News flash: Ten years ago TODAY was the Friends finale. Sometimes I write the wrong date on checks, or I think that our 2001 vehicle is not that old, and 2004 seems like it’s right behind me in the rearview mirror. And yet as I’ve reminisced in preparation for writing this post, I’ve become acutely aware of how far in the past 21-year-old-me really is.
Do you remember May 6, 2004? Because I do. Allow me to indulge myself:
I had wrapped up my semester of student teaching a few weeks before, and I was anxiously waiting for some slacker in the English department of Bryan High School to turn in his resignation so that I could get an official job offer, which I planned to accept. My roommate Jessica was finishing up her finals that week and was graduating the following weekend. We were slowly packing up the apartment that we had shared for the past three years, and while the exact details escape me, I’m pretty sure that process involved baking several batches of chocolate chip cookies, listening to Jessica’s amazing new Josh Groban CD, and playing some final rounds of the Baby-Name-Game.
Earlier in the afternoon, Jess and I had the great idea to go around town hunting for free boxes to use in our packing. The Office Max near our apartment had tons of flattened cardboard tied up behind the store by the dumpster, so we went inside and asked if it would be okay if we took some of the boxes. The manager said yes, on the condition that if we cut open the plastic ties that held the trash together, we had to take the whole unit. “Score!” we thought, thinking immediately of several friends who could use the extra boxes we might have to take home.
The next moment is one of the top five regrets of my life. We got some clippers, cut open those little zip-tie-thingies, and it was like a cardboard-paper explosion. That little tidy cube had been packed together by some sort of heavy machinery, compacting about a million pounds of paper trash into a unit the size of a hay bale. And now we were responsible for the. whole.thing.
We put the back seat down in my Jeep and loaded it to the gills with boxes, and drove back to our apartment complex, where we sorted out what was usable and what was trash. The good stuff went upstairs into our living room, and the other 80% went into the dumpster in the corner of the parking lot.
Several trips in, Jessica had to go take a final and I worked for a while by myself. I wished desperately for an ally with a large truck, and I toyed with the idea of sending out a distress call to a certain man I knew who had dumped me just a few weeks before. Inexplicably, I held onto a tiny shred of dignity I was able to muster up, and I kept my phone in my pocket as I continued loading the Jeep, scrap by scrap.*
I think this went on for at least six hours, or maybe sixty, until at last we loaded up the final pieces of paper from the Office Max parking lot. For all our efforts, we could point to our apartment dumpster, overflowing with paper by the light of the moon, and a knee-high pile of good flattened boxes in the middle of our apartment.
By the time seven o’clock rolled around, we were more than ready to call in a delivery order for the Usual at Jin’s, pop open a can (or three) of Dr Pepper, and stretch out on the couch in time to catch “The Last One” on TV.
It was okay, as far as finales go. I still think that final scene where Monica has to sledgehammer the foosball table is a little over the top, even for a show that was no stranger to sentimental excess. But in general it tied up everything in the way that was obvious and right, and I remember feeling forlorn as I watched Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey laying their keys on the counter and walking out the door.
For me, the message was clear: EVERYTHING IS ENDING!!! Goodbye college life, goodbye boyfriend, goodbye roommate, goodbye everything familiar, and now even the Friends are leaving me! (You’d never believe it if you only know me now, but I had quite a flair for drama back in my day.)
But what I think I know now is that endings are hardly ever as final as they feel in the moment. Occasionally a neat, clean break is necessary and good (ahem, truck-driving boyfriend)**. But most of the time the best things have a way of sticking around, even as we change and grow. A few years later, I’d discover a great tool called Facebook that would let me stay in touch with Jessica and some other old friends. A couple of times a year Jess and I get together and marvel as we watch our golden-haired daughters (strangely enough, not named Madeline or Alexis) and our sturdy sons play together. We laugh at ourselves in stretched-out mom shirts covered in Chick-fil-A sauce: “If only our college selves could see us now, living the dream!”
I drink coffee from the same light green mugs I used in that cheap apartment. Abby falls asleep listening to the CD player that Jessica gave me when I turned 21. I occasionally decompress by listening to that awesome Josh Groban CD. And when I can’t decide what to watch while I’m folding laundry, I stick in a Friends DVD and that story that begins, “When I was backpacking across western Europe…hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo…” is as funny as ever.
Everything changes. But somehow, so much is the same, even ten years later.
*I’m pretty sure it didn’t even occur to me to call up that guy all the way in Waco who had just sent me a couple of friendly emails. If only I knew I’d marry him barely a year later! And he had a truck!!
**To keep this record truthful, that break was neither neat nor clean, but it SHOULD have been.