Once upon a time, there was a writer who actually had friends.
(It wasn’t me.)
And seeing as this writer had just turned 20, her friends (who lived in various corners of the world) decided to converge on her when she was least expecting it and celebrate with her in person.
Thus, I (and a whole lot of other people) entered the picture.
Yes, folks, last week I traveled down to Ohio to meet up with the Story Embers gang and help them surprise the wits out of our dear friend Kate Flournoy. Kate and her family were the only ones I’d ever met in person, so my relationships with the others was solely confined to forum posts and emails and Facebook messenger. Finally meeting them in person was… well, dizzying, to put it lightly.
Not least because more than one writer in the same place at the same time often leads to the combustion of brain cells and things happen that can never be forgotten.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
[FULL DISCLAIMER: Almost none of the pictures contained in this post are mine. Gabby, Hope, Brianna — thank you for letting me shamelessly pirate your photos.]
My mother, my sister, and I started off on our journey one bright, Sunday morning. Kate’s family was taking her canoeing that afternoon, and the tentative plan Hope Schmidt (who organized the spectacle) gave us was to surprise her at the canoe rental place.
Of course, only after we’d embarked on the long drive to Ohio did my mom think to ask if I knew how to canoe.
I was like, “Pfffffft, sure I do! I read a Wikipedia article on it.”
This did not comfort her.
Despite living the furthest away, we arrived at the designated meeting place before anyone else. But only a short while after we’d parked, a rickety 12-passenger van rumbled up beside us, and out popped…
“IT’S DAEUS LAMB!!” I screeched from the backseat.
Anna winced and covered her ears.
Daeus was one of the first people I met way back when I first joined the writing community (we talked about fencing, I believe), and a small part of my brain couldn’t compute that the person walking toward me was made of flesh and blood, not internet pixels and raspberry ice cream. A large part of my brain was freaking out. An introverted part of my brain forced my tongue into action and helped me awkwardly stutter out, “Heyyyy!”
Were his first words, “Hello!” or, “Nice to meet you!” or, “You look shorter in person!” or the type of things a normal person would say upon meeting an internet friend for the first time?
He said (and I quote), “Do I get to be in a blog post now?”
As a matter of fact, yes. Yes you do.
One by one, the gang assembled. My poor mother (who, having been tasked with driving me there, no longer knew what to do with herself) was soon deafened by cries of, “LOOK, THERE’S GABBY!!” or, “HERE COMES BRIANNA!!” or, “BY GOLLY, IT’S GRACIE!!”
To which she would respond with perfect seriousness, “Oh wow, that’s amazing! …who’s Gracie?”
I’m pleased to report that everyone acted mostly the way I’d imagined they would. (My first impression of Hope was, “Pfffft, she’s not as intimidating/INTJ-ish as I thought!” And then I actually spent some time around her. And realized– I was wrong.) And with the ones I’d never met before (online or otherwise), I managed to crawl out of my introversion long enough to garner some proper introductions. (Cindy and I bonded over Canada.)
Once the general hubbub died down, we scooted over to the canoe rental, ready to spring our trap on the unsuspecting Kate. I’d love to give a detailed report on every single maneuver of our plan, but, heh, well.
I somehow got lost and didn’t end up hearing it.
Suffice it to say — if there was a plan, I’M SORRY, GUYS. Regardless, Kate was still surprised. So I count it as a win, plan or no plan.
The poor girl. I don’t think she knew what hit her. One moment she was enjoying a relaxing evening spent exclusively with her family (and the mosquitoes), and the next minute… us. We appeared in groups of two at a time, like the dwarves at Beorn’s house (except for me, who, as I previously mentioned, was oblivious to what the others were doing). With each new addition, she looked less human and more like a stunned codfish.
All in all, it was a smashing success.
My best friend, Emma. Upon our meeting, she said to me, “Sarah, you’ve gotten so much better at social skills since the last time I saw you!!”
*sigh* Ah yes, the true beauty of friendship.
I’m pleased to announce that we only ran into seven logs and found ourselves facing backwards twice. By the fifth log, I even learned how to steer!
