I am back in Cville after a perfect 48 hours in Nashville. It was my second time visiting the city. The trip was incredibly fulfilling. Maybe it was the newfound self awareness after realizing on the way over that I used to be – but no longer am – an airport asshole. Likely it was fueled by the inspiring job interviews. Surely the kindness of every single Nashvillian I met had something to do with it.
But something even more simple set up this trip: I brought along the perfect book.
Some time prior to the trip, I went to the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, Cville’s public book palace. Sticking to my usual tactics, I perused the featured books immediately to the right of the door and picked a few based on titles and covers. One of the books I picked up was Ann Patchett‘s Truth and Beauty. I only had to learn that it was about a close-knit friendship between Patchett (whom I was completely unfamiliar with) and a girlfriend to be sold. It made me think of my friend C and our full-on, full of love friendship. I had just spent time with C over Thanksgiving and was missing her sorely, as often happens when you don’t see a close friend for some time and then squeeze in as much as you can when you do because the sweetness of the reunion is inevitably mixed with the sadness of the impending separation. So when it came time to pack a book to read en route to Nashville, I went straight for Truth and Beauty.
I started reading the book on the plane. I was hooked after the first chapter. At some point I took a break and looked at the back jacket. It learned that Ann Patchett lives in Nashville. Of course. I had picked up exactly the book I needed for my trip. On Thursday, I picked up the complimentary hotel copy of USA Today and found an article about Patchett’s thriving book shop in Nashville. I was reminded of Enzo’s mantra in Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in The Rain: “that which you manifest is before you.” I had manifested Patchett, and a story about a great friendship.
I read the book over the course of the trip and finished it upon arriving back in Cville. It is a gritty book in which Pachett chronicles the many dimensions of her friendship with fellow writer and poet Lucy Grealy. It is light at times but mostly heavy, and with a constant sense that something devastating is imminent. I enjoyed every page. But even more that the story, I enjoyed how much it made me reflect on my friendship with C. How young (in calendar years) our friendship is, and yet how unconditional, always honest and uplifting it has been from the start. We talk about boys, text each other pictures of inspirational quotes found on Tumblr or Pinterest, we dream up big adventures, we call each other out on our fuck-ups, we worry about romantic love, we honor each other’s crazy. We also have this I-love-you-no-matter-what-and-I’ll-come-get-you-if-you-are-stuck-in-Siberia connection that I can’t explain but is evoked ever so crisply through Patchett’s words.
I cried on the fifth to last page. Patchett had just learned of Grealy’s death: “I started to cry, because I had just begun the second half of my life, the half that would be lied without Lucy.” I thought of losing C. That is, I realized I couldn’t begin to conceive of C not being part of my life.
I went to the bookstore yesterday to pick up Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, her memoir in which she recounts her childhood battle with bone cancer and the permanent disfigurement she incurred as a result of treatments. In Truth and Beauty, Patchett discusses the writing of the book extensively, and I felt compelled to read Grealy’s own words now that I “knew” her so intimately. I can’t wait to read it, but I almost don’t want to start, because starting a book is implicitly acknowledging that it will end, and there is no greater emptiness than being done with a story that gripped you at your core.
I traveled to Nashville for a job interview. I met compassionate physicians and visionary scientists. I enjoyed the sights. I even bought a little souvenir magnet. But in 257 pages, I traveled to the loveliest of destination: I found even more love and gratitude for my dearest C.