My friend and I stood in the wide parking lot under a tall, fluorescent lamp post, sharing an extended goodbye. We looked at the line of big trucks attached to their semi-trailers positioned 100 feet away, truckers likely nestled in their cabs. “Maybe they think we’re prostitutes,” one of us said, referring to the invisible men inside.
I can’t remember who made the comment. It doesn’t matter. That was our version of a lame joke. We laughed – not to disregard the horrors of sex trafficking, but to underscore the absurdity of our supposition. For a moment, the sadness and melancholy that often encroached our middle-aged lives was erased by sophomoric humor.
For a moment, we were teenagers again, two farm girls from Selma being silly.
We had decided to meet for dinner at Brooks Ranch Restaurant, a coffee shop on Chestnut Avenue off Highway 99. I drive everywhere at night; my friend doesn’t. She was traveling from her ranch, a plot of land that grows vines between Selma and Parlier. A meet-up in southeast Fresno, near the edge of Malaga, seemed a good compromise.
I suspect most Fresnans have never heard of Malaga. But the community is place enough to have its own water district and poverty rate. Brooks Ranch might be considered fine dining for the area. For us, it was a good place to have a long chat.
Southbound traffic on Highway 99 is heavy in the early evening. Harried after a long day at work, I merged from Highway 41 into the mess of cars and trucks pushing down the road and almost missed my exit. Off Central Avenue, I swung around to Chestnut Avenue and arrived at my destination. My friend greeted me with a jar of her homemade pomegranate jelly.
We entered the large restaurant which was nearly empty. Breakfast and lunch must have been their peak hours. I was walking into a time warp of wood paneling and Naugahyde, the kind of place where my father would have met his friends 40 years ago to talk about grape prices.
We grabbed a booth. I ordered a hamburger and fries, a meal with enough grease to make me feel guilty. I ordered it anyway. When I was growing up, we didn’t think much about dietary fats. Maybe we didn’t think about them at all. For the next two hours, my friend and I talked about our lives.
We referred to Golden State Boulevard as the “old highway,” that vein of commerce between Kingsburg and Fresno that our parents traveled when we were young.
I remembered maneuvering a Tonka truck in the dirt to mimic the bulldozers pushing massive quantities of earth to build the new Highway 99. That was over 50 years ago.
I remembered seeing movies at the Motor-Inn drive-in, just a stone’s throw from where we sat. Over time, Golden State Boulevard became repurposed. Highway 99 grew crowded.
Nearby, a burgeoning overpass for the high-speed rail project loomed.
My friend and I have known each other for more than 40 years. We spent ample time together in the beginning, before she moved away to college and returned to raise her family and nursed her husband for months before he died last year.
My life took a different trajectory. But we always kept in touch. Our values were similar, although they manifested in different ways. We both knew happiness. We both knew heartache.
We wiped our oily fingers on our napkins as she handed over her phone. There was a picture of a picture. Her wedding. Me, in my bridesmaid dress with 1980s permed hair. Grief pulls the past to the present. Insomnia still arrives at 3 a.m.
Her life isn’t what she thought it would become. I sometimes feel the same.
I pay my own mortgage and pull the garbage cans to the curb each week. She has sold one farm and may soon sell another. We wonder who will care for us when we grow infirm.
We paid our tabs and headed for the parking lot, stretching our farewell with final hugs and laughs.
I don’t think the men in their trucks were paying much attention to us. I never expected them to.
I’ve turned into the oldster I pitied when I was young. Yet, I wouldn’t trade my wisdom for my youth.
My friend’s hair, streaked with silver now, shimmered lovely in the stark light.
Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at Danielle.Shapazian@sbcglobal.net.