To those few cynics who thought the Wikipedia article wasn’t enough, I say, “FIE UNTO YOU, DOUBTING THOMAS!”
At one point, we purposely lodged ourselves in the bank so we could catch up on recent life news while waiting for Kate and Cindy’s canoe, which we hadn’t seen for a worrisome amount of time. At long last they came sailing down the river, as drenched and demure as half-drowned ballerinas.
“Oh, pffffft, we’re fine,” they said, gliding past us and serenely ignoring our questions. “We only took so long because we had a near-death experience. Don’t worry.”
Say that again, please…
After canoeing, we headed back to the cabin/campsite where Hope & Co. were staying (not me — my family and I had our own cabin), where we socialized for the rest of the evening.
This entailed campfires, hymns half of us didn’t know the words to, marshmallows I seduced poor health-conscious Emma into eating, and me trying to act like a semi-normal extrovert in a painfully introverted body.
And Gracie fell in love with fire.
It was a splendid way to finish the evening.
The next day (Monday), I gave Kate a birthday present. Once upon a time, she made the mistake of telling me the title of her very first book (for perspective, please think back to your first book’s title — if it doesn’t make you cringe, you’re doing something wrong), and the amount of courage and vulnerability necessary for her to share such a painful memory touched me deeply.
So naturally, I made her a t-shirt of it.
She appreciates me. Don’t let her tell you otherwise.
We met up with the group and went hiking through the beautiful Hocking Hills of Ohio (which were more like cliffs and sheer drop-offs), saw some caves (which were more like stone walls angled slightly inward), and looked at waterfalls. (Which were more like waterfalls.)
Monday was also the day for putting ourselves in potentially life-threatening positions for the sake of “atmosphere.”
Case in point. I have no idea what he’s doing, but I’m 97% positive it’s a bad idea.
This inauspicious log (which happened to be suspended over a rather large drop, though you can’t see it — if Daeus fell, he would likely break his neck) is where we decided to have a discussion about broken bones, near-death experiences, and stalkers. Our facial expressions say it all. We looked as disturbed as our topic of conversation.
…and then there’s Gracie.
AND THEN THERE’S GRACIE.
After lunch (during which Hope passed out memes, because that’s just what she does), we went to another waterfall and Hannah discovered how the ancients took showers.
Due to the large expanse of sand surrounding the waterfall, Daeus plopped down on the ground and declared his intentions of building a sandcastle.
This definitely DID NOT warrant my mockery and I DEFINITELY did not laugh at him over it.
So naturally, he and Hannah built the Schönbrunn Palace out of sand, just to make me look bad.
We eventually headed back to the Flournoys’ house for supper, and upon arrival, I had a massive internal introvert crisis and disappeared for an inordinately long amount of time. (Sorry, guys.)
But the good news is, I RETURNED!! And the rest of the evening was spent petting kittens, playing Psychiatrist, and convincing Emma to eat yet another marshmallow.
See that girl in the bright blue t-shirt? That’s my best friend consuming the forbidden fruit.
We look so cute and happy, but in reality, we were discussing death by piranhas.
And ice cream.
Also, Anna decided to slide down the hill in a cardboard box. (Don’t ask.)
This evening was, perhaps, one of my favorite memories from the trip. No one did anything particularly exciting, no one talked about anything extraordinarily deep, no adventures were embarked upon or dragons slain or magical rings found. And yet the peace of just sitting there (sometimes talking, sometimes not) and knowing how we’d been drawn together through the twisted plot of life by a common bond — our writing, our passion, our love for Christ…
*happy sigh* Ah yes, I love euphoria.
Day #3 (Tuesday, my last day) came long before I was ready for it. The morning was spent doing… uh… morning things.
Like amassing weapons. And wearing costumes.
“I HAVE A SAI AND A GALADRIEL CROWN. FEAR ME.”
“…I lost the crown and don’t know how to use the sai. Hope, I require assistance.”
