down the street to see if ocean front property was in my future. Thankfully, we stayed high and dry. We lost power for three days – the longest I have ever gone without electricity. There was a creepy silence in the house without any appliances humming, but lighting the house by candlelight was good for my soul. The humidity shot up to 80% inside and there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about it. I like it hot, but even I was getting uncomfortable.

For me, the craziest part came after the storm. 50+ cars in line for gas was something I had never seen before. Wilmington became an island: all the roads into town had flooded out, so trucks bringing food, gas, and other supplies were cut off until further notice.

I stopped at Food Lion to grab some things just in case the roads stayed flooded. There was a line at the door, a man with a headset stood guard. “What’s the line for?” I inquired. “To get in,” a lady said. They were only allowing five people in the store at a time. The old lady behind me was there for cigarettes, sitting on a bin because her labored breathing made it hard to stand. “Gotta git muh cigs,” she kept muttering under her breath. Most everyone was there for cigarettes. Several cars rolled by shouting, “Y’all got ice?” “No!”

Like standing in line for the club, the doorman finally let me in. Only shelf stable food remained: no frozen, no meat, no produce, no dairy. I turned into a 12 year old and grabbed random food items that made no sense, completely thrown from my usual staples. “Any idea when the trucks can make it back into town?” I asked the lady at the register. “Nope.”

We were incredibly lucky. We knew people who lost everything and their insurance just shrugged at their loss. The displacement of people, how everything bloomed again like it was spring, followed by a muted spring, kept reminding me of this terrible storm. I know people who are still without a home, a year later, still trying to rebuild what Florence destroyed.

When it was all said and done, I lost 50 hours of work. I ate all of it. That caused some serious indigestion, but my home and my family were safe, and for that, I was thankful. In the weeks to come, we helped with the clean up effort.

And I must say, I am bit more than worried about what’s coming our way in the next few days.

Save a Prayer

“It’s not there anymore,” Phoebe had said. I was strolling through town and had planned to stop at the college bar we frequented back in the day. It was dark by the time I walked through the door. Phoebe was only half right: the bar was still there, but most of the building was a restaurant.

Then I realized she was right all along: it wasn’t there anymore.

The bar I remembered was a dimly lit unrefined establishment that drew in the early 20’s crowd. There was a large and scary looking dude manning the door, who put your ID under a video camera to document the time you arrived. His glare insured you wouldn’t start any problems. There were pool tables, a dance floor, a DJ booth, tables, and a large bar that was perpetually sticky with spilled drinks.

This bar, with the same name and location, now was lit with what can only be described as flood lights. Only two pool tables remained, but they were obviously new. The hightop tables were not only clean, but shiny brushed nickel. The bar had liquor bottles lit up on shelves and a several TV’s broadcasted ESPN. A small area was dedicated to gambling machines, a big deal in Illinois now, apparently. The bar was a fraction of the size I remembered, the dance floor gave way to the restaurant. The girl behind the bar looked like she was still in middle school with no bouncer. I was the only patron.

I ordered a peach vodka and Sprite, checked my phone, and looked around. This was not the place I left. Then again, I’m not who I was the last time I was here either.

I was here my last night as an Illinois resident. What a night that was.


Alex and Phoebe were here with me, as well as Three – the four of us played pool. Three was a co-worker. His real name was a mouthful of prestige, and he was the third generation to carry this long bulky name, so it was shorted to simply Three, which fit him better. We flirted constantly. He asked me out right after I accepted the job offer in North Carolina. Three was a good man, but he had his gaping flaws. In addition to falling asleep during the sermon when I brought him to my church, Three was banned from several bars for starting fights while drunk. Despite this, he had a good heart, kindness, and a love for hard rock. I knew he wasn’t long term boyfriend material – he was older – but to me he was a pint of beer on a hot day: probably not the best thing to be drinking, but it hit the spot.

I was two Long Island Iced Teas into my night when we left the bar. He was buzzed too, so we walked back to my empty apartment. He had been over a few times already. We worked the same weird shift and it wasn’t uncommon for him to crash at my place – we spooned.

I awoke the next morning before sunrise. The reality of everything hit me. I was leaving Illinois for good after breakfast. I really liked Three and I wondered what would have happened if our timing had been better or if I had stayed. I watched the sunrise with all of this flowing through my mind, while he slept. Once the sun was up, we hugged and kissed good-bye and that was the last I ever saw of him.


I ordered another peach vodka and Sprite as the past seeped into my consciousness. A conversation in the days to come revealed Three was married with children, still working the same gig.

I left the bar, surprisingly sober, and mulled it all over in the couple of miles walking back to Phoebe’s house. It felt like two lifetimes had passed since this ground was under my feet in different shoes.

Two lifetimes had passed.

And it was.

4th of July of Yore

When I was a kid, in my world, the 4th of July was bigger than Christmas – I eagerly looked forward to it every year. 

The day would start early: our small town put on quite the 4th of July parade. I was up and ready to go by 7am, which was super early in those days. You could feel the excitement in the cool air of that summer morning. My dad, sister, and friend of the family who was like an uncle to me would park near the parade route and then walk to a perfect spot with our folding chairs. My mom usually stayed back to prep for the party.

