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The highway was alive last Saturday night. The sun tucked its glory behind a Midwestern hill a few minutes early, leaving a film of dusk sticking to my tires and making my mouth dry. The lanes twisted together, ducked behind construction barrels, swerved under viaducts, vanished on false horizons. I was driving to a party with no one in the passenger’s seat.

I imagined a charming young man asking me on a date across our open windows while we waited in inchworm lines of traffic. How silly. So I drove and drove alone, listening to music and praying for a birthday party. How silly.

This birthday gal and I are friends against the odds. Waitresses don’t have friends, only a compounding list of former and current co-workers. She’s a licensed masseuse, but even that isn’t what keeps me around. She’s a spunky woman, an independent gal with a lot of energy and passion for life and for the things she loves. She loves to love, too. And she asks questions, not unlike me, so we try to find the answers together. We’re an odd pair, sure, but we make it work. We do.

And to make it work, I drag myself to parties like this, where we sit on lawn chairs in the open garage chatting about our industry while I choke on smoke and drink water from a plastic cup. The make-believe man who drove by me on the highway would do this too, this convoluted plan of sacrificing to show love. He would even miss a hockey playoff game for a birthday party such as this. Like me.

On the way there, I always think it trivial and I worry because I don’t fit in. I play worship music, reminding myself of all kinds of truths about this and that. I consider turning around every few minutes, convinced I wouldn’t be missed in the chain-smoking garage. But on the way home, I’m content in the refreshment that follows. I never love it, but I always come out alive. The birthday girl smiles and hugs me and says she’s glad I came. She reads my card because I’m unemployed and buying a gift would break the bank. She says she loves that, too. And on the drive home, the highway breathes deep and falls asleep and all I know is that this love is the only love that will last.