“I like your jacket,” I told her from across the cash register. She proceeded to show me how she had covered the Abercrombie identity of the gifted jacket with a pin, and I began to like her even more. She asked for an application, and I asked about her.
Her drifting had taken her from her roots in Chicago, to two eco-centric semesters traveling through Alaska, studying and scavenging organics in Seattle and then coconut collecting from the yards of rich people in Hawaii who just couldn’t be bothered to deal with the fruit rotting on their lawns. Arriving in wintry Pittsburgh was less than the coconut-collecting ideal, but she came for the sake of her grandfather, a former university professor and recent widower.
She had only family in Pittsburgh, and my closest female friends had recently dispersed with college degrees I hand. I offered myself as a welcome wagon of one, and we quickly became kindred spirits. We shared an enthusiasm for dancing, kombucha, late night walks on cold bridges, chocolate in the raw, organic salad slinging and wine-laced, late-night conversations.
Caroline and I talked about all the places we had been. She didn’t ask me which place had been my favorite. Instead, we spoke of the rarities of each journey, but it was clear that we each had a twinkle in our eyes for the respective places that had clicked somewhere deep inside us.
At the time, my talk was of tango, of large city parks filled with artisans, of dulce de leche in between two golden cookies, of dancing until sunrise, then bussing home with the business men starting their days, of epic walks and best friends dear. At that point in my life, I couldn’t stop thinking of my time in Argentina.
For Caroline it was showering in waterfalls, bartering for yoga classes, arranging edible flowers, eating the raw fruits of the land and hanging with hippies in a community that was literally and figuratively far from the mainland. For Caroline, she longed for Hawaii.
Caroline had Hawaii in her head and heart, but Pittsburgh was her snow-covered reality. She tried her best to make the best of the situation, but neither she nor her family were ready for what had been forced to be a good idea. Her grandfather didn’t understand her propensity for vegetables. Her parents didn’t understand her need to drift. Caroline didn’t understand her grandfather giving up on life. The steel city bridges led her nowhere, and Caroline began to feel rather stranded. It was time for a change, and although her flight was to Chicago, I had a feeling the real change was waiting on an island, far, far away.
Caroline left me a red box with a blue bird, a spotted dog, a Monster of Accordion pin, a bamboo spork, versatile tube socks and a commitment to remaining kindred. I left Caroline with an edible island, a map to that twinkle in her eye and maybe even a potential map to reuniting on sandier seismic soils. It was a cake, not to mark the shift in our plans, but the potential to realign and to find new connections in the separation.