The parade had a city marching band, color guard, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, horses, antique cars and tractors, as well as some oversized farm equipment. Cheerleaders, community groups, lavish floats – it was all here – and they often threw candy. My sister and I were always ready with brown lunch bags to collect as much as we could. 

After the parade, there were games and food booths in the community square. The foot races were my favorite and I usually won. The marching band would play more patriotic songs and water balloon fights would ensue once the sun got to be too much to bear. By 11, it was time to head home for lunch. The party was about to begin.

Lunch was an array of sandwich options to make your own sandwich. Every type of meat, cheese, condiment, several bread options, chips, and pasta salad – my mom sure knew how to entertain. My dad developed the best cooler the world for these parties: fill your washing machine with bags of ice and put pop and beer in it! Then when it all melts, drain and spin! 

People started to arrive and lunch was in full swing: my dad’s coworkers came, neighbors, and family friends – it was a full house. There were always enough kids for entertainment and every year was different. Sometimes we’d spend the afternoon at the neighborhood pool, playing in the basement, putting together a concert of patriotic songs, or playing croquet. Dinner was around 5, and you had your choice of a burger, hot dog, or brot – my dad was the grill master and my mom managed everything else. Guests would bring desserts and sides and they never disappointed. 

The fireworks didnt start until dark and it felt like it took forever to arrive. We’d drive to the local shopping center – this was the best place to watch – sometimes we’d sit under the bank drive up in folding lawn chairs. In later years, my friends and I would grab old bedsheets and watch the fireworks from the lawn of the funeral home. One year, the pyrotechnics got out of hand and lit the roof of a grocery store on fire. It was quickly put out with minimal damage, but it was the talk of the town for ages. In fact, you could still reference it today and someone would tell their perspective of the event.

After the fireworks, the party was over, all the people were gone. The kitchen was trashed. Everyone was exhausted. I loved every moment of it.

I miss celebrating the 4th in such a grand way. My parents don’t do the parties anymore. It’s too much work, my mom says, and she gets stuck with the prep, serving, and clean up, as my dad is too in the moment to really help. They’re in their 70’s now and they are slowing down. I used to go to Southport for their big celebration, but it feels weird now in this age of MAGA. Watching the fireworks downtown is fun, but it takes two hours to get home afterwards because of traffic. No thanks. Last year my husband and I went to Carolina Beach to watch the tourists set off fireworks illegally on the beach until the cops shut them down. 

It’s not the same as when I was a kid. 

And it will probably never be again. Yet I’ll always cherish the memories of those Independence Days of yore in my heart.

So the Past Walks into a Bar…

I waited for her on the quad of our alma mater.

I arrived first, feeling nervous. It had been well over 10 years since we last spoke heart to heart. How much had changed? Would it be all surface level banter? Would I tell her of my struggles and open my heart to her, like the old days? Or would she be a stranger, far too removed to share that old bond of friendship?

My old college roommate – a long lost best friend and a woman I once considered a sister – was meeting me for dinner.

“Simonne!” Out of no where, she sprinted up to me and gave me the biggest hug, nearly knocking me over. Deborah hadn’t aged a day, in fact, she seemed locked in time at 25, despite being almost 40. Her long blonde hair and shining blue eyes looked more of a college student than a married mother of three who had a corner office and her own secretary.

10+ years might as well have been a few weeks for all the difference it made.

We chatted with animation as we made our way to a local college hangout joint for dinner. I forgot how easy it was to talk to her and how she listened so intently.

No sooner had we gotten our food and we were already diving into the nitty gritty of our lives.

“I got an IUD and its been wonderful,” said Deborah. Then she chuckled, “Look at us, we’ve hung out all of a half hour and we’re already talking about birth control.”

It was quite reminiscent of our college chats. “Well, we decided to go the infertility route, and so far, that’s worked pretty well for us,” I deadpanned.

Our eyes locked and then we both burst out laughing. It was the first time I could genuinely laugh in the face of my childlessness. Once we stopped laughing, she touched my hand with sad eyes. “I’m so sorry that’s part of your story. What happened?” The whole unedited saga came out. 

She was silent, nodding as I finished my story. “Five years ago, huh? That was right about the time my marriage impolded.” It was my turn to listen with wide eyes. “We were almost destroyed, but counseling saved us. We’ve been a great team ever since.”

I shook my head in disbelief. What upset me the most was that we were both struggling with big issues and didn’t lean on each other because we lost touch. 

We left the restaurant and wandered around campus. We both are diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and empaths: I’m an Enneagram 9, she’s a 2. I told her how much her words of encouragement had an effect on me after college, by calling me out on my friends with benefits situation.

“Wow, I sounded like such a dick, I’m so sorry,” she apologized.

“No, it came from a place of love, you called me out on my bullshit,” I said. “I needed to hear those those words.”

She signed. “It still sounded harsh. But yeah…I could use a Deborah in my life now.”

I nodded. “Everyone needs a Deborah.”

I confessed I thought I was too clingy when we were roommates, constantly chatting with her at all hours about the boys I got myself tangled up with.

