Exactly four months ago, I bolted to the back of an airplane to avoid a fellow passenger, whom I’d met three days earlier on a flight to Tucson. We’d had a long-winded, four hour conversation about our lives, speaking over the lackadaisical old man sitting between us. We talked around the sprawled out grandpa, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t really conversed with anyone in seven months. The winter, post-grad move, and full-time job exhaustion had pushed me to give up indulgence, socializing, and enjoyment. This particular guy was friendly, so I agreed to give him my contact information once we deplaned. But truthfully I had no interest in meeting up with this individual again. I’d simply wanted a wingman, as my dad would say.
This guy was a nomad. He traveled from D.C. to Utah every Thursday so he could stay at an unidentified person’s Salt Lake City house on the weekends (who the fuck flies across the country every weekend for no reason???). He denied me an explanation and wouldn’t discuss his career. When I pieced the details together, I concluded he was either married or a young dad. I got the impression that he often picked up on women at the airport, which is about as romantic as a porta potty. Airport dating makes bar hook-ups seem like Eiffel Tower proposals.
Anyway, I had second thoughts about this fellow soon after waving him goodbye on that first flight. Unfortunately, he was on my connecting flight a few days later and noticed me board the Boeing 737. Our eyes met for a moment but I immediately looked away, sprinted to the back of the plane, and, I kid you not, hid beneath my seat until the flight deck was cleared for take-off. It didn’t take long for him to ask via text message if he’d indeed seen me step onto the aircraft. Instead of responding, I did some soul searching. Why was I blowing him off? Why had I been so interested in talking the other day yet so repulsed by him now?
As I frantically text messaged my friends about the awkward coincidence, I started to process the extent of my loneliness. I hadn’t wanted to get to know this poor guy, I’d just needed a D.C. companion to keep me company. I’d been living in the nation’s capital for eight months already yet had no close friends. I’m aware that strong relationships take time to develop and cannot be forced, but I was beyond the point of looking for short-cuts. I had many friends in the district yet no constant.
For much of my adult life, I’ve heard people complain about women who can never be without boyfriends. Well, I’m the kind of girl who always has a best friend. Wherever I go, I find a close friend right away. I was like this as a toddler, when I met my very first best friend Lillie Atkinson.
Lillie, whom I’d known since birth, went to a different school, so I turned to classmates for additional friendship. In Los Angeles, I became close with Alyson Herme and Monique Bartachek, both of whom I still talk to. When I relocated to the bay area in 1997, I latched onto Crystal, Lauren, and Nikita, but if you’ve read any of my recent blog posts, you know more than necessary about these ladies. In college, I had many close friends: Dyanna, Tracey, Carolyn, Jessica, Kendra, Anna, Luke, Jazmine, Adam, Matt, Erik, Nasira, Angela, and Lola. I haven’t had a boyfriend in years, as I can’t seem to love anything good for me, but I’ve never been without a best friend.
This didn’t happen for me in D.C. until early April, when Kate Robards pulled me out of my winter den, got me out of the house, and encouraged me to ditch my baggy shirts and business pants in favor of figure fitting clothing. Kate was my first best friend in D.C., but it wasn’t until May that I was truly ready to open up to this place. Timing is everything, I tell ya.
Enter Nikki Grey, a new Daily Caller intern from Nevada. Born in California, Nikki had the west coast candor with which I was raised. Every time I come in contact with a stuffy easterner, I ask myself why I’m even here. Nikki was quite a break from the miserable east coast culture. She proved to be fun as well.
One afternoon at the office, I mentioned that some of my childhood bullying experiences would be featured in a non-fiction book about school harassment, bullies, and cliques. The interns wanted to know more about what had happened to me, but Nikki could see the conversation was beginning to cause me immense discomfort.
“I’m sorry we’re embarrassing you,” she said. “I used to be in foster care. Let’s get coffee sometime.”
The following week, we went to The Mad Hatter for drinks and connected over adversity. Though we’d led different lives, Nikki and I had many similarities. We’d both beaten up boys in high school (to be fair, I’d only thrown a guy into a pole and he hadn’t fought back, so it wasn’t much of a duel. Nikki’s male arch enemy tossed her onto the bleachers without reason). We both lost a parent to cancer as teens. We both strive for the acceptance of older siblings. We’re both soft and easily disappointed, but she’s better at veiling her sensitivity than I am.
I can be socially awkward at times, especially around new people, but I never once felt uneasy around Nikki. From the moment we shook hands, I could tell she was nonjudgmental. A week after our first meet-up, we went bar hopping with a Daily Caller colleague and Human Events employee.
We also attended The Daily Caller’s Google event, which helped me recognize some of my less-than-ideal tendencies.
Towards the end of the evening, a friend caught me smoking, yanked the cigarette from my mouth, and chucked it to the ground.
