“Bye. See you next week.”
“Yup, bye bye.”
My friend Joan and I are parting after an hour-and-a-half long lunch in a local sushi restaurant. We’ve had many such lunches over the years, our conversations running from what to watch on Netflix, to the angst of family crises.
Joan and I know a lot about each other’s lives – and not just from our lunches. We met nearly two decades ago when I signed up for a weekly memoir workshop she was teaching at a nearby arts center. It was the first writing class I’d taken since high school creative writing.
Joan was petite, her straight white hair cut short, with the front falling gracefully across her forehead. She often wore Oxford shirts and cardigans with jeans and delicate earrings. In class, each student read their writing aloud and the rest of us offered feedback. Joan’s suggestions always impressed me, and I wondered how she knew so intuitively just what each student’s piece needed.
The stories of my life poured easily from me, and I re-enrolled for the workshop again and again. I wrote about my childhood, my old boyfriends, my daughters, my husband, Paul – my persistent goal to find the precise phrases that captured the truths of my experiences. I never thought about what I was revealing of myself. I never felt judged.
I don’t remember when Joan and I began chatting after class, or when I learned that she lived in the same town as I, or when we first met for lunch. I do remember Paul and I bumping into Joan at the opening of a Mexican restaurant and realizing, when she met him, that she knew far more about him than he knew about her.
After a few years I stopped taking Joan’s class. Then she stopped teaching it, and I had the privilege of becoming her replacement. Meanwhile, she and I formed a weekly writing group with Lori and Vicki, who’d been in the workshop, and before long, the four of us decided to collaborate on a book about our mothers.
Through it all, Joan and I continued to get together and keep each other apprised of our lives – from weddings and separations, to illnesses and injuries, to lots of petty gossip. Many things changed over the long course of our friendship, including the restaurants we favored. But our lunches remained constant, and as I stared across whatever table we shared, so did Joan’s face, with its attentive eyes, wry smile and blush of lipstick, seemingly untouched by time.
I have friends whose cheeks I peck when we say hello or goodbye, but not Joan’s. We don’t kiss. We don’t hug. “Hi,” we say, and “Bye, see you soon.” Then we go our separate ways.
But today is different. In the instant of our parting, my feet already swiveling to go, is a tiny melee of overlapping instincts. A kiss goodbye? No, we don’t kiss. But why not?
“Wait,” I say, and swivel back toward her as she turns around. I think I say, “Let me give you a kiss goodbye.” And then I lean forward and touch my lips to her soft cheek.
There is a tinge of awkwardness, of embarrassment, but they dissolve as we both smile and head into the rest of our days.
~ Susan Hodara
* * *
Hugs or Kisses
People are hugging more and more lately. Really long, tight hugs, with sometimes a cheek kiss or two. I see this in movies and on television. But not in my real life.
There are a few demonstrative women friends who give me a quick hug when they run into me on the street or in the grocery store, but that doesn’t happen often. I used to sometimes encounter a man who engulfed me in creepily lengthy hugs while proclaiming, “You’re the best.” Another man I’ve known for years likes to greet me with a wet kiss; when I see him coming I’m careful to quickly turn my head so his smooch lands on my cheek.
Among my four grown children, two are huggers and two are not. The two seldom-huggers, a son and a daughter, seem to like me well enough and will sometimes grant me a quick kiss. The other daughter is a warm hugger and kisser. The second son is also physically affectionate, but he’s six-foot-six and I’m five-two, and our hugs, although I love them, can be awkward.
Three of my closest women friends are fellow writers. We’ve known one another for twenty years and meet every two weeks to read aloud and comment on our writings, much of which are memoir. Over the years we’ve shared many experiences – illnesses, both physical and mental; deaths – human and animal.
We truly care about one another, we listen carefully and offer words of support, but we’ve never enfolded the others in those weepy, consoling hugs I see on my television screen. When we meet, we smile and say, “Hi.” When departing, we say, “Bye, see you later, enjoy the weekend.” No touching.
Just recently, I met one of our group, Susan, for sushi at a local restaurant. We always have plenty to talk about – our kids’ problems, our health, and, of course, books and writing. We finished lunch, paid our check, and stood to leave. Susan was going out the front door and I had parked in back.
There was a moment before saying goodbye when we didn’t seem to know what to do with our hands. We leaned slightly forward in a possible lead-in to a hug or cheek kiss. Then we pulled away, laughed, and headed in our separate directions.
Why did this happen? What does it portend? What should I do next time we meet? I’m hoping we can forget about it and return to the good old days of a smile and a wave and “So long, see you next week.”
~ Joan Potter