I have brunch out with Vivian, a girl I’ve known since high school, a best friend for thirty years. She is bright and bubbly, a social butterfly; I am reserved and quiet, a social pupa.
I’ve stopped drinking again and it is my job today to apologize to Vivian—who looks pretty much like she did thirty years ago, without the tight shorts her mother used to scold her about. She is a mother herself now, wearing a fashionable and age-appropriate copper-colored dress.
I am wearing tight shorts.
We sit across from one another in the booth and Vivian pours a small bottle of champagne into three different glasses of juice, a sparkling flight, just for fun. She will end up sipping half out of each in the two hours we sit there. I would be more inclined to guzzle everything, lick the glasses, then order more, which is why I’m having coffee.
Vivian and I haven’t seen each other in six months, so we don’t touch our menus. First we must catch up. I say, “My dad started shaving his head, but he’s whittling again. My parents have home health-care nurses coming in now to help.” This is my most important news, the number one choice of information to share with Vivian, who loves my parents.
“What!?” she says. “Did you say hospice?”
“No!” I say. “I said home health-care.”
Vivian is losing her hearing. I am wearing bifocals.
“Oh, thank God,” Vivian says.
I change the subject to my second most important piece of news. “Hey, you’ll be glad to hear that I quit drinking again.” I give Vivian a silly smile and she gives me her kindest back. “Ohhh, that’s so great!” she says.
We’ve had this exchange before.
Vivian quickly picks up the mini-bottle of champagne and sets it at the table’s edge. She circles her arms around the dainty flight of champagne flutes and looks at me, worried. “I shouldn’t have ordered these! I don’t have to drink these! I’ll have the waitress take them away!”
I laugh and tell Vivian to leave her alcohol alone. “Something feels different this time,” I say, back to my second most important subject. “I think it’s gonna last. I mean, at least I hope it’s gonna last. And I want to apologize to you this time, because I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘I’m sorry’ in all these years of messing up your parties and making you worry. I wish I could’ve been a better friend. I’m very, very sorry for all of that.”
Vivian must see a ghost of me, maybe the one from better years. She looks at me like I have just arrived home from a very long and dangerous trip, her face open and sweet and relieved. That’s her true nature; that’s why I love Vivian.
“Also, please say anything you want to,” I add. “You’ve never said anything before.”
She takes a sip from her cranberry juice and champagne before replying, “The time I was most worried about you was when you were with that porn guy. I mean, you were green. You were yellow and green." Vivian shakes her head like she still can’t believe it. That was four years ago.
“He wasn’t really a porn guy,” I say, correcting her. “He just had a mustache and poofy hair.”
“Well whatever,” she says. “You looked really sick when you were with him.”
I sit across from Vivian, 43 years of sunshine to my 44 years of wreck, wreck, wreck. She will always be a junior to my senior, a cheerleader to my yearbook photographer. She is not the person I ever wanted to tell about liver panels, or trips to the ER when my gums wouldn’t stop bleeding. In fact, she’s the type of person who always makes me want to live better, so that when I see her at times like these, I have lighthearted stories to share. I hate to disappoint Vivian. I hope I don’t disappoint her again.
The waitress comes to see if we’re ready to order. Vivian needs to keep looking, but I know what I want. “I’ll have the oatmeal breakfast that comes with fruit,” I say.
Vivian’s eyebrows knit together as she scolds me over her open menu: “Kate! You should order something you can’t have at home! That’s the point of going out to a restaurant!” These are Vivian's rules.
But the rules that I follow now include being honest. No more hiding my real feelings. I especially like this part. “I’ll have the oatmeal breakfast,” I say again, and the waitress writes it down. Vivian glares at me. I grin back.
No one has to know how close I was to ordering the five-alarm omelet that Vivian wanted me to get. No one has to know how easy it is to set myself aside like that, and in other important matters.
I count it as the day’s first personal victory.