Last week, I worked late in the store nearly every night. Thomasville is a tiny town, and I never feel unsafe. The nights are getting longer and the days shorter, but that doesn't change the fact that people are out walking the streets of downtown, enjoying the slight breeze and closing up shop a little later.
So I worked late, and each night, the hours of the previous day took their toll on the next. I was tired, and on Friday, some receipt errors had me leaving even later than intended. I was in a hurry, and when I'm rushed, I make mistakes, and I locked the store's doors at 8:30. My car was the last in the parking lot, but I've never felt intimidated or frightened before, so I wasn't worried.
Until I heard men's voices, and I couldn't find where they were coming from.
I have an imagination, it's true, but I'm generally not a panicky person. I took a deep breath, unlocked my car door, and got in and locked up, when I realized the lights upstairs in the store had been left on. It felt silly, but I didn't want to leave them on overnight, so I started to get out of my car.
The voices were louder this time, and I chickened out. I got in my car, and I pulled out for home, looking in my rearview mirror for any hint of where those voices might have been coming from. Sure enough, I saw a couple of teenage guys seated in the balcony of a nearby business. I rolled my eyes, but was glad I'd left when I did.
Unfortunately, in my rush to get out the door, I'd left groceries in the store's refrigerator -- groceries I'd specifically bought so I wouldn't have to stop on my way home. I whipped the car around and called my mom. I parked in front of the store instead of the back -- in order to avoid aforementioned teenagers -- and unlocked the door.
I swear I heard something upstairs. Voices, and not kind ones. I panicked, left my groceries in the fridge, and got inside my car, nearly in tears. I was genuinely scared, even more so now that maybe I'd locked someone in the shop. (There are book-loving criminals, right?)
But that wasn't what was most upsetting about that night. After all, as you surely know by now, everything turned out fine. I went next door to the local coffee shop, and a nice young barista (baristo? what do you call a male barista?) kindly checked the upstairs. He didn't treat me like I was an idiot -- which he could have -- but instead agreed I'd probably heard the same teenage boys I'd heard before. Just this time, I thought they'd been inside.
What was upsetting was leaving the shop genuinely scared and not knowing who to call. I called Jordan, of course, and I called my mom, but the fact remained: I was 45 minutes away from my people.
All summer long, I fought this feeling that we'd lost our community. Our closest friends moved away, and with the store as a distraction, the transition was hard, but didn't seem impossible. There was so much going on, it was easy to see we didn't have our support system, but it was also easy to see we didn't have time to forge a new one.
Then Saturday night, standing alone outside my car, watching people come and go downtown, I realized I didn't have anyone. My entire support system was 45 minutes -- or farther -- away. Thomasville may be where I spend much of my time these days, but it's not time spent building relationships. It's spent building a business.
(And for those of you who'd argue business-building is relationship-building, I'd tend to agree. But I think we all know there's a difference in who you can chat with casually in a committee meeting or out on the street and who you can call when you're scared for your life and hearing things in a dark room. Those people are simply not one and the same.)
This weekend, it hit me just how badly we need community. And the truth is, I'm not sure how to make that happen right now. The beauty of our friendships was they were already there. They didn't need to be built or created or formed. Those friends, I'm confident, would have been present all summer long, as I struggled through store ownership and serious time management issues. They would have understood, and we would have made it work, despite the challenges. Those friendships were already forged, and maintenance -- while difficult -- is easier, I think, than starting over brand new.
I don't have time to make new friends. (I hate typing it, but I believe it's true.) I wouldn't be the kind of friend anybody deserves, and I'm afraid I'd be hurtful and unintentionally cruel. True friendships require time, and I don't have time to give.
Add to that the fact that we're technically in between two cities right now, and it's hard to figure out what kind of community we need to be pursuing any way. One in Thomasville, or one in Tallahassee.
I don't know, but I do know I felt crippled Saturday night, unable to call any of the people I would have called six months ago in case of emergency. And it's not the first time I've felt this way.
Sometimes there will be a movie I want to see or a thing I want to do, and I'll realize: I have no one to do this with.
And yes, there is Jordan. And my family. And Willie, that guy from the coffee shop who didn't laugh when I said I needed him to come check my store for potential criminals.
But lately, it doesn't feel like enough, and I'm not sure what that means.
So much has been said about adult friendships, how to make them and keep them and what to do and when.
But I'm not finding much of it helpful with where I am right now, and I wonder if my friends just happen to be long distance. If this is how it will be for a while, and I'll just have to come to terms with the fact that the guy at the coffee shop may be my emergency contact.
Maybe not all of my people are here anymore, and that's okay.
Long distance friendships have their own challenges, of course. In two weeks, I'm supposed to fly to Kansas City to be with some of the people I love the most. But I waited to get my plane ticket, and now I'm looking at $400 airfare and wondering: Is this what it takes? Is this what long distance adult friendships require? Can I maintain these too?
I don't know. I don't have any answers, but it feels good to clear the air. It feels good to confess we're wandering a bit right now. I figure confession is often the start of greatness anyway.
We'll just have to see.