The good meetup

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The good meetup

I’m that person who looks around O’Hare wondering who I know because there must be someone; the world isn’t that big, right? If I could page the entire airport, I would.

“Hi folks. My name is Michaela Lawrence Jeffery. At least one of you knows me. Meet me in the F gates.”

Twice. Twice I’ve stumbled upon someone in an airport that I didn’t expect to see. One of those times was lackluster; the other was sweet.

Today, twelve of us sat around a long table that was perhaps a series of two rectangulars. We told the server our desired lunch options and chatted about things and thingys while we waited. As it is in unfamiliar spaces, I thought of what to ask next of the writer to my left or to my right. I answered their questions, too.

We’re participants at a writing retreat. Four days of adding and subtracting words, responding to prompts, and feeling as if our brains may explode in the most delightful way. Today is day three and I finally remember most everyone’s name. It’s funny how after meeting so many people with the name Claire, let’s say, you meet a woman, she says her name is Claire and you think, No, it’s not because she doesn’t look like the Claires you’ve known. That’s how I’ve felt with most everyone here. Or maybe I should just admit that I’m not the best at remembering names.

I sat between Lauren and Melissa who, of course, don’t look like Lauren and Melissa and across from Carla and Lauren. Carla looks like Carla because I’ve met her before. Lauren looks like Lauren because she’s our facilitator and she has a full name that many people know.

My lemonade came with a straw and that good small chunky ice. I sipped between words and everything was perfect until it got better.

I saw Colin. He was walking toward our tables with the biggest grin on that face of his that I haven’t seen in years and more years beyond years. I met Collin when I was 11 and he was probably 12 and what I remember of Colin was that he was kind of everywhere. I don’t know that he was a trouble maker but I think he was a joker and he was active. Now you see him, now you.

Were we in the same homeroom? I don’t think so. Did we spend meaningful time together? Probably not; it was 7th grade.

The moment I saw him walking toward our tables, I probably said a loud, “Oh my word!”

We hugged.

“We know each other from junior high!” I explained to all my retreat friends.

One friend insisted he join us. Another insisted we get a table and catch up.

“You haven’t seen him since junior high?!”

Colin found us a table. We talked and talked. The server graciously brought my order to my new locale. I kept thinking, This is unreal. I knew Colin lived here and I could have reached out months ago when I knew I was coming. But I didn’t because the chances of seeing someone while I’m on a writing retreat, someone who has a job and a family, someone I haven’t talked to in over twenty years seemed as likely as an F gate meetup at O’hare.

This morning, I summoned some courage and sent him a message on Messenger that included the words, “If by chance you eat lunch at Nasher Cafe at 1pm, I’ll see you there.” I didn’t check Messenger anytime after. The morning moved on, full of writing and mini brain explosions. I can’t even remember whether or not I thought about Colin until I saw him.

We talked about how we met our spouses. We talked about our kids and what they’re into. I’ve never met his family but I know his wife is wonderful and his boys are smart and fun and the next time I’m here with my family, I’ll send a message sooner, we’ll all share a meal, our kids will figure out how to play together and it’ll be the best of times.

After Colin left, I returned to my original table. A couple other writers talked about the surprises they’ve experienced when meeting up with old classmates decades later, the realization that these people they didn’t think twice about back then are actually their people.

It’s true.

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