Joseph and I had worked it out so that I would be driving to his family's home to pick him up at the end of the summer. It would serve a triple purpose. I would get to meet his family, visit my little brother who lived near Joseph's family, and Joseph would have a way to get back to school.
His family lived on the other side of the state from our college, so it was to be quite a drive on the way back. The way there from Indiana didn't seem so terribly much longer, though. When I parked my car and looked up to see him for the first time in almost 3 months, it felt surreal.
I got out of the car and we stood in awe of each other for a few minutes before soaking in the the glorious tangibility of one another with a heartfelt welcome-back type hug.
As we made our way across the yard, Joseph's little 6 year old sister, Nadia, came sprinting across the grass and leaped into his arms. She hung on his back like a little monkey while he unloaded instruments and the like out of my car. He let her piggy-back as he went to and fro the car effortlessly and unbothered.
Joseph is one of five siblings. His older sister is a few months younger than me, and her name is my name. Spelled the same way and everything. Joseph is next in line, followed by John, Mark, and then Nadia.
His mom and dad were sweet people. Down to earth and familiar.
I met his grandmother on that trip, too. Incredible lady. I wanted to stay near her and exchange knowing glances.
I went with the family to her apartment for a combined celebration of Joseph's sister Sarah's (whom Joseph jokingly referred to as Sarah_001) new engagement to her fiance Braden, and Nadia's 7th birthday.
For a while I sat on the floor with Nadia and Mark, learning from them how to fold a paper cup. Mark was laughing at a time when they were a year or two younger and Nadia had tried to drink out of her paper cup. Water had spilled everywhere, much to Mark's amusement and Nadia's annoyance. Nadia may have only been very newly 7 years old, but that did not make her too young to deal her older brother a well-timed eye-roll. "Come oooooon, Mark! I was, like, 5 years old!"
"She has a point, you know." I winked.
Mark asked Nadia if she wanted to show us her seashell collection. She brought it out in a pail and poured them all out on the floor. She picked up each one joyously to show us, detailing specifically what it was about every individual piece that made that particular one special to her before placing it back in the bucket.
"This one is red! And this one has a little chip in the side! And this one has coral stuck to it!" On and on she went, her eyes gleaming at each one.
I couldn't help but imagine my Jesus whispering to us, "So do I love you..."
Suddenly it was time to go eat. This meant I had to go sit at the table with more grown up people. Sarah_001 and Braden seemed very sweet, but they also fit the bill for the sort of people that I just flat out don't know how to talk to. Whether he was actually in a fraternity or she was actually in a sorority, I may never know. But the clothing as well as the vibes all leaned sharply in that direction.
Obviously, not all sororities or fraternities are the same. And not all people who join them are chronically pretentious. I have known a handful of greek-clubbers who were sparkly-eyed and engaging. I, however, have a bad habit of judging people for my perception that they are judging me.
I should work on that.
As it were, it was a bit daunting when their stories of the trip they took to Sandals, Jamaica as a celebration of their engagement, how much they loved their brand new cars, and what they were planning on for their wedding were followed by, "And Joseph and Sarah, what have you two been up to?"
I tried to make conversation, sort of, but I couldn't find their eyes.
When the food had ended and everyone dispersed back into the living-room and then outside for family pictures, I would have A) felt horribly left out or B) been that girl who just follows her boyfriend around because the atmosphere is making her insecure, if it wasn't for Joseph's grandmother.
She is the sort that makes one feel conspired with. I could hang out on the sidelines and family-watch with her. Mischievous, yet loving.
On Sunday, I got to experience church in Joseph's house. His dad summoned everyone into the living-room and handed us each a hymnal, a Bible, and something like a program that had the order of operations for church that morning on it.
He began to explain it all to me, but I cut in to inform him that having been raised Catholic, I knew the drill. Catholicism and Lutheranism have a lot in common. I thought we could have a little camaraderie over that, but apparently he had too many beefs with Catholicism to be even remotely amused.
I had a moment of excitement when he said we'd be reading from Ephesians and blurted, "Ephesians?! I love that book! It's one of my favorites!".
All enthusiasm was curbed, however, absolutely immediately as he peered over his reading glasses at me with a face that said I had to be some kind of irreverent heathen.
Okay, man, I get it. We sit up straight and do not discuss in church. No wonder Joseph was inclined to run screaming from it.
I could see and hear from the well thought out and typed up sermon he was reading to us that he was trying very hard and his heart was for the Lord. Somewhere, though, there was a disconnect. A misunderstanding. It was a hard service for me to get through. I imagined it must have been infinitely harder for the little ones.
When it was over, Joseph and I went outside to play frisbee with John for a while.
In the afternoon, we loaded up John's drum set and Joe's bass and went to watch those two perform at a coffee house.
By the time Sunday evening was upon us, Joseph and I decided we just wanted a little time to hang out together. We hopped in the car not knowing where to go. Randomly, we pulled into a church parking lot and went for a walk that ended deep in a grove of smallish pine trees. We sat down close together under one of them to talk and talk.
For the first time, our faces were awfully close as we shared secrets and musings. I thought I was going to maybe kiss him. Maybe...
A downpour burst through the tree cover and soaked us to the bone immediately. Up we rocketed to sprint through the driving rain back to the car, but before we were even halfway there, we realized that running was pointless. We were already sopping wet. Might as well enjoy it.
We lay down on the pavement laughing and soaking it in (literally) until we thought Joseph's parents might be worried about us.
Back in the living room, safe and dry, we prayed for the weather the next day, as it was to be our first beach trip together.
As we'd hoped, it couldn't have been more perfect. We played in the dunes on Jockey's Ridge and ran down the edge of them to the bay where we laid on our bellies with our chins in our hands, watching the hermit crabs scramble about comically.
It ended with a heat lightning storm that scared almost everyone away, leaving us with the beach to ourselves and a perfect stormy sky, exploding over the ocean with a show of vivid colors and lightning sparks.
Because Joseph's mom is a master of recipes and all things delicious, there was an abundance of magical food stuffs awaiting us upon our return back to Joe's family's household. The night before such a giant drive back to school we ate well and slept like rocks.
The afternoon of the following day, we loaded up my car, hugged the whole family goodbye and headed home to The Whee.
It was beautiful to know that when we got back we wouldn't be moving into the dorms again.
A new chapter of adventures with our beloved Hanwells was on it's way.