I got together with my college roommates recently, just an afternoon catching up and a kind of “welcome to the area” for one who had moved back to the state. It had been over 25 years since we’d all seen each other, but aside from the teeniest traces of aging (just nod in agreement), we hadn’t changed much. The same personalities that drew us together and sometimes drove us to teeth-grinding annoyance as roommates were intact.
I love that about girlfriends–how you can just pick up in the middle as if you’d just left the room for a minute. We talked about people we used to know, what sort of roads we’d traveled, and things on our hearts. You know, what women do. Turns out, two of us had been in fairly serious car accidents. As they relayed their stories, we laughed at how different their reactions were.
One had been in the middle of Secret Service training. She hydroplaned on the interstate in Atlanta, got T-boned by an 18-wheeler and was pushed sideways for several yards before stopping. Hands on the wheel and feet planted, she tried to maintain control. Amazingly, she was mostly unhurt, and her first thought was potential security breaches, so she gathered her laptop, parking stickers, and uniform before heading to the hospital. Methodical, matter-of-fact, and calm.
Another was in a truck in Mississippi with her husband, who passed out and drove off a steep embankment, hurtling downhill through trees and branches. She screamed and flailed as she was flung around inside the truck. Once they came to a stop and her husband woke up, she blubbered and tried to get her bearings. Her first thought as she patted herself down for injury: “I lost my hair clippy!” Frantic, scattered, and illogical.
I don’t know what their different reactions say about them as people, but I tell their stories to show how we seem worlds apart in some ways and yet are friends because we “knew each other when.” We all have these people, friends who witnessed us as we grew up, know our best and worst selves at different stages of our lives (and liked us anyway). People who knew us when we were relatively unscathed by life and unburdened by the wounds of adulthood.
If someday my children convened all of them into one room and asked them to describe their mom in one word, it might seem they were talking about a handful of strangers, not the “me” my kids know. I asked my aunt recently about things she and my mother used to do when they were young, and her answers surprised me. The opinions and stories she shared about my mother were nothing like the figure of her I held in my memory. Same person, different time.
It occurs to me sometimes to make a list of some key girlfriends, a reference of sorts, should something ever happen to me and my kids find themselves curious like I did. I’d include the girl I met in fourth grade and learned to ride horses with, my best friend in junior high who was a two-headed ghost with me on Halloween, and my high school BFF who danced to Bananarama with me and shepherded me through constant self-doubt. Maybe they’d tell stories I would cringe at: the time I was less than kind to that girl on the bus, when I sulked over my friend’s picture being judged better than mine, when I was mad that I got in trouble over throwing that paper airplane so I told and made her get in trouble too. Lots of less-than-stellar moments they could mention.
But also: That cherry Blow-Pop kiss with the guy at the dance, being afraid of the older kid with greasy hair whose dad always yelled at him so the whole neighborhood could hear, writing a hilarious parody of Julius Caesar and performing it for all the English classes. My college roommates could contribute a thing or two. Maybe the time I hung out the 4th story window so I could shoot a water gun into the guys’ apartment on the floor below. That was definitely a highlight.
More recently, there are the ladies I’ve raised kids with. Those from that time I went to the gym for about five minutes, other classroom moms, moms on the sidelines of ballgames and sports events. The girls that listen and offer advice on toddlers, tantrums, and teenagers. The ones who get it, who get you, and who show up and give hugs, laughter, and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.
Conversations now are not about that cute guy in chem class or how to create the perfect smoky eye. Now they’re about maintaining marriages, career changes, how heavy it feels sometimes to still be parenting your own kids while your parents need you, too. Now instead of rallying for a dance, we rally around each other when a marriage fails, or when someone miscarries, faces disappointments with fertility or adoption or special needs. We bring food after surgeries, hold hands during chemo, and cry about those we lose. We mother our own kids and each other’s, too, praying they are safe and make good decisions. We mother the kids of girlfriends we’ve lost, giving them hugs and brownies, encouragement and solid ground. And if we can’t be mothers, we are The Best Aunts Ever.
We can still have a blast, too, at a concert or at dinner. We take selfies and dress up for Halloween and laugh when we can’t figure out our phones or see the menu because the lights in this place are always too dim. We talk movies, books, politics, and people. We have each other’s backs. Even 25 years later. It’s what friends do.