Okay, everyone, it’s time to get in the time machine and set the dial to 1979… Jimmy Carter is president, Roots is shown on TV, and Three Mile Island has a meltdown…

…and I am no longer a friendless teen. I made more friends this year than I did for previous seven years, and my best friend, whom I mentioned previously, was I. The second part of my recent journey took me to I., a few other old friends, and her family.

When I. picked me up at the train station, she didn’t look the same at first. Her hair was dyed and she had a style of sunglasses on that I wouldn’t have pictured her wearing. We got in her soccer mom van and I felt a little ill at ease. When she took off her sunglasses and saw her eyes, with their same expression of mischievousness and fun, I started to relax. In fact, it didn’t take much time until it felt like we hadn’t been apart very long at all — or, as I. put it afterward, we didn’t miss a beat.

Over the next couple of days, I was inserted into I.’s life: her family, pets, farm animals, work, and hobbies. It was a very happy, fulfilled life. Most of the time, we drove from errand to errand. Although all this was new, there were parts of the experience that were very old. Even as teens, I. liked to spend her time driving around the countryside, and she spent a good amount of 85-cent gas escorting me through the scenery. And back then as now, I. was happiest being the hostess, having me come to her world. The first thing she invited me to do with her when we were young was to come to her house (I declined, as I didn’t know her much at all at that point.) So even though decades had passed, the whole experience had a familiarity to it.

At time I. hinted that she was very conservative, which wasn’t exactly a surprise to me. In high school, are ideas were not fully formed, and we were more alike. Neither one of us dated or did drugs. She was rebelling against her strict parents which, because we were basically “good girls”, consisted of nothing more than our staying out as late as we pleased despite her having a curfew. But this rebellion had nothing to do with beliefs. We grew apart when she went to a Catholic college while I went a liberal, artsy-fartsy school. Her rigidity was being solidified while I was having my mind opened, although at times with a crowbar. And later when I moved to California, she was both mystified at my choice and stubborn at accepting my departure. Every consequential conversation including her asking, “When are you coming home?”

It’s hard, if not impossible, to explain to someone who is comfortable in the place they grew up and call home how not homey it can feel. And trying to explain how a place that you didn’t grow up in feels like your “real home” is really unconceivable for someone like I. She loves her “homeland”, and has never considered living elsewhere.

The countryside of Connecticut is a place basically unchanged for generations. The same old farmhouses grace the rolling hills, and fall colors appear as if from a picture book exactly on schedule. I never thought the place very beautiful when I lived there, but coming back after decades I could see that it was pretty. But I still did not feel that I was “home.” Home was a place of mild weather, open mindedness, and racial diversity.

To me, one of the beauties of middle age is that I can sit and talk to I. and enjoy her company without any concern for our differences. It’s true that if we saw each other more, the differences could become a problem, but it’s a moot point: we’ll never live close again. That realization makes the hours we spent idling away as kids all the more special.

We spent one evening with a few other friends from high school. I discovered during this dinner that the people from my youth mean more to me now than they have in a very long time. I look at their gray hair and wrinkles and can still see the boy or girl they used to be. They’ve changed so much but I still love them. I don’t know why that is.

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One Response to “Visiting the Past: Part II: High School”

  1. The frozen St. Lawrence still flows | the nerge on February 7th, 2015 6:35 pm

    […] talked about my friend Irene before (here and here). Since we first got back in touch five years ago or so she has been bugging me to join […]

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