“Oh Simonne,” she said, “we were kids, we were just trying to figure life out. I never saw you as clingy or a burden. I always thought I was the bad roommate because I hardly cleaned and had stuff everywhere.”

I laughed. “I have no memory of you being a bad roommate or leaving a mess.”

It was so cathartic.

We stopped in at our old bar and it was still 2003 in there. We grabbed our drinks and we talked about the old days. I told her I lost touch with the boys of college, she mentioned my ex-boyfriend’s wife looks like a carbon copy of me; I found that quite amusing. She talked about her kids (“This doesn’t bother you?” “Nope, not one bit, keep going.”) and how she ran into one of our old mutual friends from the parties we hosted, and I told her about my writing.

A couple hours later, she had to go home. I was so sad to see her go. A part of me felt like we’d walk back to our old apartment and everything would be as it was. But it wasn’t. We were older and wiser; you couldn’t hide our battle scars since our days as students or the fact we had become more of our own. She was still the same old Deborah, but now she had this quiet widsom about her that wasn’t there before. Her confidence was obvious: it wasn’t hidden away like it was in college. I wonder what she would say about me.

Deborah stated that she is terrible at keeping in touch. I’m determined not to lose contact with her, now that we are caught up on each other’s lives. She is too beautiful of a soul to be lost to time again. Like Phoebe, Ruth, Madge, and Rebeka, they are the women I want by my side as I grow older.

If you have a Deborah in your life and too many years have gotten between you, reach out. A friendship may sail back into the harbor. Or it may not, but it’s well worth finding out.

Return to Huron County

After high school, my family stopped going to the cottages in Port Austin.

I returned in Summer 2002, with my college boyfriend, but our relationship was in its death throws. We spent most of our time at the Bella Vista Inn in Caseville, and he preferred watching TV over exploring the lakeshore. It still clocks in as my worse vacation ever. We broke up a few weeks later.

I went back with my mom in Summer 2011 to visit Ray for the weekend. His wife had passed after a long battle with cancer several weeks earlier. While it was sad, it was also great to see Ray smile and reminisce about the old times. We waded out 1,000 feet into the lake, only up to our shoulders, and talked. As someone who is used to the ocean, it felt surreal to be so far out in the water, yet so good to be back home among familiar faces.

After the crazy spring of 2017, my husband and I, weary from navigating the rough waters, needed an escape. I suggested Port Austin because it was calming without much hustle and bustle. After spending over 10 years together, it was time to introduce him to a part of the world that was integral to my childhood.

We flew into Detroit and rented a car. I didn’t need a map after all these years, the route was still etched in my heart. The little towns leading to Port Austin were exactly as they were in my memory.

The IGA Foodliner of Bad Axe is long gone, but Walmart was in its place. We stopped here for supplies. Just like when I was a child, my heart beat fast as we saw the big billboard sign for Port Austin. A quick glance around downtown and I sighed with relief: time had left it alone. We drove to Ray’s lakeside cottage in Caseville – the first stop on our trip. My husband and I stayed in the same cottage I had always stayed in, while Ray stayed in the other one on the property.

The cottage was not untouched by the years: the 1940’s refrigerator was replaced with something from the 1990’s; the kitchen table was a rectangle bench, no longer the old round table; some furniture was moved to a different place; the walls were insulated. The memories were so thick there, I kept thinking my grandmother, despite dying 14 years previous, would appear around the corner. I found myself expecting that she’d be there getting dinner ready or making tea and we’d pick up conversation as if she never left. I was disappointed every time we walked back in to the cottage to see she wasn’t there. Every. Single. Time.

The lakeshore has changed with the rising water: there is significantly less beach than 20 years ago. Outside of that, everything else had remained as it was in my memory and that was comforting.

Just like when I was a kid, we always took a day to explore Frankenmuth, a cute small town with a southern German flair a little over an hour away. We took the backroads, naturally, and I was astounded by all the wind turbines. They were never there before. Frankenmuth, on the other hand, was the same, yet wasn’t nearly as exciting to me at 35 as it was at 12. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time, ate loads of good German food, walked to Bronner’s from downtown, and left with our hearts full and happy.

We left Ray’s cottage after much hugging and clean up and moved onto our next location: my aunt’s cottage in Broken Rocks. I had been coming here since the late 1980’s and wasn’t ready for all the upgrades they did. The place was even more wonderful than I remember.

My aunt was at her main home in Detroit, so we had the place to ourselves. We played a lot of cards and spent out evenings in Port Austin: ice cream, walking the breakwater, getting cheese and crackers for our card night at the grocery store, eating at the new place, Pak’s Backyard (a must-do if you’re in the area!), and we even caught a show at the Port Austin Community Playhouse. It was everything I loved and remembered about being a part of the local theater community.

The easy going small town lakeshore life was everything we needed. We left to catch our plane in Detroit during a rainstorm. I was sad to be leaving too.

We don’t have any plans to go back at this time – we often toy with the idea of doing an artistic retreat: my husband and his paints, me and my words. Port Austin is at the top of our list for places to make this happen. Summer 2019?

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Sunset on Lake Huron from Oak Beach Park, Summer 2017; Caseville, MI