Photo by MJ Tangonan / Unsplash

Twin influences are warring at the moment and they couldn't be more lovely.

In the corner of our motel room in Lincoln City a gas fire burns merrily, throwing heat and light into the room. A few feet away, the window's been open just enough to let in the sound of the surf all night, and a cold spring wind which curls around my feet even as the fire's heat warms my face.

Sonja is still in bed. I've been up for a couple of hours. She sleeps in later. Her bed is next to the fire, with all the comfort and crackle that a lively fire can offer. We didn't walk the coast last night as planned because she was too cold, but the day had been sunny and warm enough for most of it so that Soni could take oodles of photos of the smooth grey rocks she loves.

She loves those rocks. Those photos will end up framed.

Soni photographing sand art in Lincoln City Julia Hubbel

What I'd like to frame is this long friendship.

The last time I saw Soni was briefly last year during a spring trip back to Denver. Years ago she used to host me at her small apartment in Aurora, Colorado, when I drove to town to visit from Durango. I moved back to Denver, found a house, and she was in an apartment in Aurora.

At one point over the years, Denver's rent had skyrocketed overnight, not like now, but enough to make it difficult.

She moved in with me for two years, by all accounts the happiest two years of my life. She brought her quiet, calm, unobtrusive presence into my home and added so much value to my existence that I selfishly wish at some level she hadn't found love and marriage. If she hadn't, we might perhaps have stayed roommates, and I'd still be in Denver.

But Soni found love. Eight years now, and three married. Sonja needed to be married. She's had lousy luck with men, not as bad as mine, but she found someone who worships her. She needs to be worshipped, and deserves the care and adulation she gets, as well as the emotional stability.

Yesterday morning we left my house in Eugene and headed to the coast. The plan was to explore the small and lovely turnouts which are carved along the mid-Oregon shoreline. We had breakfast at my favorite little place in Florence, then Soni was treated to the winding, lovely, rising and falling Highway 101 that is one of most scenic in America.

I utterly and totally missed the turnout to the one that I was planning to showcase, likely in the middle of a laugh or a story, but we're heading back the same way tomorrow. The coastal road is completely different heading south,  even if you've already been on it. That's just one of its charms.

Sonja has been photographing everything. First, she is a most competent artist. Her home is decorated in greens, so the moss that climbs up and wraps around the trunks and branches makes for perfect photos. The sand art that the waves and the steady small streams of fresh water from the hills down to the water line are a constant visual joy to the artistic eye.

Sand art at Ocean Beach Julia Hubbel

Oregon, as is its wont, gave us the perfect spring day. It's still cold, the onshore wind carrying a bit of a bite, and the small, fast-moving light showers dampening us but not making us miserable as we clambered over the rocks to photograph the shockingly green algae.

Soni hadn't quite been prepared for that part of my plan. Born and raised in Denver, and most certainly well-traveled, a visit to an old friend of 35 years is often a long long LONG talk (those too), but here in Oregon, that talk is punctuated with some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable.

It can be overwhelming. At the same time, perhaps perfectly timed. Almost as soon as she landed she received word that a beloved family member had suffered a stroke, so that news was being weighed against the visual beauty of nature, and the healing aspects of the steady and lovely surf.

While the family news is difficult, there has to be something of real value to be surrounded by such calming beauty even while faced with potential imminent loss.

So during our drive, the restaurant stops, Soni has watched for news, and checked texts, as we do when such things happen, pulled away from her visit by the emotional demands, while at the same time being soothed by her surroundings.

It's just life. She's sixty, and like me, some of those she loves are older and getting ready to pass.

Which is just one reason why old friendships at this point become far more poignant and important. I needed this too, as making new friends in a new town, most particularly with Covid as the overhanging cloud, has been challenging. Selfishly, I've needed to talk, and Soni is one of those people who understands how isolation can turn us into Chatty Cathy dolls.

Sonja is one of my two closest friends, raised overseas in a military family, not surrounded by American racist messaging until she finally landed in the US as a teen. As a result her perspective is differently informed, and valuable because her way of seeing and experiencing helps inform my perspectives. She feels the slings and arrows differently, from the relative sophistication of that European upbringing.

