One evening last week, I finally met Eric.
My dear friend Sharon, who showed up on this website before Danny did, has been dating a man for nearly two years without me meeting him. This is not acceptable. It happens — life works this way. But still. Nearly 2 years.
To be fair, they met in a teaching program in Ashland, Oregon, a town too far away for a day’s drive, particularly with a little kid. Sharon and I have been friends for nearly 30 years (30 YEARS!), but sometimes distance keeps us apart from each other for awhile. And when the possibility of meeting Eric was almost ready to happen, he made the decision to move to China.
China. Eric has been teaching English in China for the past year. Sharon pined for him. He missed her terribly. They talked via Skype all the time. Sharon visited him for three weeks in the middle of winter. She and I talked about it all the time. They made it through the year intact, the two of them.
He’s back, for just a bit. One of the first things they did together? They drove up to see us.
They drove up on a sunny afternoon, just as Lu was flinging herself on the slip and slide again. Water splashing, sunlight, giggles — this is a pretty good way to walk into our world. And there was Sharon. It’s amazing how quickly (hint: 2.3 seconds) Sharon and I are all the ages we have ever been with each other, laughing. Eric walked up for a hug. He was welcomed.
There was easy laughter in the midst of the understanding of how momentous and strange this was. We watched Lu play as we talked of this and that. Lu was slow to warm to Eric. She has adored Sharon from the moment they met — just like her mama — and she’s used to having Sharon focus solely on her during those visits. Who was this guy with his arm around Sharon? Why was she staring at him instead of Lu?
But I knew she approved of him when she ran up and down the stairs in a different dress-up outfit each time, then landed on the deck with a big ta-da! She looked for his approval every time.
One down. Two to go.
We sat down to dinner in the warm evening air outside. When I talked to Sharon about what we should eat, she said that Eric had been missing fresh food after a year in China. (We decided to not make a stir-fry for him.) Anything local, in season, lots of fruits and vegetables.
So Danny came down the stairs of the deck, bearing plates filled with potato-sea-bean-porcini hash, large shrimp, and seared salmon that had been caught a few days before. We all gathered around the table, looked at our plates, and dug in. There was silence for a time — always a good sign of an appreciated meal — and then Eric said, “Oh my god, thank you. This meal is unreal.”
Danny approved of him.
I took the longest to acknowledge what I knew within the first few moments of meeting him. Eric’s a thoughtful, funny, sensitive man. He dotes on Sharon and teases her in all the right ways. He and I had a really interesting conversation about his observations of China, how fast the culture moves on brute manpower, and everything he had noticed. In a different circumstance, I would have said immediately, “Oh, this guy’s a good egg.” I mean, I knew he was. But was he good enough for Sharon?
It was long after Lu was in bed that it happened. Sharon brought out a present I had made her years ago, a framed art piece called What Will Always Be Sharon to Me. I thought of every phrase, song, silly reference, Saturday Night Live character, and shared experience between us and made a list. Along the sides, I illustrated it with photos of the two of us from the time we were in high school until we were almost into our 40s. (I’m so glad this present exists but it proved once again that I really stink at crafts.) We sat down together on the couch to look at it, Danny and Eric sitting across from us.
There’s this thing that happens between me and Sharon. It doesn’t happen with anyone else in my life. We include other people in our conversations, naturally. But when we get going, reminiscing, we splutter into laughter and a shared language that no one else could possibly understand. All it takes is “Do you remember…” “yes! yes!” “and that thing?” “And that guy?” And we’re off. We’re howling, tears rolling down our faces, leaning into each other, shoulders touching, unable to complete a sentence. We scream a little. We shake. We laugh so hard that our voices become squeaks, then silence. We don’t intend to do it. We don’t mean to make anyone else feel left out. We enter into this physical space where everything else stops. And it’s just the two of us, 17 and 15, 26 and 24, 32 and 30, 38 and 36, right now, all of those ages, and every age we will ever be friends together. Forever.
I saw Danny lean over to Eric and say, “I’ve seen this many times before. You’ll get used to it.” And Eric smiled, happy to see us loving our time together.
A few times, this happened with the wrong guy there. I dated a man who sat at a restaurant table while this happened and huffed that he couldn’t understand us. Sharon dated a guy who seemed ready to storm out that he wasn’t the center of attention. Most of the men we have dated just didn’t get it. Only one man before this sat there and laughed, not needing to understand, not asking what we were talking about, but smiling at the connection between us. That was Danny.
And that evening, it was Eric.
That was it. I approve.
The brief visit was a sweet hello. It was also a tremulous goodbye. Or, as Danny insists we say, See you later.
You see, in a few weeks, Sharon is getting onto a plane with Eric. She’s going to China with him, to teach English alongside him, for a year. An entire year. In China.
I’m going to learn how to use Skype. Facebook updates seem more important now. I’m going to teach her how to use her camera and send me photos. We’ll get through this year.
That shared meal and laughter may be the last time I see Sharon until next August.
Eric, we adore you here. But you better take care of my girl.
SUMMER VEGETABLE HASH
Danny introduced me to hash. Wait, that sounds funny, doesn’t it? I don’t mean that hash. I mean the lovely assemblage of fresh vegetables, diced potatoes, and whatever is left in the refrigerator to make up what you see above. Usually, hash is a great way to use up leftovers — a handful of roasted potatoes, the last of the vegetables left from the farmers’ market, a few tosses of sliced ham or sausages. We have something like this for breakfast a few times a week, with scrambled eggs for Lu and oozy poached eggs for me and Danny. That’s always a big sigh of a breakfast for us.
But when you start fresh, with vegetables consciously chosen to go together? Something magic happens.
Please understand: this is merely a record of the hash Danny made for dinner last week. You can use this recipe as a template and make a summer vegetable hash out of whatever you you have on hand. (If you have access to porcinis, however, I highly recommend that addition.)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 white onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
10 baby red potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
5 baby yellow carrots, tops removed and sliced diagonally
1/4 cup sliced porcini mushrooms (you can use any kind of mushrooms you can find)
1 cup sea beans (you can use green beans instead)
1 cup sugar snap peas, topped and tailed, then cut in half
1 tablespoon fine-chopped fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Boiling the potatoes. Put the diced potatoes in a big pot of salted cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until a sharp knife pierces through a potato easily, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes of their water and set aside.
Sauteeing the vegetables. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently to avoid burning the garlic, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the fresh rosemary and cook until the scent of the rosemary hits your nose, about 1 minute.
Add the carrots and porcinis to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots and vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the snap peas and sea beans. Cook for 1 minute and no more. Move the vegetables to a plate to cool.
Frying the potatoes. Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet. When it is hot, add the drained potatoes. Fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.
Finishing the hash. Add the cooked vegetables to the potatoes. Toss around the skillet until the flavors have mingled, about 2 minutes. Add the parsley and toss.