Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making Friends

My very first social encounter in DC was fraught with anxiety and turmoil.

Picture this: Saturday morning I was on vacation with my family, in South Dakota at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead (dream come true). After bidding a fond farewell to two adorable little girls who had become my new best friends (they were homeschooled, and they were wearing 1800s outfits! Soulmates!), my family and I began the long (10-12 hour) trek back to Chicago. Somewhere in northern Wisconsin, however, the 12-passenger family van began smoking and smelling like fire, and we ended up on the side of the road with a malfunctioning veehickle and a warning from a police officer (who didn't care what was going on with our car, we weren't allowed to stand multiple small children and a puppy along the side of a highway) (I mean it's not like we weren't being super careful). The family immediately went into frantic research mode trying to find a way to get me back to Chicago to catch my flight to DC at 9 am Sunday morning. All possible Smartphone information led us to the following options:

1. Get little sister Cathy (who was still in Chicago working at Metro) to shanghai a car and drive up to Wisconsin to get me. Originally this was the plan, so we called Cathy, who borrowed a car from a fellow staff member and went home to await further instructions.

2. Take a train - oh wait, insanely expensive at such last minute notice. Nope.

3. Take a bus - none going directly to Chicago, plus insanely expensive. Nope.

4. Take a taxi. Insanely expensive, right? We ruled it out until this one taxi driver befriended us and offered to drive us home for cheap. So that's how me, my mom, and three of my sisters ended up hearing the entire life story of the world's most well-rounded taxi driver over a 4-hour journey. This guy was a hoot. He's done everything - including motorcycling across America and joining the Moonies for a while in his youth - and reads the classics in his spare time. He proposed that taxi drivers are the profession most beset by temptation from the seven deadly sins, which prompted Mum to give him a rosary, for which he seemed grateful. All in all it was a surreal experience.

Anyway, so I finally got home after midnight, when I was supposed to be back by 8 pm, and stayed up all night packing my suitcases for DC. Mum told me over and over again to go to sleep, but when I tried to sleep I just lay there in a worry.

What if I don't make any friends? What if I'm awful at my job? What if I do something colossally stupid and they fire me? What if I don't get to write? What if I seem impossibly juvenile and provincial compared to these sophisticated DC types? You know, all the usual stuff that besets a person moving to a city where she has exactly one friend (my darling Ruth) and starting a job she's never done and a life she's never known. My nerves were not at their best.

After my night of no sleep and much packing, Mum and I dashed out to drive to the airport (running late as usual - my fault, not Mum's), only to discover that our ancient VW bug refused to start, while the other car was still in Wisconsin with my dad and two siblings waiting for repairs. What a nightmare. Fortunately the Metro staff member's car that Cathy had borrowed was still in our driveway, so we used that instead, a clear example of providence if I ever saw one. The rest of the morning passed in a blur - airport, plane, airport, taxi, hurried hello to my new roommates, glimpse of my new house, then train again - until I caught my breath at the St. Josemaria Mass in the National Shrine. It felt funny to be at a St. Josemaria Feast Day Mass where I didn't know pretty much every family I saw, but Ruth kindly introduced me to some of her friends (including Rob and John's cousin Maria!), and my high school acquaintance Joe and Beth from Notre Dame said hello too.

After the Mass, Ruth and her friends were going to Colonel Brooks' Tavern for food and drinks, and despite my wilting exhaustion I tagged along. I had to make friends, right? But when I got there, I  panicked. Coming from the prairie homestead and family vacation the day before, I felt like I was experiencing complete culture shock. The girls were all polished and posh in fitted sheath dresses and perfectly done hair; the guys were dashing in suits and ties; I was hungry, tired, melting from the heat and pretty much scared stiff of everybody. They all looked so... grown up. I muttered to Beth, "I'm still in college. Where are the Solo cups and kegs?" and was only half joking. After a few minutes of awkward conversation with Leo, another high school acquaintance, I told Ruth I was heading out.

"Ok but you have to meet my friend Luis!" she said.

A tall, dark, handsome stranger stood up next to her and took my hand.

"Nice to meet you, Luis," I stuttered, and he said, "Theresa, don't you remember me?"

"No..." I began in confusion, then suddenly memories came rushing back. Our parents are old friends and we used to play together as kids, but they moved to Spain for a while and I hadn't seen him since I was about 12. It was a huge relief to meet someone familiar, and since that day, Luis and I have become friends. He is an awesome addition to my social circle; among other things, he has a rooftop pool.

As I left that event, though, I felt shell-shocked. How poised and mature everyone looked! I would never be able to fit in with them, I thought to myself, with my usual dramatic reactions. I didn't dare attend another of their parties for two weeks. Instead, I went to a barbecue for college interns at the home of Megan, who I met some years ago but don't know well. The barbecue gave me confidence, because I quickly made friends with several of the girls there, including the beautiful Kateri, who is the oldest of 9 and very classy and fun. Finally, last Saturday, I agreed to brave another social event with Ruth's older friends, but only because my little sister Maria was by my side, and because it was a (rooftop) pool party on one of June's hottest days. At the pool party, I met a lovely girl named Mary, who, it turns out, is the niece of my family's beloved Father John - one of my dad's old college friends and a brilliant theologian, now living in Rome. I still remember attending his first Mass in the United States as a little girl. Mary was sweet and kind, and I was glad to add another friend to the small but growing list.

Last night I went to a discussion on the New Urbanism at the wonderful Catholic Information Center (where I'm going to start volunteering on Saturdays!). At first, the event reminded me of my first day in DC - sophisticated adults, sipping wine, very intimidating, with no one I knew there. Then I spotted Kateri, who had brought some friends, and I quickly bonded with them over our shared love for travel. Leo came over to say hi, and Luis gave me a big hug. Ruth accompanied me to get a glass of red, and as we sat down for the lecture, Mary waved from across the room and dashed over to whisper, "My Uncle John is in town and he says hi!" As I settled down for the talk, seeing my new friends peppered all around the room, I knew for sure and with very great happiness that I had arrived.


  1. Theresa, your blog is AWESOME and adorable and I love both of your posts so far! I am laughing at your silliness from the depths of my (well-decorated) cubicle.

    Maybe I should re-start mine? Hm...

  2. Lillian, you should!

    I want to make-believe I still know things about the Civantos' lives. ;)

    Much Love,
    Vanes (pronounced Vans according to Tess) haha

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