When my husband and I moved to Rochester, we knew a sum total of two people: The woman who worked in the office at our apartment building and the man who interviewed my husband for his job. Only I hadn’t actually met this man, so my total Rochester community consisted of one—one woman who reminded me every time I saw her that we could use the laundry room 24 hours a day.
During that first year, I worked from the second bedroom in our apartment, writing and editing copy for St. Paul-based Blue Book Publications, where I was the editor of Gun Journal magazine. (I’m not even kidding.) The bottom line: I wasn’t making new friends fast. Or even slowly.
Sure, there was the neighbor guy who sometimes said “hi” when we passed on the community deck. The woman with the braid who recognized me when she checked me out at Target. The couple at my husband’s job who seemed fun but always had to get home to their dog after work.
At the ripe old age of 25, I’d just left behind an entire community of friends in the Twin Cities—and, frankly, I was afraid I wasn’t going to find its replacement in our new city. Sure, I was getting plenty of quality time with my new husband—exploring the city, playing catch, making dinner together. But without an attachment to the larger community, our days felt… limbo-like.
“Well, we’re only staying a year, anyway,” I told Jay. “Two tops. And then real life will start.”
Fast forward 15 years to last Friday. I found myself—adorned in a plastic tiara, multi-colored feather boa, and jingly belly-dancing scarf—in the ballroom at Willow Creek Golf Course at my 40th birthday party, surrounded by roughly 150 people that I not only recognized, but personally invited. They were co-workers and school friends and family members and Bunco Babes and friendships whose origins are already foggy. Most of them, it should be said, sporting Fu Manchus, mutton chops, beards or unibrows. (Fake mustaches were provided at the door.)
I was out on the dance floor with my purple-feather-boaed, 87-year-old grandmother, a former co-worker, my neighbor, and my niece when the DJ cleared the floor. I’d no sooner been ushered to a chair when the opening synthesizer and “Can’t Touch This” of MC Hammer’s signature tune filled the room. What was going on? Why couldn’t I dance?
Then, suddenly, a hoard of friends from all different areas of my life—work friends and mom friends and Bunco friends and running friends—were on the dance floor. For most of the people at the party, it was clear that my Big, Fat 40th Dance Party had just been hit by a flash mob. But I was a little slow on the uptake. My thought process went something like this:
Hey, I love that song! How come I can’t dance to this song?
Then: No way! There’s Mary! And Paula! And Lisa! And Missie! Look at my fun, spontaneous friends!
Then: Oh! They’re sliding! Oh! They’re turning in a circle! Wait—how do they all know the same dance moves?
Then: Wait—how do they all know each other?
Then: This is so not the MC Hammer dance, it’s…. OH MY GOD THEY HAD TO PRACTICE THIS.
It was at about that time that I started screaming like a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, my hands on either side of my face, my mouth opened in loud shrieks: “AAAHHH!!! AAAHHH!!! AAAHHH!!”
I received fantastic gifts for my 40th birthday. Witty cards. Donations to my favorite charities. Some very proper people wearing fake mustaches. But the gift that moved me most that night was from a group of 20 women who flash mobbed my party with an MC Hammer song.
Perhaps more than anything else that’s happened to me in the last 15 years—the making of new friends, the involvement in our fantastic city, the forming of a warm community—that four-minute-twenty-two-second song gave me a soul-filling sense of belonging. An indelible sense that “this is where I’m supposed to be.” Not only at Willow Creek, rocking a feather boa, plastic tiara and belly-dancing scarf—but here, in Rochester, among all of these people who make up my world.
I can’t imagine a better way to start 40.