My secret keeper lives in Maryland and goes by the name of Scott Xavier. Recently, his wife Alissa, began slipping into first place for my secret keeper, but Scott held a solid first place for many years. Whenever I have a new idea that I want to share with someone who can keep their mouth shut, Scott gets a text that usually begins with. “Scott!” And then, the spilling of secrets begins.
I met Scott and Alissa in an Oregon movie theater 9 and a half years ago. Jeremiah and I had been dating about 2 weeks, and he suggested we get together with one of his coworkers and his girlfriend.
What I remember most about the okay-ish movie was the absolute pit of anxiety I had the entire time leading up to and after the movie, and the fact that Jeremiah asked Alissa what color nail polish she was wearing. It was a warm evening for March, and as soon as he asked, she stuck her hands out as we stood outside the movie theater.
“Watermelon,” she replied. One word.
Lit by streetlamps, her short nails were green and bright pink with black spots for seeds. I could never compete. That night I went home thinking, if Jeremiah notices his friends’s girlfriend’s nails… I had to up my game. That lasted for all of two weeks, max. I can never compete with Alissa’s nails. I don’t even try.
Over the next two years the four of us went camping together, made smores together (okay, I attempted to make smores and they have black mail photos of me covered in marshmallow stickiness) and had countless board game nights together.
I have a knack for pushing cards up my sleeves, so it became routine for Scott to yell, “Stand up! Are you sittin on cards?” throughout the game nights. We got drunk on horrible chocolate wine together, went to Halloween parties together, carved pumpkins at their apartment while Abby, their puppy, chased Gordon around relentlessly. So many hours together in Oregon.
Then, a day came when we were supposed to meet them for dinner and Jeremiah was an hour late to pick me up. I was sobbing – it was over 2 years in to our relationship at that point, and I was furious.
When he finally arrived at my downtown Portland apartment, I asked, “Why are you late? This is the last night before our best friends move to Maryland.”
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” he responded.
That evening came and went, with a lot more crying on my part.
The Promise Breaker
I recall a story Scotty had told me about Alissa, who was originally from Maryland. She had promised herself she wouldn’t make friends in Oregon because she had every intent of moving back to Maryland, Scott in tow, after she graduated with her Masters degree.
When she ended up having friends, including Jeremiah and me, she was a little angry. Alissa sticks to her word more than anyone – what she says she’s going to do, she does. She keeps promises like Scott keeps secrets. I think part of her wondered if those friends would just be a heartbreak. This is one promise I’m glad she broke.
Seven years after they trekked across the United States, we found ourselves driving in to Scott and Alissa’s Maryland driveway again – the previous time was when we flew out to see them nearly three years ago.
A dog lighter
When Scott learned about our decision to move into a motorome – long before I told my parents, before we mentioned it to some of our California best friends, weeks before I had given my notice at work, and only 3 days after Jeremiah and I had discussed it ourselves, we each imagined Abby chasing Gordon around the yard in the same way she had years ago. (When I say she was obsessed with Gordon, that’s an understatement. To this day if we say his name, she’ll start to whine.) But, we drove into their driveway without a furry Gordon – 9 months after I had told Scott online of our plans.
There Abby was, asking for belly rubs and beside herself with excitement. There is a little more white on her snout, and when we throw the ball for her more than 5 days she limps the day after. It is a strong reminder of how quickly time passes. Abby is as fond of running after balls as she was 9 years ago, but she is slower on the retrieve. She also insists on getting on furniture while we’re there, much to Alissa’s dismay.
Nearly each day for months, I recorded 20 to 30 second clips of how our home on wheels worked, and linked them to an album for the oldest of the Xavier boys. Dean, 4 years old now, watches how our slides go in and out, is frankly more interested in how our fan spins, and could easily hook up the water and electric by himself with how much time he’s spent watching these videos.
When Alissa came out to greet us in the driveway she said, “I want to record Dean’s reaction. You guys are a celebrity to him.”
Sure enough, his eyes got wide when he saw us and for just a moment there was a bit of shyness in how he approached me – reminding me of the way he had approached us when he was 16 months old. Within a blink the shyness had retreated and Dean and Booker, his 2 year old brother, were piling toys on me, hollering what each one was, and inundating us both with questions.
“Why is your hair purple?” (It’s natural) “Do you know Astroboy?” (not personally) “Where’s Bernie?” (sleeping in the Home on Wheels) “Do you like ranch?” (No.) “Do you want some ranch?” (Still No.)
Dean also explained to me that eating goldfish after taking foul-tasting medicine was like rinsing shower down the drain of his stomach. Clever, if you ask me.
Griffin, the baby of them all, tottered around in his walker, smiling and laughing at just about anything. When people refer to having a “happy baby,” they haven’t met griffin. He is the happiest child in the universe.
There is nothing quite like seeing the children of your friends. The focus has shifted from drinking beers and playing board games to schedules of naps, meals, baths, and bedtimes, fawning over the kids intelligence, and talking about their personality differences.
“Dean has never met a stranger,” both Scott and Alissa agree.
“Booker is perfectly fine being by himself,” they concur.
The jury is still out for the happiest baby in the universe.
The morning after we arrived I drove Scott down to get lasik for his eyes. For a moment before I arrived, I thought, “We’re going to have nothing to talk about.” Turns out the only thing I needed to be concerned about was how I’d never been carsick in my life until that morning. (I got my small-car bearings, Scott got new eyes, and we didn’t crash on the way back.)
We spent a week traversing through their community, feeling as though it had been last week that we saw them last. There are friends in this world that you can see every five years and the conversation starts up like we had eaten lunch together last week. These are those friends.
On Memorial Day, Alissa brought us over to her parents house where she jumped in the pool with her two oldest kid -Dean in his element, Booker hesitantly watching before making a move- and let us to fend for ourselves.
As shy as I am, I can always fake it until I make it, and we settled down talking to some family members who started giving us the low-down of which bourbon tours to see in Kentucky. (Spoiler: we have to go to them all) and chatted with them about traveling via boat. If traveling by boat wasn’t on our future list, it is now. The world is so big, and there is so much to see. Also, no matter how we look at it, we can’t drive to the Bahamas.
When we left that evening, Alissa’s dad had packaged up two vacuum-packed bags of Maryland crabs for us to have on the road. I felt at home – we had poked fun at Alissa for wanting to leave Oregon for Maryland for years, but that evening, I could see it through her eyes. Her warm family, a cold home brew beer, and good conversation: things worth moving for.
The final night we were there, we went bar hopping – finding ourselves at a speakeasy, a pub where we ate too much food, and finally found ourselves standing in line at an ice cream place. We were reminded of a sticky s’mores incident from 9 years earlier when I tried to save my ice cream from falling off the cone by catching it. There I was, covered in sticky ice cream, laughing about some things changing, and others staying the same.
Maryland: home of my friends
Jeremiah and I laid in bed that night, asking one another a question we often ask when we’re about to leave a new place.
“Could you see living here?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I replied. “Our friends are here.”
Maryland is seeping with beautiful nature and kitschy places. But to me, Maryland will always be the home of my friends: the secret keeper, and the promise breaker.