I have known Hilary since 4th grade. When we reunited, last May, we hadn’t seen one another for over thirty years. The words and laughter tumbled out of us so fiercely that after only four or so hours together, we had to go to separate rooms and have a nap before continuing.
Hilary has written a few books. As soon as I found this out, several years ago, I read them all. In one of them lay an amazing discovery about mystical experiences we both had when we were young, in separate sleepover camps. Pretty unusual for seven year olds, let alone both having had them in camp! We had never talked about it with one another back then. I had never told a soul until I read about hers in that book. Reading that, my old bond with her was renewed. And when we finally saw one another, for one night in her home near Taos, it was if only a few weeks had passed since our last junior high sleepover, though this time we were talking less about Starsky and Hutch.
Old friends bring us back to ourselves, sometimes to a more innocent self, and sometimes to one that was less confident. They are a great touchstone to seeing our growth, as well as seeing what we may have lost. And the laughter we share is as fizzy and nostalgic to me as a just-opened bottle of Orange Fanta.
I was inspired to write about old friends today because of another old friend, Ruth Flanagan. She has always been in my heart and was a very important part of those years at Park School, but somehow, unlike the others, we had not really reconnected, until the past few months. And this last week, while chatting on FB, she pointed out two instances of things I did that really stayed with her all of these years. In her opinion, back then, I was authentic, boldly honest and positive. She talked about how excited I got when I received an F on a social studies paper from Mr. Bentick-Smith. I remember being thrilled to get my first F. I liked extremes. I was relieved not to be a C. She said that she often thought of this and talked about a few other instances that had come up for her over the years.
Her generous words gave me an awareness of how we lose sight of who we were. I thought of myself as being kind of disturbing in my honesty, and sappy in my love of musicals and pop 70's songs. That was not the whole story.
I would love to return the favor and let my old friends know how they influenced me. From Ruth, I learned that it is indeed possible to survive your worst case scenario. Her mother had died when Ruth was young, even younger than when we met her in seventh grade. Ruth had a huge, resilient spirit that I have thought of over the years when I wanted to just roll into a ball after my mother and sister died. And her unique, brilliant sense of humor is inspiring.
She and I shared a love of books, and writing. We would go to the Harvard Book Store Cafe on Newbury Street, in Boston, and order teas and scones while we talked about books we were reading. We boldly read new books that we would take off the shelves there, and never buy, trying not to leave too many crumbs inside. We also shared an (owned) copy of John Steinbeck's East of Eden, each reading a few chapters and writing notes and drawing doodles to one another in the margins (about boys more often than about the book,) handing the book back and forth.
I've often thought about that fearless, excited ambition we both shared, to write books one day. It's a good feeling to strive for now, for my writing students, and for myself.
I am getting married next April. For a few weeks, I talked my fiancee into having a wedding with all of our most important friends included, near and far. This was going to mean inviting 100 people, getting a big venue, making countless decisions, and having a huge price tag. I realized that what I really wanted was to reconnect with all of my girl friends. But at my wedding, I was not going to get to spend enough time with any of them, and the stress of planning and paying for this thing seemed overwhelming. We are back to having a wedding in the back yard with just family. But I am determined to reconnect with all of those friends I didn't get to invite, hopefully with a visit, but at least with a letter. I have let too much time go by without thanking them for how they contributed to who I am, whether it was the freedom with which my first best friend Sally got us to dance around the table with underwear on our heads, singing the chef boyardee jingle, or the independent spirit of my fellow latch-key friend, Cary, who lived around the corner from me in Back Bay, Boston. They were my foundation.
With love for all the friends, old and new,