*as Hope internally facepalms*
Look, at least I didn’t wear the crown upside down, unlike some people…
Once our costumes were donned, Gabby shepherded us into the woods behind the cabin, where she proceeded to work photographic magic and produce the most epic photoshoot I’ve ever participated in.
LOOK AT US. Feel the fantasy vibes. Much coolness. Much epic. Much–
We had to get one with Gabby as well. Despite her costume being that of some dark urban assassin lady, she radiates more INFP penguin joy than all of us put together.
With epic pictures out of the way, we migrated back to the cabin and a game called “FunEmployed” was introduced — which is a little bit like charades in the sense that it’s one of those ridiculous, over-the-top group games involving acting skills and making an utter fool of yourself.
“You’ll love it,” they said.
Um… I disagree.
You guys know me. You know I’m particularly terrified of having group attention focused on me in public — whether it’s in fun or not, there’s no difference. This game sounded like my worst nightmare, and I determined with steely resolve that I would NOT participate.
And yet, for some utterly stupid reason, I simply couldn’t resist the urge to keep my mouth shut when declining their offer to play, and had to add, “I’d rather sit out and make fun of you guys from afar!!”
“Gabby, deal her some cards,” said Daeus. “She’s playing.”
I’ll admit, I didn’t help myself any with that one.
So as a storm blew in and rocked the world outside our cabin, we flung our self-respect to the wind. I learned things about people, man. For instance, Gabby’s quietness is a cunning facade for the fact that she’s frighteningly good at playing gangster characters. Brianna can turn her hair into a beard and become a full-fledged Scotsman. Martin is Studio C’s Kyle in disguise. Hope is terrifying as a seven-year-old.
…yet all I could think about was the fact that my turn was coming soon and I COULD NOT do what they were doing.
Situations like these are when prayer becomes real to you.
And despite my social anxiety, when my turn finally came around, some little neglected corner of my soul unfolded and I realized– BY GOLLY, maybe I did have a dramatic flair after all! Or at the very least, I discovered that acting over the top on purpose is better than trying too hard in seriousness. One is stupid and ridiculous and funny and forgettable. The other is just plain awkward.
Therefore, I let the innermost reaches of my imagination spill forth unchecked. It resulted in unspeakable things that were probably traumatizing to anyone forced to witness the spectacle.
I became… *horrified whisper* …giggly.
I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine.
But hey, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Even if it was while playing a character with split-personalities.
When the rain finally stopped, we crawled out of our air-conditioned hole and back into the sweltering Ohio heat. (After a Michigan winter, I was having adjustment problems…) Dinner was discussed. Pizza was ordered. (WITHOUT pineapple, thank you very much. *glares at the unrighteous soul who suggested it*) Someone googled a list of deep questions, and the topic of conversation turned uncomfortably personal, but in a frighteningly nice way.
More hymns (that half of us didn’t know the words to) were sung.
They started throwing my sword like a frisbee.
(WHY WERE THEY THROWING MY SWORD LIKE A FRISBEE??)
And then… suddenly… before I had time to process anything…
It was over.
I was driving away, flapping my hand through the window and hearing a chorus of goodbyes shouted after my car as I returned to normal life.
Normal life seemed so flat after such a beginning to the week.
And it’s weird, to say I miss people I’ve only just “officially” met, yet facts must be faced: I do miss them. I miss sitting on a boulder with Emma and discussing literally everything, from family and God to cats and marshmallows. I miss Brianna’s quiet enthusiasm and zany acting skills. I miss geeking out with Gracie about art, and watching her wander off singing to herself at the end of the conversation. I miss Hannah’s epic facial expressions and Gabby shouting, “LIKE MY SOUL!!” and Hope explaining how sais work and Kate bemoaning the t-shirt I gave her.
I miss all the big things, and all the little things, and all the things I’ve already forgotten.
But I dare say our paths shall cross again. In fact, I’m 100% positive of it. And in the meantime, my four-year dream of meeting aaaaaall my Kingdom Pen friends IRL finally came true, and it was as special and epic as I’d ever hoped. Kate got the smashing good birthday she deserved. No one died.
In the words of Peregrine Took…
“That’s got to count for something, at least!”