A House, A Table, A Sisterhood

image from localmilkblog.com

image from localmilkblog.com

[This post is part of a collaborative series on Friendship, hosted by my friend Cara over on her lovely little blog, Little Did She Know. To read more on the series, check out her page, here].

The house sat up on the hill overlooking the breathtaking skyline of downtown Portland. It was massive, in a ritzy SE neighborhood none of us could have afforded without the whole lot of us. So we pooled our resources, and six women signed their names on the dotted line and together, began the long, exhausting process of moving everything in, unpacking, and then, of course- attempting to make sense of everyone’s belongings- arranging and rearranging it all, only to rearrange it again.

I’m not sure we ever fully accomplished the task, but slowly, over the course of time, mismatched though it may have been, this house became our home. With almost 3,000 sq feet of space, this place boasted more rooms than we knew what to do with, including what we fondly referred to as the Harry Potter closet. There were many spaces I would grow to appreciate in the year we lived there, but hands down, if I had to choose, all my fondest memories bring me back to the kitchen table, the one Shannon’s dad would spend an entire afternoon disassembling in order to add the extra leaf, the one that still always seemed too small for all the people we’d attempt to cram around it.

I learned the beauty and the mess of true community in that house, gathered around that table. In the single year we lived there, we hosted more dinner parties than any one of us could recall. From housewarming parties, holiday parties, birthday parties, going away parties, barbecues, bridal showers, book clubs, game nights, wine nights, dance in your underwear nights, you name it, we gathered for it. I can’t think of a single year of my life more centered around the ideas of community, food, wine and celebration.

But of course, it was a mix of a ton of fun and a whole lot of crazy. We didn’t always get along, the six of us [hard to believe, I know]. People tried to warn us beforehand, “Six women? You’re out of your mind!” or, “I sure hope you aren’t all friends, because you won’t be for long,” they’d say. And honestly, there were moments when I thought perhaps we ought to have heeded warning; perhaps we might have avoided all the tension before it had the chance to build, culminating into those awkward, sometimes painful encounters. So many hard conversations could have been avoided all together, so many tears circumvented. But you know, the most valuable thing I learned gathered around the table that year wasn’t how to stage it for the perfect Instagram picture, it was how to remain sitting at it.

When the six of us moved in, we were a mix of friends, and friends of friends. We knew we had a lot to learn about one another, and we were aware that with six very different personalities, the situation could prove challenging. However, we also knew that more than all of this, we were a group of women who wanted to live life communally, with open doors, and with a spirit of hospitality. We knew we wanted to welcome people into our home, feed them, laugh and cry with them, and then hold them hostage until we were certain they were leaving with fuller bellies and fuller hearts.

In all honesty, I don’t think any of us had any idea how difficult it would prove to be; perhaps we were too optimistic in that regard. But nonetheless, we chose to stay seated at the table. We chose to enter into those hard conversations. Laughing together was easy, but we would have to learn to cry with one another. We would have to learn when to give space when it was needed, and when to invade that space in order to sit in the ashes with one another when that was needed too. We would have to learn how to approach the conversations that needed to be had in a way that was respectful and life-giving, and sometimes we’d get it wrong, I know I would on innumerable occasions, in which case, we had to learn how to say, I’m sorry, and please forgive me. And then we’d have to learn to give our forgiveness in return.

There were a million incredible memories carved out in that house last year, I could write an entire book to recount them, perhaps one day I shall. And yet, there is one that has left such an impression on me, I still get choked up recalling it.

It was March 21st, I remember because it was “Match Day” for our med-student friends, many whom made up a significant chunk of our friend group- in fact, our house would lose two of the six that year to residency programs. Life and community as we knew it was about to look very different on a number of different levels, and we were all processing this impending change in our own ways. But nevertheless, it was a beautiful March day and we were all in relatively good spirits despite perhaps being a bit tender emotionally.

I was standing there in the kitchen, appreciating the mid-day light as it poured in through the windows, watching as Rachael rolled out dough for crackers, flour streaked across her face, moving freely like she does in her booty-short shorts and sassy new haircut, humming unselfconsciously away to her latest favorite jam. And there was Allison, moving in effortless rhythm there alongside her, pulling tinfoil over her dessert to leave. That’s when it hit me; I had this flash-forward moment in which I realized I was peering into my future.

