Moving into a suburban area hundreds of miles from home, by yourself, to do a job with long, odd hours and random off days, pretty much guarantees that any friends you make will be at work. So it was for me when I arrived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 2002.
I met the guy who would become my husband at the local newspaper; he was a 25-year-old news intern from Northeastern PA, and I, at 24, had been hired away (rescued?) from my first journalism job in the middle of Georgia to cover Philly-area sports.
We were polar opposites in terms of our personalities — I famously told one of our mutual friends, “I could never date that guy; he’s late for everything!” — so we definitely didn’t start out as “love interests.” But since we were part of a very small group of young transplants who didn’t have much to do outside the newsroom, we naturally ended up in the same loosely-connected social circle.
We started hanging out, just the two of us, for one reason: I had an extra ticket to a Cubs-Phillies game at Veterans Stadium, and someone told me that he, too, liked my team.
That casual non-date — Jim Thome won it for the hosts with a homer, BTW — really did set the stage for the closest friendship of my entire life. By the time we officially started dating, late in the summer of 2004, it was clear that anything and everything I liked to do — from hiking, running, hitting the gym and playing softball, to camping in the woods, sitting on the beach and hanging at the bar, to attending Cubs games and Death Cab for Cutie concerts — I could do it with him and have a great time (I just wouldn’t be early for any of it. 🤣)
That was the clincher: We shared the same favorite activities. It helped that I got along with his friends from home/college, and he understood my need to spend time alone, and, like a lot of 20-somethings, we both considered a beer bottle to be an essential accessory in every social situation…
Looking back, booze was a third wheel from the beginning. It was front and center in all those activities. It wouldn’t become evident until more than a decade later, the toll my over-the-top alcohol abuse had taken on the both of us.
We’ve undoubtedly shared the best and worst of times, but thank the universe, we made it this far! Last week, 14 days after I cleared the three-years-sober milestone, we marked our 15th wedding anniversary. And although Hubby and I were both still testing positive for COVID on our actual “big day,” the virus cleared our systems just in time to celebrate with a tried-and-true tradition:
The Cubs actually did a non-traditional thing this time, though. They won, beating the Phils 4-3 in Sunday’s sweltering series finale at Citizens Bank Park. Given our track record over the many years we’ve been attending matchups between my old and new hometown teams — the last one at CBP (2019) ended in a Bryce Harper walk-off grand slam, and the last one at Wrigley (last summer) was a gawd-awful blowout — that was a nice surprise.
Also surprising: How flipping nervous I got near the end of the game when the Phillies started creeping back from an early 4-0 deficit. I really thought I’d stopped caring about sports in that way, since I got sober and set forth on a new career path, and my priorities in general — not to mention the world at large — underwent a seismic shift from back in my journalism/drinking days. I definitely didn’t think I gave a crap about this particular Cubs team.
Guess you never really lose that sense of connection to the name on the front of the jersey. Guess it really is baked into your bones, that intense emotional investment in your childhood team.
Guess you don’t have to be drunk to resort to beating your spouse in the shoulder with a rolled-up scorecard because you don’t know what else to do with your hands during those super-charged moments of tension in the ninth inning, when your team is clinging to a one-run lead and the rival has RISP. 😱
Maybe it’s just that sports are inherently suspenseful and exciting, and you’d hardly be human if you didn’t get keyed up at pivotal moments. Even though I hadn’t watched baseball in over a year, being at a Cubs game with my hubby — and getting hella anxious over the outcome — felt like home.
Being sober at a sporting event? Proud to say, it’s become old hat…for both of us. How wonderful to sit through a three-hour nail-biter, surrounded by beer-swilling spectators, with Miller Lite vendors shouting their siren song left and right, and never blink, or squirm, or “jones” for anything but a free refill of my Coke Zero — or a clutch K to kill a rally. How gratifying to leave the stadium on steady legs, with only the heat (and pesky COVID congestion) to blame for my headache, and for pleasant banter, rather than icy silence, to fill our car as we idle in post-game traffic.
We’re getting back in the car tomorrow — as early as possible — to trek up to Maine for a weeklong anniversary vacation. On the agenda: Hiking through Acadia National Park, scoping out the Portland beaches, maybe even tossing the old scuffed-up softball around the yard at our rustic AirBNB rental…basically, all the activity our middle-aged, post-COVID lung capacity will allow. 🥾🗻🌲🌊🥎
As much as I’d like to believe — no, that I actually know — we’ve grown as people over our 20 years as best friends, we are still the same basic human beings. So I’m sure, as per tradition, there will be some kind of minor argument in the morning when one of us is slow to rise and throws our departure time off schedule. 😉
1 thought on “Friendship”
Happy Anniversary to you and your husband, Jen. Many, many more!
Sober baseball is the BEST baseball!
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