When I left the kids with their new babysitter, who they had only met once before that morning, I kissed them on their heads while they zombified once again in front of Sonic. I packed a bag and I left. Jurph was at the helm, and he was amazing. His math skills and logic turned us away from taking our new Murano and instead, we huffed it in his Mazda. It was about halfway there I thought, hey, maybe I should offer to drive, even though I’m terrified of being on the highway, of going that fast in someone else’s car, and not being able to chain smoke to keep me from dozing off. I never “get in the zone,” as Jurph said, on a long road trip. To me, road trips are time travel in slow motion, but time travel nonetheless, sticking your legs into the bullet of a space pod and, 6 or 7 hours later, you step off into another world. But, I realized that Jurph likely wouldn’t want me to drive, as he knew without knowing I would never be as efficient as him.

Jurph reminds me of my brother in so many ways. My brother, just now retiring from the Army, just now selling a house in Virginia and having his current home in Germany all paid off. 44 and debt free, soon to be single, and already looking for me, his sister 15 years his junior, to match him up with someone who likes traveling and Harleys. Jurph is an Air Force man, but it makes no difference. When we had to run back to his place before the first leg of the journey (he grabbed a sleeping bag just in case they couldn’t change the reservation from a single king to two queens: “I am the man with the ring, after all.”), he mentioned that the loop around his building is perfect for an almost exact 2-and-a-half mile run. When we talked of investing money and the possibility of me buying a house through a HUD program for teachers on the return trip home, I heard my brother’s voice in his: you really need to get started on that and you tell him he has to marry you before you get a house together. And, like I felt when I rode a motorcycle for the first time ever on the back of my brother’s Harley as we peeled out for a 6 hour ride to see my parents while I was in college, I was nervous, but I trusted him. I knew Jurph would make sure I made it through this journey okay.

I had met Jurph ages ago when he attended my own gathering, but I still knew nothing about him. Turns out, while growing up in Delaware, he went to the same boarding school as most of the fuck-ups from my elementary stint in one of the most expensive private schools on the Delmarva Peninsula. You know Phillip’s Restaurants? I went to school with the owner’s son. Jurph went to school with the kid’s cousin. He listed other people by their full names and I thought, yes, this is a small world. Yes. I learned that he likes to play the percussion parts of song with his mouth, joking that he has to wipe the inside of the windshield after a road trip, not the outside.

We arrived right on schedule (Jurph shares my brother’s penchant for timed pee and gas breaks). We got to the hotel, changed up, and hit the chez Jen and Chad. On the way out, we passed some other people coming in. In the car, buckling up, Jurph said, “by the way, that guy was totally checking you out.” Said it so matter of fact, said that his wife never notices either, but he knows she likes to have it pointed out to her. It was one of many instances that made me aware of why she married Jurph. Because he is a sweet man, a good man, and, well, he understands.

We get to the house full of mostly noders I am not familiar with. Like many, I await the arrival of the famous. I don’t tell people who I am unless they ask because, well, I’m just me. I love that people take something from my nodes, but I am, at heart, shy with people I don’t know. Other noders are better at these gatherings than me. Many came up to me, lamenting, two days in, that there were still some people they had not yet formally met. To those people I sat and thought, I came here for you. And it is enough.

There is a common sentiment among noders that goes with the territory of caring long distance: you have these people that you love, really love, even if you almost never get to talk to them or let them know that you are loved. I may be a sap and a horrible source for such things, but it is true. It is real. All the hugs I got and gave were so heartfelt that it felt like family, like more than family, like more than I’ve ever felt in friendship. So there. I got that out of the way.

I was lucky. For the first time in many noder meets, I was lucky. I got to hang out with people I wanted to, and they let me come along. I hung out with cahla and Walter while waiting for brassmule to make it to the house, giving him the first hug he’d get all weekend, then going to the hotel to crash at 2am. I went to brunch with Jurph, brassmule, and Walter the next morning. I sat in a circle on the grass with cahla as she commented: look at them, just look at them all, all the newer noders hanging out socializing, everyone at ease, just LOOK at how cool this is. I got to joke about the boy’s vasectomy in his absence, and people laughed. I was funny. It was pure gold, to get pure laughter like that. I got to sing Those Were the Days (theme song to All in the Family) in a minivan with thefez at the wheel. I got to dance at a gay club with tandex and Void_Ptr, and Rosie, man, you are so sweet in pleather. Plus, you are just awesome. I didn’t think you’d remember me. You and thefez were the first noders I’d met and he mentioned that too, that he’d known me for 5 years. And yes, this was true. Yes.

Jen and Chad know this already, so I don’t have to tell them how amazingly over the top they went with everything. Most times, people that host gatherings will do a meal, one meal, then send the noders off to forage for themselves. But I know them two likes to cook, and they stuffed us so full of goodness that when I got weighed and measured at Curves this week, I gained almost an inch around my tummy. But it was worth it. I hope it was for you two as well, and that we can all do our part to show you just how good this all was. When you said I could come back for a visit, I was so touched, I can’t explain, even here. I told Jurph, we HAVE to come back. We have to bring brassmule. We have to come and be the only out of town noders and have these little lumps of gold all to ourselves. Jen and Chad, they make a good family. We have everything to thank for many things. Least of all, this last weekend.

Noder gatherings are the way to mark time when you’re attending, to instantaneously reminisce in the now. You almost can’t do it justice at any other time. We sat back on the deck, in the ebbing dark and creeping daylight, of where we were at this time, this time, and that time, and what we remember, and I thought how lucky I was to have gotten to host a gathering before I left New Orleans. Back when I had something really cool outside myself to offer to visitors. Before things got really bad and then got really good again.

And how they creep out into the real world. Yes, cbustapeck is marrying my boyfriend’s little sister. No, I don’t know when jacob8er and I will marry. I hope it’s soon, because I really really love him. I want him to make me his for keeps. I am a teacher now. Yes. New car, yes. I am an almost all grown up. Yes, it helps if you say I am pretty. I am sagging and bagging in the corners over here, and could use a lift from time to time. I will be 30 in the fall, and I feel like a newborn little girl again. Yes.

We left before Starliner Diner. We left when many were sleeping. We had our own beds waiting for us, people from our normal world that make it not so normal, but spectacular. People for whom we now have many, many little stories about what makes gatherings so special.