These women, somehow, at some point over the course of that year, had become my people, my home team, my girls; the ones invested in this city with me. They’d become so much more than roommates, they’d become the women I’ll go on to build homes and families and businesses alongside. And I knew in that moment that in 10 years, long after our time in that house was but a memory- when the careers have changed and husbands and kids begin to fill the frame, and Rachael’s arms become increasingly covered in tattoos, as they are sure to be- as all the natural evolutions come, and they will come, we will still, undoubtedly find ourselves in each other’s kitchens, gathered around each other’s tables. Rachael will still be a sassy, smart-mouthed dreamer who cries at the drop of a hat, Allison will still be baking her decadent sweets, consistent and kind the way she is, Amy will still be her generous self, filling our wine glasses liberally, freaking out the moment she notices they’ve been empty for all of 3 seconds; that is to say, we will still be us.

I’ll never forget the profound feeling I had as the many frightening unknowns of the days ahead dissolved in the light of that overpowering, beautiful reality.

It was a crazy year. I’m not entirely sure what I expected going in, but I can tell you what I didn’t expect: I didn’t expect that these women would become my very best friends. I didn’t expect that in the years to come, they’d still be my people. I didn’t expect that when the time came to leave that house, those of us who would remain in Portland would fight tooth and nail to find another place, a smaller place, that would work for the four of us who remained, because we would want to stay together. And I didn’t anticipate that we would cry when we finally found it, partially out of excitement, though mostly out of exhaustion and relief after a long, drawn out, fierce search. I certainly didn’t expect that as we settled into our new home on the other side of town, this one that is a fraction of the size of the house up on the hill, that here, in the smaller spaces, we’d grow even closer.

It’s funny now to consider the many stark differences: our current home is actually too small for a dinner table. In fact, most of us had to sell or otherwise dispose of most of our furniture just to fit here. We joke that our living room is our “Room of Requirement,” it is our make-shift living, dining, entertainment room, den, office, you name it, the space will become it, and we will do as we have always done, and we will gather in it.

Granted, there are days I really miss having a separate space for dining, one with a real table to squeeze people around. But it’s striking to consider the progression. You see, last year we needed that table- it was our glue, it was our home base, our gathering point; it was the centripetal force, the thing that united us in honesty and humility, it was a symbol of what it means to be community when we couldn’t remember how.

Whether by wine and laughter or by tears and confessions, the moments we chose to stay seated at that table bound us together as sisters. And now, today, while the luxury of a dinner table would be incredibly convenient, we don’t actually need it in the same way anymore. Our hearts are already invested and fastened together, our futures already indefinitely entangled. We learned what it means to stay seated at the table for the good stuff as well as for that which is not so good, and the rhythms and habits we formed around that table have enabled us to do life together, beautifully, even in its absence.

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16 thoughts on “A House, A Table, A Sisterhood

  1. I can almost perfectly picture that house in SE Portland – and what a beautiful picture of life together, in all its messy glory. (The Other Cara from Cara’s synchroblog).

    • Haha, yes! It was pretty spectacular! It’s funny how much I appreciate the smaller space this year though- so much easier to keep up on!! ☺️ Thanks for reading Cara- I also enjoyed your post!!

  2. Lovely, Cayla. As someone just beginning to live on her own, you’ve painted something I too long for in friendship, in roommates, in life. And I loved the Harry Potter references too. :)

    • Thank you Lizzie! It’s always my hope that others would know the beauty of such intentional community! Best of luck to you! …But then again, I suppose luck has little to do with it ;) Thanks for reading!!!

  3. This is lovely, Cayla. What a tribute to your friendships, and the ways they are forged in the trenches. (And I love all the little Harry Potter references). Thanks so much for linking up, friend.

    • Thank you Cara! Thank you for the nudge – It was just what I needed to finally write the piece that’s already been on my heart for a long time! Great idea and series!

  4. Cayla, your beginning lines about ‘staying at the table’ capture the idea of community (and our self-made ‘families) perfectly. Inspiring words!

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