Last night me and four other girls squeezed into my girlfriend’s little yellow compact car and drove to the next town over for Chinese food. It was one of those spontaneous decisions. A few of the girls had been talking about it earlier in the day, and as I was mindlessly entering data into the computer at work, counting down the minutes until 5 PM, I thought an all-you-can-eat noodle and sushi buffet sounded like a wonderful idea.
New City Chinese is in a little strip mall between Sally Beauty and a yogurt shop. It’s a grey, nondescript building with shaded, mirror-like windows on the outside. The five of us, starving and emotional, walked up. And after balking only for a second at the buffet price, we found a little booth on the right-hand side of the restaurant and squeezed in.
We were a random group of girls: a softball player from New Mexico, a Minnesota-born lifeguard, a red-headed Iowan, a local cheerleader, and me. We settled into the booth, then looked at each other and laughed. Why did we even bother to sit down? Without waiting for our drinks, we were headed full speed for the buffet.
New City has four main tables of food. The closest is a salad and veggie bar. Behind that are three tables of entrees, a hibachi station which we didn’t discover until round two, an ice cream bar, and on the far left, fruit and sushi. Glorious sushi.
I grabbed one plate at first, started to fill it with different pieces of sushi: a rice roll with spicy mustard and eel sauce sprinkled on top, a traditional roll with tiny slices of cucumber and carrot, then soy, ginger, wasabi—the works. Before I’d even left that table, I had grabbed two plates, another just for my fruit.
At the table behind me, my softball teammate was loading up noodles and pieces of sautéed shrimp. “This is a no judgement dinner,” she said, laughing.
“Seriously though.” I said, as I added a few mushrooms, some sweet-and-sour-chickens, and an egg roll.
Within minutes, we were back: our ten plates, five waters, five sets of keys/wallets, and an extra chair I pulled up to the corner of the booth. The plates were an assortment of fried veggies, chicken and noodles, chunks of steak, wontons, cream puffs, sugar-covered donuts, fruit, and sushi. It was disgustingly wonderful.
At first we didn’t talk. We couldn’t. Then slowly, the conversation opened to boys we had recently made out with, a ridiculous text one of us had received from this girl’s shady boyfriend, the couples we were jealous of, the couples that were avidly cheating on one another, the immature Facebook link so-and-so had reposted on her wall, and the guy one of us thought was slightly un-scumbaggy, but turned out to be the worst.
Between slurps of lo-mein, we confessed some of our biggest insecurities, annoyances with the male race, life goals, and secrets.
At one point, I turned to my red-headed girlfriend, sitting to my right. She was wearing a navy and purple space t-shirt and her long hair was pulled back into a loose French braid. She had that Iowa beauty to her—pink cheeks and natural hair. The group of us had gotten on the subject of looks, the fact that how we see ourselves in the mirror isn’t really what we looked like. I twisted my lips and made a face at her.
“Is this what I really look like?” I placed my hands in my lap and sat upright. “And is this what I think I look like?”
We burst out laughing.
“Seriously though,” she said between snorts, her eyes half-watering, “We’re such a group of misfits!”
I surveyed the five of us. To my left was the North Iowa local, born and raised in the teeny town of Forest City. She was what I’d call button-cute: a little nose, mess of cheek freckles, and half-black tanned skin. Sitting next to her was the Minnesota girl, sun-kissed from twelve hour days at the pool. She was wearing a hippie-patterned tank and her hair was pulled back off her tan shoulders in an effortless-cute bun. Across from her was my softball teammate, or formal softball teammate since my four years of college ball had come to a close last May. She was dressed in her athletic clothes, sporting not only yoga pants, but her usual spicy attitude and smile, of course. And then there was me. I was wearing a semi-conservative navy teacher dress with one of those big statement necklaces I felt made me look mature and hid my baby-face. But my hair was tossed into a haphazard bun at the top of my head. I was a mix of child and adult, my usual garb.
We were misfits. Five random people from a mess of backgrounds, different childhoods, strange experiences, weird boyfriends. Yet, somehow, as we exchanged terrifying stories about our exes, that embarrassing moment when we tried to kiss our crush and he didn’t kiss us back, and the crappy friend that blocked us on Instagram, we were connected. Our lives were opened over heaping spoonfuls of fried veggies and no judgment. And we each returned again and again. Pudding cups and fights with our mothers. Bowls of ice cream and our post-graduation fears.
I was the oldest of the group, the one waiting for her diploma and finishing her final semester of student teaching. But in that buffet it didn’t matter. We were all the same. I talked about my fear of being in front of the classroom, the fact that I’d fought pretty hard with my boyfriend the night prior. Walking into the restaurant I hadn’t felt as close to the girls. It had started as a spontaneous trip for good food. It turned out to be the best $12.03 I’d ever spent. And the cheapest therapy session I’d ever attended.
When we finally half-crawled out of the restaurant almost two hours later, holding our bloated bellies and feeling warm and considerably less stressed, I felt closer to these four girls than I ever had.
We proceeded to mosey around Sally Beauty and compare favorite nail polish colors, scope out the Dollar Aisle at Target for back-to-school supplies, and try on cheap heels at Cato. Then we drove the half-hour back to our town, shoulder-to-shoulder, shopping bags squished around our feet, laughing and occasionally patting our tummies. And thirty-five minutes later, we shared buttery popcorn at an outdoor movie. Still no judgment.
I consider myself an athlete. Was a collegiate athlete, and am, in many ways, still an athlete. I love to run. I love to workout. I love to eat healthy. But believe me, sometimes there’s nothing better for your health and body than stuffing your face with crab rangoons, California rolls, and cookies-and-cream ice cream (not to mention a late popcorn snack!) with your girlfriends, realizing that no one will get your tears and laughs like the girls in your life.