My wife recently passed away, and my friends have been solicitous in regards to my needs during this period of mourning. So it wasn’t really a surprise when one of our oldest friends asked me to meet her at the Detroit Institute of Arts to see an exhibition that was closing last Sunday. We made arrangements to meet in the front lobby near member services.
I arrived a bit early, so that I could renew my membership. The helpful woman at the membership desk handled my renewal efficiently, then asked what showing I wanted to attend. I explained that I was awaiting my friend and she told me to return when she showed up. I waited until a few minutes after 2 PM, then called my friend, getting her voicemail. I dawdled about the lobby until about 20 past the hour, before returning to the membership desk. There was only one ticket left for the 2 PM showing, but the woman told me if my friend arrived, she’d make sure we could go in together. I went to the exhibition hall, wasting another 10 minutes, then finally decided to use my ticket. Of course, as soon as my ticket was torn, my phone rang. My friend apologized, explaining that she had lost track of time while cleaning her patio furniture (it was a gorgeous day-70 degrees, sunny, with a light breeze). She instead suggested I come over to her home for a glass of wine after I finished at the museum and I readily agreed.
After strolling through the exhibit, I made my way to the Modern Art wing and took in the Impressionist paintings and the Diego Rivera fresco, then retrieved my car and drove north. When I arrived, I saw my friend, standing in her driveway, her phone at her ear. As I got out of my car, she laughed and said, “I can’t offer you anything to drink. I’ve been locked out of the house.” By her husband, it turned out. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my flask.
“Good thing I come prepared.” We shared some bourbon, then went to inspect the door. “I have a lock pick,” I told her, “and we could try to get inside.”
“Why do you have that?” she laughed.
“It’s a lawyer thing,” I enlightened her.
At the door, I saw her husband inside, and he waved at me but then walked away, deeper into the house. “How about I take you out for a drink?” I suggested, replacing the pick in my pocket.
She agreed and we climbed into my car. We were considering where to go as we approached 8 Mile, when I noticed a car coming up fast behind me, then pulling up to my left. I looked over to see what manic was in such a hurry and saw her husband. He waved us to go back to the house, then turned right onto the divided road and took off with a screech of tires and was quickly at, then beyond the speed limit. I looked at my passenger, who said, “Well, we might as well go back to the house and see if he unlocked the doors.” We parked and found the back door unlocked. Entering, we made our way to the kitchen and she poured us each a glass of red wine.
“Why don’t you get your keys?” I suggested.
She shook her head, advising me, “I don’t have keys to the doors. I come in through the garage usually.” Saying that, she opened the garage door and found the openers disabled, but was quickly able to reconnect the devices.
We sat outside on the patio, sipping our wine, enjoying the lovely day. I was provided with some details about their recent troubles, when I noticed the same car that had screeched off down 8 Mile pull up. He strode up purposefully, and said to me, “My sympathy and concern for you outweighs how much I hate my fucking wife,” giving me a quick hug as he continued into the house.
We sat in stunned silence for a moment, and then I pressed for further details, which my friend supplied. To our mutual surprise, her husband joined us on the patio with a drink. I inquired as to what he was imbibing, and he happily described his beverage. It seemed to turn the page for him, and he engaged in the conversation. I should note that I was there for dinner the week previously, and had noticed that I carried on conversations with both my friend and her husband (to be fair, he is my friend as well), but that the two of them did not speak to each other. It made for a strange dinner party.
My friend went indoors, and he and I talked, but not about them. When she returned, she said, “I am going to Bob and Suzannes’ to have dinner with Julie. You are, of course, invited.” This she directed toward her spouse.
“No, I wouldn’t be good company. Why don’t you take I.G.?”
Both of them then looked at me. “Ah, shit, I don’t know…” I hesitated. I knew Bob and Suzanne from dinners at my friends’ home over the past few years, and liked the couple. I also enjoyed the company of my friend’s mother, who she usually referred to by her first name, Julie.
“No, go with (my wife). I’m sure they will have plenty to eat if they expected me. You two should ride together.”
I demurred that option, instead opting to drive separately and follow my friend. “I will go for a drink, and see how it all plays out,” I conceded.
Despite an accident on Woodward, we were there in a jiffy, and went in to Bob and Suzannes’ home. I was greeted by all the occupants of the kitchen, who hadn’t seen me since my wife’s death. We discussed the tragedy, while my friend set up the appetizer she had brought along. Just as the starter plate was ready, Bob announced that dinner was served and began to dish up jambalaya for us all. Obviously, there was no possibility of me just having a drink and disappearing.
Dinner was excellent, and we had a pleasant conversation about the Stratford Festival, our hosts being regular attendees at the plays held in Ontario, Canada each year. It was still light out when Julie announced that she was going to depart. We said goodbye to her, and my friend and I finished our wine from dinner while standing in the kitchen. When we decided to move on as well, Suzanne provided us with carry out containers of pasta, not jambalaya, which I graciously accepted.
Once outside, my friend and I stood next to her car. She kissed my cheek and thanked me for coming. I looked at her, and told her, “This has been one fucking weird day.” She laughed, agreeing with me and I noted, “It’s not late, want to grab a drink and talk about this?”
She nodded and we found a quiet bar down the street. We discussed the events of the last few hours, but I still had no clue how things had proceeded to the point that I was sitting at a bar in Royal Oak, in a nearly empty bar talking about the secrets of men (there aren’t many, as I advised her).
We parted in the parking lot, looking at my missing wheel cover and dented rim, the result of a late winter pothole I wasn’t able to avoid while heading to the hospital one afternoon. “Actually,” I informed my friend, “I missed the hole, I just hit the huge slab of concrete that was in front of it to the side.” We agreed to get together more frequently, with me stressing something I had realized too late: “You need to make time to spend with those that matter most to you. It’s far too easy to think you have all the time in the world, but that’s our arrogant mistake. I won’t do that anymore.”
As I drove home with the sunroof open, enjoying the still warm night air, I pondered my day and decided that although odd, it was worthwhile, as a life experience if nothing else.
*Postscript: Things seem to be better between my friends. At least, they carry on conversations between themselves.