I knew I'd miss them even before we left Virginia, but we left just the same.
We've gained new friends here in Florida and they are the best kind of new friends. They are intelligent, funny, responsible people with beautiful kids. They understand how hard marriage is. They only like their jobs some of the time, but they soldier on anyway, because that's what you do when you have a family. They have magnificent parties, actual shindigs that last into the early hours of the morning, shindigs with all the elements of a good story - narrative, rising action, spicy dialog and denouement. And like those parties, life is bigger here in Florida.
Last weekend, for instance, we joined our friends in their front yard to watch the space shuttle Endeavor launch into space. We hadn't actually planned to watch the launch. It was more like an afterthought, a nice bonus that you get for living in Florida. Cape Canaveral is maybe 150 miles away, but we watched the countdown on our friends' living room television and rushed out to join the neighbors as everyone looked north for the fiery trail of the rocket booster. And about a minute later, we saw it. It didn't look like a rocket, really. It looked like a shooting star. And for the first time in a long time, I thought about the seven people on top of that little orange flickering light. I wondered if they were afraid. Or were they just excited?
I miss my old friends at the weirdest times. I missed them the night the new James Bond movie opened, because I knew that a thousand miles away, my friends would be meeting at the mall to catch the late show. Afterwards, they might play Halo if no one had work in the morning.
I miss my friends when I wear certain clothes. I have a black t-shirt with a red and white picture of a twenty-sided die, the kind of dice you roll in Dungeons and Dragons to determine a character's probability to hit another character. To the right of the picture of the die are the words "I roll twenties."
I wore it to a party the other night.
I like to wear the shirt to parties because it's like a secret nerd signal. Usually, one or two guys will quietly acknowledge the shirt by smiling or saying "I used to play that game when I was kid." Occasionally, I'll hear a semi-drunken cry of "Critical Hit!" and I know that some of my kind are at the party, hiding like nerdy Wildebeests in a pride of lions.
A few people asked about the shirt the other night, but no one knew what the picture and legend meant.
I kinda expected that, but I was hoping just the same.
I'll tell you what else I thought about on the night of the shuttle launch. I thought about the seven people strapped into their seats and hurtling as fast as they could toward their futures. In the midst of all the violent shaking and huge explosions, did they think about the people behind them?
I think they did.