“You relax.” I nod, evidence I’ve heard her, but she takes my hand and shakes her head; she pulls on it, and my muscles tighten, evidence I’ve heard her but not listened. “You no relax! You relax.” Again she picks up my hand and tries to clean them up, which is what I’ve come here for. She blows out a frustrated sigh. “You relax.” I nod again, but I’m still not sure if I get it right.
Later, when I try to scoot my chair in, I bang my finger on the corner of her table. It hurts. I lay my hands back down in front of her, hoping she won’t notice, but she does. “Oh no! I cut you? You hurt?”
“No!” I say. “No, I did it.”
Even though she didn’t do it, she tsk-tsks and takes out a bottle of medicine. She clips off the slip of hanging skin, wipes away the pooled blood, drops some kind of medicine over the wound that is deeper than I thought—“It will burn, but it will be better!”—and then we get back to the nails, which is why I came here. I came here to be cleaned up, pampered. I came here to relax.
When I get home, I hold it up to show Caleb. “I got a boo boo.” He picks up my hand. “That’s a good one,” he says, and then I fold a decorated Band-Aid over it.
When I show up at Janie’s door, she takes me in. There are no Band-Aids, decorated or otherwise, but the way I fold myself into her arms lets her know what has happened: I got a boo boo. It’s good one.
“What is it?” she says, rubbing my back, and I shrug, for there was never one hit that made me bleed; rather, it was a hard week, a long week. “It was fruitful,” I say through hiccups. “But it hurt.”
We climb the stairs to her living room, and I sit down on her couch, and we don’t say much about anything, but one of the greatest reliefs of friendship like this is that there are no elephants in the room (unless they’re University of Alabama paraphernalia). Instead, we talk about the things we can; we take the boo boos, the flights and the falls, the mountain climbs and the slides into the ditches, one at a time. We will get to the hard things. But first, she reaches over to take my hand, and I see it in her face: “You relax.”
Yes, I came here to relax.
Sometimes when I’m conducting interviews, I ask people this question they hate to answer: “If you could tell a large group of people one thing, what would you tell them?” (Full disclosure: I did not make this question up.) Sometimes, the people I write about have had many interviews or maybe have made many speeches, and they get this opportunity all the time. “But what if it was your last time?” I press, and then I hold eye contact until they grow awkward enough to break the silence with an answer. Sometimes, they’re people who have never had an interview before and didn’t know they should be expecting this question. The same thing occurs—“Oh, I don’t know!”—but I hold my ground. Almost always, they articulate something eloquent and true. Almost always, I quote their answers in the stories I write about them.
Nobody’s ever asked me that question, and I’m sure I would ask to have one or two or three answers. I would give disclaimers to each one, specific circumstances where the advice should be applied. The interviewer would grow weary and his or her iPad would die. Somebody would need to get up for a third cup of coffee. (This is why I do the interviewing.)
But if I did answer, I might say find every inch of your identity in Jesus Christ, and never give it up to anything else. And I would say that you will have hard, long weeks even when you think you’re talented at finding all of the remarkable things in this life. And I would say that sometimes everything that you think should be simple suddenly becomes complicated. And sometimes you have to go to funerals on Wednesday afternoons. And sometimes your plan changes, and it does so without asking you, and right on the heels of deadline, too. And sometimes you are lonely even though you’re surrounded by people, and sometimes you slam your finger into a desk while you’re trying to get your nails painted. And sometimes everything seems cloudy and uncertain, and sometimes you’re one more hard conversation away from stopping to buy a cookie, and when the conversation comes, you stop for the cookie and they’re sold out.
And what about the wounds, the ones that are deeper than you thought? What do you do? When everything changes? When it all stays the same? What do you do with your bleeding, cookieless heart? Where do you take it?
See, I would tell all the people to find some people, just a few, who pick up your hands, kiss your boo boo, and make you feel better by saying, “Oh, that’s a good one,” or, “Let’s go get our nails done,” or even nothing.
And then someone in the audience might hold up his or her hand and I would say, “Yes, question? You in the back?”
He would probably have to yell to be heard, so he would stand up. “But isn’t it sometimes those people who hurt you? Isn’t that risky? Don’t you get hurt that way?”
And I would say, “Yes.” And that person might not say anything back, but I would see the next question on everyone’s faces.
Is it worth it? Is it worth it?
I walk up to the circle, and her eyes flood with relief at the sight of my face.
In an uncertain room, we exchange glances and everything becomes OK.
“Is she your friend?” “Yes,” I say. My sister, I think.
I hold up my hand, and he takes it. “That was a long week,” I say and he nods, but we both know that we turned a corner. And around the corner, there is sunshine again. And cookies.
Later, it’s one of them, a phone call, a text message: “I’m freaking out.” And then it’s my turn.
“What is it?”
“Let me see your boo. Oy, that’s good one.” And I wrap a decorated Band-Aid around the boo boos, and we hold hands anyway.”Don’t worry,” I say. “This will heal right up.”
And every time, it’s worth it.