There are a lot of things I could say to complain about Rhode Island. The cost of living is too high. The winters are too long, the politics are oft corrupt and you can’t run to the market for dinner’s one missing ingredient without running into half a dozen people you know. And, naturally, your hair is unwashed and you’re wearing a velour sweat suit that you bought in the ninth grade and don’t have the heart to give up. Because that’s what happens when you live in the smallest state in the country.
On the other hand, being small has its advantages.
When I was in the first grade, I befriended a blonde tomboy named Kate. Her house was THE place to be for slumber parties. Her mom made the best pancakes, she had a swimming pool and she had younger siblings that we could boss around. Plus, her house was within bike riding distance to mine, and I didn’t have to cross any main roads to get there. She grew up to be less of a tomboy, but we stayed close through high school, when that pancake making mom continued to drive us into school every morning until Kate got her license and she had the mini van at her disposal.
I met Steph playing CYO basketball for St. Timothy’s in Warwick. We were in the fourth grade and her dad was one of the coaches. She kept her curly mop of hair in a ponytail at the top of her head, and it bounced around non-stop while she played forward. CYO basketball kept us together through the eighth grade, but by that point, we were already friends off the court.
With Kate and Steph in tow as middle school BFFs, I met Laura on the bus. You’ll recognize the name if you’re a regular reader of this column, as she is still my best friend and usually gives me some good fodder for writing from our Friday nights together. That friendship was initially based, no word of a lie, on a shared love of Christina Aguilera, afternoons watching MTV and a shared dislike of the eighth grade foe who dared to also perform “What a Girl Wants” in the talent show (our performance was, like, totally better).
While Laura and I stayed close all these years, my relationships with Kate and Steph grew more distant. We never had any classes in high school together, and as does often happen with teenagers, we fell out of touch during college.
When Laura and I ran into Kate and Steph (now an equally inseparable duo) one night at Dave’s Bar and Grill – the quintessential nightlife destination for Pilgrim High School graduates – we caught up, traded phone numbers and pledged to get together. Only in Rhode Island does that kind of accident of fate happen nearly every time you venture outside your doorstep.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Where did you go to school?”
“Oh, yeah? I played field hockey for Toll Gate.”
“I thought you looked familiar! We went to camp together.”
And so on and so forth. You know my cousin, we met at a concert in Prospect Park, your dad and my dad play golf together, etc., etc.
For Rhode Islanders, it’s to be expected.
On those days when you least want to see people, you’re destined to run into half of your graduating class, including that guy you always had a crush on. By the same token, though, you’re destined to catch the eye of a longtime friend whom you fell out of touch with, even though you never meant to. In a state as small as Rhode Island, you can always have a second chance.
I thought about that a lot on Friday night. We got to Steph’s apartment in Newport around 7 p.m., and planned to have one glass of wine before heading out for dinner. One glass turned into a few, as we babbled on about every detail in our lives. It happens every time we see each other, which now, is about once a month if we can help it. It was past 10 by the time we got to a restaurant, and unlike my usual responsible self, it was nearly 3 a.m. by the time I curled up onto Steph’s futon with her pit bull Paige.
I woke up Saturday to Laura poking me at 6 a.m. She had to work in Warwick at 7:30, and there was no time to waste. I surveyed myself in the mirror and realized that the late night had taken its toll. It was definitely one of those days when I didn’t want to run into someone I knew.
But you never know; a chance encounter could be just what you’re looking for.