Dan and I talked over Smokey Row cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning and discussed our respective summers. It’s funny how you can go two months without seeing your best friend and still manage to pick up right where you left off. It was wonderful to hear about his life; Dan’s going into his third year of law school, barely sleeps, works too many jobs and will do amazing things as a prosecution lawyer, husband and father in Des Moines by the time he’s finished.
He asked me to tell him about my summer. What’s new? What’s been happening? I told him that really, not a lot has been happening. I told him that really, life has just been going—but that that very going, even in its ordinariness, has been everything about this summer that’s kind of perfect.
I was back in Iowa for a friend’s wedding with 20 women from my pledge class. I stayed in Des Moines Friday night, watched my friends come home drunk, caught a glimpse of campus, drove the familiar and uncongested streets of the Drake neighborhood, sat in the café where I spent hours last year, and drove the flat, open, beautiful stretch of highway that took us to Spencer for the ceremony Saturday night. I navigated from the front seat and harmonized to songs from the radio circa 2009, told jokes, shared stories of sexual encounters, discussed my excitement for senior year.
To an onlooker, I’m sure my transition from Chicago to Des Moines was as easy as slinging my Vera Bradley tote from Sarah’s trunk over my shoulder, but for me, the entire weekend was…what? Surprising. Faltering. A little rusty.
At some point during our cinnamon rolls, my eyes welled up and Dan got to hear what’s really up, as he always does: With a change of scenery and a change of supporting actors at the end of this little adventure, I’m terrified of a change of character.
Left to my own devices this summer — virtually friendless, boyfriendless, parentless — I’ve become the exact version of myself I want to be. A little less weight and a lot less drama. More smiling and interaction with strangers, more self-love and independence, if the latter was possible. My entire existence here has been out of my comfort zone. I was told by a guy I was seeing that if were a fruit I’d be a nectarine because I’m so sweet. Does that sound like someone you know?
Yeah, well. Nice to meet you.
Our cinnamon rolls weren’t that good — clearly microwaved — with frosting a little on the buttery side and bubbled with too much heat. I would have liked them better under other circumstances, probably, except now I’ve tasted an Ann Sather cinnamon roll. I’m quite convinced that you never go back.
There wasn’t insincerity about my weekend. The singing, the jokes, the sexual encounters? Lovely, funny, true. The excitement for senior year is mostly genuine. Seeing my friends was more refreshing than you can know. But I’m very, very afraid of Des Moines. I love it for a lot of reasons, but I’m not enchanted by it like I am by Chicago. Des Moines has a lot of strings attached, a lot of emotions, a lot of people with a lot of history. I’m afraid it puts me in autopilot, and I’m afraid autopilot isn’t programmed for the new me yet.
And I’d be fine with being the former version of me — she was all right, I hear — except now I don’t have to be. I guess that just means I’m putting my helmet on and driving myself.