Wide open spaces. Big blue sky. Clouds that marble across the horizon, pausing to nuzzle a snow-dusted mountain before they hurdle westward in classic Colorado style.
When I returned from grad school in Boston, I remember feeling genuinely delighted to be behind the wheel in Colorado. That long ribbon of black asphalt reaching into infinity, representing endless possibility. Opportunity. Risk. Challenge. Reward. Everything seemed to balance on those striped yellow lines. I felt so in charge. So grown-up. In that driver’s seat.
And so today, during my annual pilgrimage to the dentist in Boulder, a full hour drive from my Denver ‘hood, I marvel at the sky. I watch hawks dip and soar. Trees reach and quiver.
And I let my mind wander.
To a time, ten years ago, when I was still a newcomer to this place. I remember the way, when I came to the peak of that hill, flying Westbound between Denver and Boulder, my nineteen-year-old breath would catch in my throat, and the tears would well up in my eyes. The Flatirons would present themselves to me, heraldic trumpeters proudly welcoming me into their kingdom. And as I would wind toward my room in a four-bedroom house, I would feel lucky. Lucky to live here. Lucky to have friends here.
Lucky to be alive.
Today is no different. That westbound Hwy 36 peak, though there is no longer a pull-off to really stop and catch your breath, is no less breathtaking. The difference now is that I am no longer a Boulderite. I am no longer nineteen. But I still have those same friends
And so, with a novocaine smile, I make my way through those old favorite places, gathering offerings for my Boulder people. A few 100% cotton retro Bronco shirts. A few World Market greeting cards. A whole lot of fresh air coming in the sunroof.
I smile my crooked half-smile as the receptionist asks “Bethany from what company?” and I say “Buchanan.”
And I am richly rewarded with hugs and laughter.
More stretching pavement. An escort to my teacher friend’s classroom by two second-grade girls. A huge smile and look of amazement. A classroom of greetings. And me with my novocaine smile.
Perhaps it’s because I’m in my final stretch of age 29 that I am waxing sentimental about friendship.
But I feel lucky.
And this drive reminds me of that good luck.
I never expected to be friends with the people who enrich my life today. Not the 31-year old second grade teacher, who does the worm and can freestyle like a boss (rapping, obvi). Not the 30-year-old legal professional who I remember thinking was “mean” in middle school, and now I think is “kind” in every sense of the word. Not the fearless, in-love bookkeeper with two bulldogs and a Doc-Holiday-era cottage on the hillside of Glenwood. Not the LA girl with style who will dance when no one else does. And maybe not even the Aussie girl, born beach princess, lover of life, and instigator of laughter.
I never saw any of them coming.
But now, here they are, the fabric of my existence.
It takes a long time to realize who your friends are. And it takes an even longer time to understand how fortunate you are that they have accepted YOU into their worlds, warts and all.
Sometimes someone enters your life unexpectedly, and you realize how much you missed them all along.
Every time I spend time with these people, I feel an aching. Like I missed out on so much time with them before I met them. Like we have years of laughter to recoup. Like I can’t bear to extricate myself from their presence.
Like I can’t breathe another breath without them in this world.
And I know I am one of the lucky ones.