At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Garret and Emily, high school graduation. Garret and Emily, high school graduation.

Meandering down the desolate Route 8 in the southern Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York last weekend, my truck came over a slight rise. It was in that moment when I realized the road was covered with at least a foot or more of water. 

With over two feet of snow falling during the week, the subsequent rain was unable to drain properly from the roadway with the snowbanks blocking the ditches. The Toyota Tacoma slammed into the huge puddle, a wall of water covering the windshield. Tapping the brakes in that moment of blindness, the truck swerved and slammed into a snow bank in the oncoming lane. 

The left quarter panel was crunched. Bumper severely mangled. Fog light busted out. But, I was able to drive it out of there. No blown tire. No messed-up wheel alignment. No cracked headlight. No liquids spewing out from unknown places in the engine. 

I pulled over at a gas station and assessed the damage. Dammit. Not my beloved truck. Between thoughts about how much money (I don’t have) that it will take to repair the damage, I had to keep reminding myself how lucky I was. Automobiles can be repaired. Human bodies and minds are a different story. 

About 100 miles down the road, I arrived in at an old high school friend’s house in Liverpool, New York. She’s an educator now, working her way up the administrative ladder. Snow blanketing the backyard of her cozy house. Smile on her face and big bear hug when I crossed the threshold of her abode. 

I’ve known Emily (aka: “Emma”) since I was in seventh grade. That was 1997. Over 20 years ago, and yet we’ve still made the effort to keep in touch, meeting up every few years or so. Each of us is from a small farming community on the Canadian Border. And both of us wanting to run away from home after high school for fear of simply fading into the background landscape of the North Country like so many of our peers eventually did.

Regardless, it was surreal to be standing there in Emma’s kitchen catching up. One of those cosmic souls who, no matter how much time has passed, will pick up the conversation right where we left off, and always on the same page. 

Friends like Emma are a rare and beautiful thing, and you must hold onto those precious connections, come hell or high water. Because it’s when the going gets tough that you have those folks to lean on — in conversation and in life, too. They have your back, and the sentiment is sincerely reciprocated. 

“I have all our old yearbooks. You want to look through them?” Emma suggested with a sly grin. “Yep. Sold. Let’s read aloud what everyone wrote you back in the day,” I shot back.

Six yearbooks with frayed edges and scratched covers. Ranging from 1997 to 2003. There was the middle school headshot where I had on my huge glasses. The ninth grade one when I bleached my hair and sported a hemp necklace. My senior photo with a preppy American Eagle shirt and long sideburns. 

There were also photos of the winter formals, of cross-country races and basketball teams, of classroom shenanigans and after-school mischief, of first cars in the student parking lot and, most importantly, of each other — young and with our entire lives ahead of us. 

We fell over in bursts of laughter reading what our old friends wrote in the corners and pages of the yearbooks. Some short and to the point: “See you this summer.” Others absurd and quite odd. Many with inside jokes either fondly remembered to this day or forgotten and buried in the sands of time. And then we found what I wrote to her the year we graduated, 2003. 

The Catholic school cleanliness of my cursive covered two pages in the back of the yearbook. It was all about the future, and how proud I was of Emma. So much to look forward to in the face of the unknown, uncertain next chapter following high school and all that was familiar and safe during the first 18 years of our lives. 

The next morning, Emma had to head out to her school. I hugged her goodbye. We made plans for a summer rendezvous. Then I was alone in her big, quiet house. Photos of us on the wall. Yearbooks on the table. 

I grabbed the 2003 yearbook, opened it up to my message to her, and placed it on her kitchen counter with a new note attached: “Sixteen years later, you’re still the beautiful, vivacious and determined woman I knew those many moons ago. Love you, Emma.” 

Walking outside, I was immediately reminded of the damage to my truck. But, in that moment, I didn’t care. It’s just a truck. There are so many more important things in life than just worrying about a damaged vehicle. I’m alive and in the world. I have friends and family where love and compassion is in a constant cycle. Onward into the unknown. Onward into the future of your intent. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 Porch 40 will launch its “Pour 40” tour with a special performance at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, at The Gem, the downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville. 

2 The Women of Waynesville will host a “Manly Man Auction” fundraiser at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville. 

3 Legendary bluegrass act Balsam Range will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin. 

4 The Lily Cai Dance Company will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center as part of Western Carolina University’s Lunar New Year Celebration.

5 There will be combined Groundhog Day celebration and Haywood Waterways Association post-Polar Plunge party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Balsam Ridge Gallery in Waynesville. 

Go to top