In the same way that some of my favorite anti-racism writers who were born in Africa and find themselves working in European countries bring a wholly different way of seeing to their friends,  Sonja's world view has been uniquely valuable to my understanding and appreciation of how Black women move in the world as the least valued of humans. Those of us fortunate to have such friends should be incredibly thankful, as I most certainly am, for the education and perspectives.

Light has dawned grey on the grey-green ocean this morning. We head out shortly, following the same winding, lovely road lined with wind-carved trees all the way back down, seeking out colored sands and more grey rocks and more puppers to pet along the way.

Soni braving the rocks Julia Hubbel

She reported this morning that their Golden had set up shop next to the front door waiting for her to return. Her husband was sleeping on her side of the bed, cuddling her pillow so that he could smell her.

I can't even imagine such things. On one hand I am over the moon that this most precious friend of mine has found that kind of love, safety, the kind of care that I have never ever known, and at this point, have given up for good.

Listening to her describe these things is like stakes to my heart, slicing open my most vulnerable bits, and reminding me that most of the men in my life did not see me as worth loving, but only worth using. That very difficult theme is hard to exorcise, having been my handmaiden since my brother committed incest before I was ten.

Sonja is one of the few women in my life who knows me long enough and well enough so that we can discuss these things. She also knows that my heart is big enough to hold my joy for her even as I mourn for what life did not deliver. We are ever juggling these twins, especially if we are not to succumb to jealousy and envy.

Soni's family member will have people flying in to attend. She will continue to check her phone along the way. That news will be countered with the beauty and wild, ragged coastline which is Nature's way of soothing the soul in its worst moments.

foliage holding the cliffs together at Lincoln City Julia Hubbel

Friendship soothes ours, too. I have at times been terribly lonely, a fact of life sometimes, and the close proximity of someone I dearly love and admire greatly is just what the doctor ordered. We were fed with great food, nutritious laughter, hilarity in the face of life's howling winds, and the intense beauty of the Oregon coast.

Monday morning:

Yesterday on the way home we were treated to rain and wind, which kept us moving fast, a gorgeous lunch in Depoe Bay. Then an unexpected nearly two-hour detour at day's end which forced us endless miles out of the way into Oregon's red country.  There had been a terrible, deadly crash, so we headed north and east.

Out there, with barely a quarter tank of gas, we encountered gorgeous scenery, rotting homes, untended farms, and one gas station/bar with a $5.00 a gallon price. I whipped a U -Turn, and walked in. Soni took one look at the aggressively unfriendly signs on the door and hunkered down in her big new "binkie" (that maroon fleece jacket I gave her) and hid, with her ball cap pulled low over her face.

I went inside for an attendant and directions. People leapt to the task. I got more versions of how to get home than I could count, cell phone reception being nonexistent for endless curling miles.

When I climbed back in the car, we both breathed a sigh of relief as we headed out again, tank full, and en route at speed through Trump country.

If she had walked in with me, we might not have gotten friendly directions. We don't know. But it wasn't a good plan to test the waters. And, it was the only station during that entire two-hour detour.

You see where I am going with this. Sonja got to see those parts of Oregon which are the twins to the friendly folks to people who took care of us with great courtesy on the coast and in Eugene. Neither one of us wanted to find out what might happen when a Black woman walks into a bar on a lonely road in red country, replete by unfriendly sign on the door, surrounded by waving American flags planted in front of rotting trailers.

She felt safe with me, getting lost and then found and safely back to a crackling fire and Dune while we munched hot popcorn.

And I feel safe with her, emptying my heart and soul in the sacred space of a long friendship, where the sharp teeth of my own doubts asking what's wrong with me are met with the loving, challenging gaze of a precious friend. The answer of course is nothing, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way. I know you get it.

This morning we woke up to snow. I fixed oatmeal, and when it was time for a selfie, I put up an umbrella to protect her hair as the snow turned to rain. Friends know. They don't have to ask.

Sonja's parting shots of my yard and us. Sonja Motley-Turman

Our friends help us see ourselves, our friends help us see each other, our friends help us navigate the world. As I watched her drag her silver luggage into the airport, overloaded with new things from me, I teared up. As I eased out of the airport, I felt the fat salty drops trace my face as I drove back home.

I am deeply blessed.

Sonja at Boiler Bay, cuddled in her binkie, taking photos and texting. Julia Hubbel