My friend Laurie has a knack for finding the most exciting thing and going after it. I remember her attending boy band concerts, and a Josh Groban concert, and always managing to weasel getting a autograph and picture. She also worked for Spruce Meadows, was nanny in Germany, and now works for the Olympics. Who works for the Olympics? My friend Lou that's who. She has this life that goes beyond my scope of reality. I'm not jealous. Okay I may be a little BUT only because I loooooovvee Olympics, so much so when I attempted teaching we did a whole Olympics unit. Reports were written, live events were watched, highlights and medal tallies were recorded and stories were told. When I say I love Olympics let me explain my hierarchy of love: God, my mama, March Madness, Olympics, Thanksgiving and then Christmas. So the fact that my friend works in the buzz of the Olympic atmosphere astounds me. She also travels the world and sees other cultures and experiences more places than the average person does in two life times.
I too have had my share of adventures of travel, so my jealousy has subsided as I have been able to fulfill my longing to voyage and sightsee all this world offers. But the early days...envy was a problem. Partially because I hadn't learned to celebrate others accomplishments. In my immaturity, mentally I was in constant competition with everyone and always had to one up people around me. Competing with Lou seemed useless cause I would never win, so our friendship was better because I would keep my secret envy and be less tenacious about trying to be perceivably better. Teens and early twenty year minds who are insecure do the funniest things. (*I shake my head but also give myself grace that we all growing.) In becoming more secure and feeling deeply loved I've also learned to celebrate with people and their successes rather than try to bring them down to make myself better. This is true of Laurie and I now, I can be extraordinarily happy for her and her adventures and still be ok with the life I'm living. But our relationship didn't start there.
Basketball has been central many of my relationships, and Laurie was no different, however we also had common friends in our small town. Our paths intersected as I grew closer to those just adjacent to her circle. She did work at the local Co-op gas bar back when there were attendants who filled your gas for you. Naturally I'd go there to visit and put $5 in my tank and use her Co-op number. (I was in Co-op the other day and they asked for my number it's literally over 20 years later and I remember hers.) Into our high school years our friends didn't just overlap they became mutual. Then we played club basketball together. Taking trips to Calgary and Kamloops. It was on one of the those road trips that we were talking about all of our favourite things and she said: the sound of an empty gym. I distinctly reminder thinking it was odd. An empty gym doesn't make much noise. Ever since she said it, I've paid attention to the empty gym and often think of her. I've been in my share of gyms since then. One could say I'm a gym rat, if there is something being played, I'm there watching. But the empty gym. It's that calm before the storm. The vision of competition and heightened emotions as you stand in the vastness of the hollow space and hear nothing but the hum of the lights. Or if you pick up a basketball and hear the swish of net and nothing else. That stroke of the rotating ball rub the nylon. SWISH. Gives me goosebumps.
Sometimes I still sit, close my eyes and a let my mind wander in the hundreds of thousands of minutes spent in the gym and see what memories arise. Or I envision the competition to come, and take a breath before the organized chaos of teams and spectators come filing in. It's one of the many blessing Lou gave me throughout the years, the appreciation of the empty gym.
She is a year older than I am and I felt like I would watch in the shadows after high school as she navigated the waters of leaving town. I couldn't wait to do the same and experience dorm life and all of the other college shenanigans. When I'd call I looked forward to hearing every story. A couple of times I would go visit, and it always felt like she was my post secondary guide, even though no one knows what they are doing as freshmen. We are all clueless. I didn't go to school with her, and my college career was different than hers. It wasn't until my second year of college that I even left the country. (technically I had boated in the San Juan Islands in Washington but that was pre 9/11 and I didn't have a passport. And here was my friend, galavanting all over Europe.)
During one of her stints in Calgary she lived in a townhouse with her older brother. One who kinda peaked my interest. So I visited more often. We actually had an entire weekend that her brother and I went to the zoo, the Okatoks rodeo, Pirates of Caribbean (the original movie when it was released), one night he he bought dinner with subway stamps...(when they were a thing), and the next night he made dinner. Overall a great weekend. Still one of the better dates I've been on. But sadly my friend Laurie wasn't meant to be my sister-in-law. I remember being on the fence about it but still interested, and like a good friend Laurie asked if she wanted me to find out how he felt. My maturity was a solid 1/10 regarding real relationship conversations so of course I took her up on the offer. (we may be up to a 3/10, 17 years later.) His feelings were not mutual and I was thwarted but again so thankful for the honesty and knowing where I stood. The emotions were unmistakable, in that the relief of knowing far outweighed the sadness of disappointment. AND we maintained a friendship because we never had to make it awkward. While I was a disappointed, I think I knew I was more excited about having my friend as a future sister-in-law than I was actually being with him. I'm guessing in his maturity he maybe picked up on that.
It was another visit to Calgary that I stayed with Laurie before heading to camp that I went shopping and lost my wallet at the mall. I was a little freaked and the weather felt like it reflected my emotions. It was a hot sunny day followed with a crazy Alberta thunderstorm. It was unlikely that I was going to find my wallet but I prayed anyway...over and over. I didn't find it. The thunder clapped and the lightning flashed with each new thought. I had cash in my wallet. All the cards I'm going to have to replace. Ugh. Laurie tried to console me and direct me in my utter frustration. Then we got a call. Miracle of all miracles someone bought a stack of shirts in which my wallet was within. What are the chances that I tried on a shirt, folded it back on top of my wallet and then someone bought the whole stack for their soccer team or something. They found my college ID and called the college, who then tracked me down and told me where I could find my wallet. It was another one of those shared experience moments where God showed up and Laurie witnessed both my elation and profound "I can't believe it." It was one of the many miracles in my life that would build the foundation for believing in a God who sees the little things and shows up in a big way.
When I no longer lived in southern Alberta my visits with Laurie became non existent. I'd still follow her and I've seen her travel the world. From Brazil to Korea to Japan, at least I think she was in Japan pre COVID. Now she's back in London. I admire that she gets to live in all these places and see all these cultures. Sometimes I wonder if she misses the stability of staying somewhere long term, or if there is a constant adrenaline that goes with discovering new places. Does it get old? Is it harder when things are hard? Regardless, I still sit back in the shadows at watch from a distance. In my older age I'm less hesitant to pursue the same kind of lifestyle. But she does it well, and she gets to be a part of the Olympics. In case you didn't remember; I looooovvvee Olympics. (Lou if you read this and ever want to hook a girl up with anything in the form of an event ticket...right here) One of our other common interests is our love of NCAA basketball, this lead to the introduction of another friend which changed the whole trajectory of my story.