“Ok. Ok. I got one: a yard-like rear.”

“I’m sorry. What?!”

“Umm…a bush tush!”

“No, but I think that one’s probably better, actually.”

“A grass ass!”

“Yeah!”

“You’re right. That one was really bad.”

Josh, Will, Abby, and I are grinding slowly through a wide alley of red dirt, us latter three passing the time with middle school word games while Josh navigates ahead to see if he can spy the oasis that is the parking lot. The air smells thick and blue with sage grass, and the irony that the geological feature we’re wandering through is called a “coulee” (pronounced “COO-lee”) is not lost on us. The Eastern Washington terrain is even less forgiving to Seattle folk than its inhabitants, and Abby declares that she is sweating. Not perspiring, not glistening. Sweating. After only forty minutes in this heat, I wonder how the Israelites lasted forty years and if they had any word games to keep them busy.

“A weak manna supplement.”

“Frail quail!”

***

A few days later, while sitting in a sunlit Seattle dining room brainstorming blog post ideas, I turn to my dear editor, Abby, and ask, “What should I write about this month?” She’s briefly overcome by a playful smile and, foolishly, answers, “Me!”

In reality, Abby is a humble introvert who would hate having her picture in print, much less 1,000 words to accompany it. However, in this same reality, she has chosen a merciless tease as a best friend and regular writer for the blog she edits and should really be more careful what she says to him! But while Abby’s monosyllabic suggestion baited me into embarrassing her, it also lured me into dwelling on all the phenomenal humans in my life that I have the distinct privilege of counting as friends.

At the outset of June, I dedicated my summer to touring the country and reconnecting with these friends. Now, two months, eleven states, fifteen cities, and many, many couches later, I’m convinced I don’t deserve a single one of them. My friends have prepared me delicious tortellini dinners, written me adorable lists of things to do in their cities while they’re at work, and towed me along to parties with their med school, church, or Broadway actor friends. They’ve kept me cool in 115-degree Phoenix summers and kept their cool when I accidentally lost their cats for an entire night.

These past couple weeks in Seattle especially have been a practice in being bewildered by how bad-ass my friends are. While here, I’ve been staying and spending every available moment with Abby, Josh, and Will—three skilled writers for and the three tireless editors of this blog. Between their furious spurts of work on the post calvin anthology (which, dear readers, you should all put on your Christmas lists) and my furious Oreo consumption, we’ve managed to do summer right: going for long Pokémon walks, scaling climbing walls, and sipping from a communal glass of “apple juice” (whisky) in a public park. And all the while, a line from Josh’s favorite Seattle musician, Owl City, keeps recycling through my mind: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

In a society where we’re taught to draw swords against sports rivals, work competitors, our not-yet-cover-ready bodies, and the finite twenty-four-hour day itself, it’s incredible how trivial a good group of friends makes those adversaries seem. Failing to conquer a to-do list isn’t such a loss when you and your friends added to your Pokédex instead. In fact, with friends like these, it’s amazing how many of the objectives society sets for us crumble; success, money, fame, and even romance feel laughably conceptualized when placed against the visceral reality of friends singing along the highway and filling the car with farts.

Over these past couple weeks, the editors and I have been investing many evenings in the TV show New Girl, which catalogues the quirky misadventures of an eclectic cohort of LA housemates. It’s this decade’s Friends. While watching, we spend much of the intercalary moments between episodes discussing which characters we most identify with, but it wasn’t until a couple nights ago that one moment in particular really hit home for me.

In one scene the fiercely loyal and exhaustingly theatrical Schmidt is defending the fact that his best friend, Nick, despite his conspiracy theories and tendency to lose dairy products in his bedroom, can actually be quite romantic. As evidence, he submits a story in which he tripped in a parking lot and Nick carried him home. When Nick shoots him a look of incredulity, Schmidt fires back the line, “Romance doesn’t always have to be sexual, you idiot!”

I love this understanding of romance because it seems so much bigger and more whole that what society typically allows, and because it’s what has characterized these past couple weeks and months for me. There is romance in a friend preparing a nice meal for me. There is romance in talking together all the way up and down a mountain. And there sure as hell is romance in lying along Lake Washington, drinking from a shared cup of whisky, talking about where life might take us.

Last week, while Abby and I walked home from the grocery store, we discussed what tattoos we would get if we ever became people cool enough for tattoos. Unsurprisingly, we both settled on phrases from our favorite literary quotes. Abby’s quote comes from Kay Ryan’s poem “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard”:

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;…

I feel Abby’s tracks in me—the strong tenderness of her fingers on my back, the growing tenseness of her muscles when it’s almost midnight and we haven’t even reached the trailhead yet, the knowledge of when to pour out something costly, the embrace of that warm, red blanket—and I pray that they grow deeper.

My quote comes from Willa Cather’s My Ántonia:

I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Splayed out under the ripe Eastern Washington sun, I felt this. Swimming through an ancient lake beside Will, I felt this. Hiking under clouds of stars and standing beneath the crash of a waterfall and leaping off rocks, I felt this. It was romantic, and it was deep, and it was complete.

(P.S. Abby, Josh, and Will, good luck getting this one into any future anthologies!)

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