Life really is better with girlfriends. Good girlfriends. The supportive, honest ones, who know you so well that they call you out when you lose your way, cheer you along as you begin to live out Hallmark movies in real life, and will meet you at 7:30 a.m. in the morning to throw bottles into the Hudson River.
Yup, it’s Bottled with Love time, and part of the fun of my Hallmark in Real Life adventure is reaching out to the amazing network of women in my life to enlist their support and ideas. One of those amazing women is my friend of 20 years and author, Robyn Neeley. (If you haven’t read her fun romance novels, you should! Check her out here: https://www.robynneeley.com/)
When you share that you are about to go on a Hallmark movie journey, you can get a range of reactions. Laughter is the one I have anticipated most, but to my grateful surprise, I’ve also been met with overwhelming support and encouragement.
Although we have been in touch via email and social media, it’s been ten years since Robyn and I last saw each other in person. Still, it felt like no time had passed when we met on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for breakfast—me bleary-eyed, just off a work flight from Aspen; Robyn fresh from Virginia, in town for the Romance Writers of America Conference.
Over coffee (lots of coffee), computers, and omelets, and as we caught up on life and writing, I sheepishly handed over the six-page letter I had written on yellow legal paper the night before. Although I’d been dead tired when I got home from the airport at close to midnight, I had told Robyn I was not going to miss my deadline. It was a self-imposed deadline, of course, but over email, Robyn had challenged me to write my Bottled with Love letter, and I was not going to let her down.
Hallmark fans are familiar with Bottled with Love staring Bethany Joy Lenz and Andrew Walker. For those unfamiliar, the story goes like this: When our leading lady, Abbey Lawrence (played by Lenz) is stood up by her wedding date, her Aunt Frances (played by Frances Flanagan) encourages her to write a letter to Love and throw the letter—as well as, symbolically, her heart—out to sea and into the world. I won’t give away all the details (you should watch it for yourself!), but of course a handsome stranger, a.k.a. Nick Everson (played by Walker), finds the letter and communication, complications, and a happy ending evolve from there.
In Real Life, if I am really going to go on a Hallmark movie journey, and specifically a Bottled with Love journey, then I need to be honest and share that I want a Hallmark happy ending that includes finding love. So at nearly midnight after a long day of travel, I sat down at my distressed wood desk and free wrote my thoughts down on a yellow legal pad of paper. Then, without rereading a single word, I went to bed. I have never done anything like this in my life! When I handed the pages over to Robyn, unsure of what I had written down the night before, I felt confident that Robyn would stop me if my letter sounded insane. Instead, after she read it, she looked at me with a big smile and said, “I love it,” followed by, “Are we putting this in the Hudson today?”
In Bottled with Love, the perfect environmentally appropriate glass bottle just happens to be lying around at the wedding when Abbey’s date stands her up. In Real Life, bottles don’t just appear on cue. Therefore, we googled “How do you send a message in a bottle?” and were shocked to find quite a few instructions . . . all of which we promptly ignored, because if I had to locate a glass wine bottle at 7:30 a.m., clean it, wait for it to air dry, and then boil wax from the cork to seal the lid, this Hallmark in Real Life moment was never going to happen. Instead, we bought two water bottles – one as a test, and one for the real deal.
In Real Life I have a metal straw in my backpack in an effort to reduce my use of plastic straws while grabbing iced coffee on the go. In Real Life I have multiple reusable water bottles to again try to reduce my plastic footprint. Yet the only way I was going to be able to achieve this Hallmark in Real Life moment was to utilize a plastic bottle, because it was the only thing available while I still had enough courage to go through with the act. I felt so guilty, I even added a “p.s.” to my letter as an apology to the ocean and to the receiver. But honestly, if I didn’t throw this letter out into the world with the support of Robyn, playing the role of Aunt Frances, on that sunny July morning, I’m not sure I would ever summon enough courage to do it again.
The sun was glistening off the Hudson River as we walked along the West Side Highway bike path from the Boat Basin (79th Street) to Pier I (68th Street). Robyn was brimming with enthusiasm and encouragement about the adventure, as I was just brimming with nerves. Laughing at ourselves and recording our shenanigans, we did some testing with the first bottle, making sure to add the exact weight of six pages using a fake letter that read “Testing 1, 2, 3” to make sure it really would float. It did, so it was time to release the real letter—of which there is no copy, of course, because it was handwritten—out into the world.
Hours later I was sick to my stomach with nerves, texting Robyn, “OMG what have I done?!” The fundamental truth is that a part of me, a large part of me, is terrified that someone will actually find my letter. This is the journey to vulnerability: Putting it out there so that someone might receive it, hopefully with kindness.
I can’t decide if I’ll be luckier if my letter is found or not. And if it is found, will it be by NYC waste management, a nice old lady who is the absolute wrong demographic, or someone who will set me on a grand adventure? Only time will tell, but I can promise you: if there is a chapter two to this adventure, you’ll hear it here first.