We were in Pittsburgh, where she'd lived for two years, but it felt like we were back in North Royalton where she was just around the corner.
The giddiness bubbled a wild thought: She was coming home. But just as quickly as it came, it moved away. "We're thinking about looking at a house," Lindsay declared.
Although she'd left Cleveland years before for its Southern cousin — Cleveland, Tennessee — when her husband got a post-college job there, this felt final. I nervously slurped my strawberry milkshake and feigned excitement. My heart drooped: I'm truly losing her.
Lindsay knows me in ways no one else ever will. At her 2011 wedding, I hugged her and cried, saying I would miss her when she moved south. She graciously smiled and reassured me we'd be close at heart. She was always good at being strong.
We became friends when I was asked to guide the new girl in middle school. She ended up showing me how to let people in. She introduced me to God, and that's not a person you forget.
In my mind, her moves seemed temporary — an obligatory precursor to a permanent stay back home. Wasn't she supposed to return in epic fashion like LeBron James?
But as a native, I should've known that watching people leave is a mandatory causality of choosing to stay. With New York and Chicago calling us, we are wired to be flight risks. Even Moses Cleaveland sailed off just more than three months after founding our city.
Civic cheerleaders champion our burgeoning renaissance, but my friends and I graduated college after the Great Recession when unemployment was at 9 percent. Although the market has improved, most of us worked retail for a year or two as the job rejection letters piled up at the same rate as student loan bills. So my peers in fashion, media and education flocked to the first big offer they got — whether it was in Wyoming's second-largest city or a South Dakota town where camo was the new Victoria's Secret Pink.
The leaving became a routine: farewell dinners, tearful hugs and the optimistic, "We'll keep in touch." Lindsay, Kelly, Regina, Kate, Nicole. Goodbye ... I love you.
With each departure, a part of me left. Kelly's independence had made me want to be bold too. Regina, the smartest and most confident person I've ever met, had encouraged me to stand up for myself. Warmhearted Kate had helped me drop my discontentment and enjoy life. Nicole had deciphered my swirling thoughts and validated my dreams. They shaped who I am.
Without them, I felt lost. I felt left behind.
The phone calls were double-edged. While each drew us briefly closer, every "Bye" created a even more excruciating disconnection. The stories of their new friends and lives left me bitter that I was in the same town with the same people doing the same things. Being a left-behind forced me to start over.
See, I too once wanted to leave. My absent friends and I used to spend hours dreaming of a big twinkling city brimming with high fashion and rich culture. But when I got two job offers, both in Northeast Ohio, I accepted that a cosmic force was keeping me here. I had been living with my family to pay off college loans and my car, but I needed a change of my own. So I moved from my quiet exurb to the bustling inner-ring suburb of Shaker Heights.
The first night, I awoke in a cold sweat, haunted by city noises — the yips and yeahs of people departing the Rapid, the wee-woo of ambulances. My body was physically rejecting change. Yet as I tried to build a new life, something unexpected happened. For the first time, I felt homesick. I longed for the familiarity I left. I panicked, not knowing where home was anymore. All I knew was that it wasn't here. So I hit the road, seeing Lindsay right after Christmas.
In Pittsburgh, I attempted to politely chat about what she liked about her new suburb. Good schools. Just outside the city. Close to highways. Church. Yet there was a tinge of something else in her voice. While she had friends nearby, she missed having close girlfriends who really knew her.
Yet her readiness to keep putting herself out there, to meet new people, to seek out ways to embrace her new city was inspiring. So I've surrendered my discomfort and put to rest unfair expectations of a return. It's OK my friends left me behind. I'm at peace knowing Lindsay and some of my other departed friends want to settle elsewhere. Different people are in different places for different reasons.
Friends come and go in a manner beyond our control. By God's grace, some returned. Kelly got a job in Canton. Nicole and I now live together on the West Side. Once again, our souls are linked.
While some may be missing daily activities — shopping, birthdays, late-night ice cream therapy — we have something greater.
We are keepers of each other's stories. So even as we continue to forge new lives together or apart, those shared moments mean we always have a home in each other.
No matter how many miles, weeks or years separate us, we can pick up where we left off like we've never been apart.
At least that will never leave us.