“What are you doing? That’s so bad for you,” she said.
I knew she was right, but at the time, I wasn’t concerned about health. I was already inebriated to the point of nausea, bloated from two pieces of pepperoni pizza, and looking to eat another round of carbs at home.
Upon observing the spectacle, Nikki gave me what would be the first of many pep talks.
“Laura, you cannot let people take things from you. If you want something, don’t let someone else snatch it away,” she said.
I keep Nikki in mind every time family members or friends try to rain on my parade. Luckily, this hasn’t happened since Nikki has been around.
Nikki was also readily available on the most insane day of my young career, when Anderson Cooper placed me on his Hall of Shame, if you will. Earlier that day, he’d slammed my article on Twitter, causing me to burst into tears in the middle of the newsroom. As soon as my forehead hit my laptop keys, Nikki jumped up from her chair and said it was time for me to leave the office.
“Okay Laura, let’s get some Starbucks!” she said.
Shaking my head on the mouse pad, I told Nikki that I wasn’t ready to go anywhere. When I wouldn’t budge, she whispered into my ear, “Come on, sweetie. You’re not going to do this here.”
With that, she and Katie followed me out the door and over to the elevator, where I hyperventilated and whimpered some more.
“Laura, this isn’t the end of the world. You got the attention of a major public figure. You should be proud,” Nikki said. “And by the way, your eyes are breathtakingly gorgeous after you’ve been crying. They’re literally glittering right now, so you should fire seductive looks at guys every time you’re in a weepy mood.”
Life normalized after that, and Nikki and I started going out every weekend. We spent the Fourth of July together on the National Mall, accompanied each other on many happy hours, and attended several parties as a pair.
On my birthday, she bought me a cake from my favorite D.C. bakery:
During Nikki’s last weekend in D.C., we went to her intern program’s barbecue rooftop party, where we took pictures, waded in the pool, and had cheeseburgers.
When we weren’t running around the town, we’d sit down for ice cream sundaes at Serendipity 3.
I’m of the belief that all good things have an expiration date. At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think twice about the fact that Nikki would only be interning in D.C. for a three-month time period. May flew by and June was even quicker, so when late July creeped up on us, it dawned on me that I was unprepared for Nikki to head to southern California.
For the past two weeks, I would break down anytime this came up, even at the intern going away party.
I’d choked up so many times about her departure that I was dry eyed when we said our final farewell on Monday afternoon. It hasn’t fully hit me yet, but I know I’ll feel the loneliness this weekend when I have no one to laugh and over-analyze with.
On Sunday night, I headed to the Vienna area to get a drink with Nikki. None of the bars were open, so we retreated to Silver Diner for Coronas and a hot fudge sundae.
Late Monday morning, Nikki paid her last visit to The Daily Caller office, where she rounded up the troops for her “Last Supper,” or what have you. In other words, some of the employees, Nikki, and I had snacks at Caribou Coffee across the street.
I’ve been a bit torn up ever since she took off for lovely soCal, but we call and text each other every day. We’re also meeting up in Vegas sometime in October, so that’ll surely be an action-packed vacation.
It’s been an eventful summer for the both of us. Nikki broke up with her long-term boyfriend, faced a post-graduate employment crisis, lost the structure and security of college, and constantly worried about the fact that she was without a plan. Aside from the boyfriend part, Nikki went through everything I did last summer, when I roamed the south of France with no job prospects or offers. My life is considerably better and more certain now, but I had issues of my own this season. I experienced a bit of a let-down, to which many of my acquaintances couldn’t relate. Nikki pulled me through the petty, short-lived disappointment and urged me to go out with friends as often as possible. That certainly helped.
Now that Nikki is gone, I’ve reverted back to my winter mentality, which tells me that I was silly to move to sanitized, political D.C. over free-spirited, creative, cultured New York City. When Nikki was around, I forgot all about my regret about deciding against N.Y.C. Most people don’t know I actually wanted to reside there after college. My father lived in the Big Apple for much of his youth and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps, but because I had zero connections or friends in the concrete jungle, I selected D.C. as my new home. Nikki took my mind off my buyer’s remorse, which looms every night before bed.
Nikki and I will be fine in our respective states. She’ll find herself in California, I’ll continue loving my job more than everything else in my life, and we’ll settle into fall with new memories and stories.
Earlier today, I strolled over to the office elevator on my way to lunch. I giggled as I hit the “down” button because Nikki and I had an unreal ability to have the most awkward, uncomfortable encounters outside that very elevator all summer. Looking back on all the elevator moments, walks around the block, nights on the town, and caffeine runs, I wonder if this summer really happened. It was almost too fun to be real, especially when I compare it to my depressing, Hellish winter. As much as I despised the chilly season, it was worth enduring for the perfect summer ahead.
Thanks for shoveling me out of my muddy pit, Nikki.