Chapter 2 - Reuning
Clad in my $200 jeans and my butterfly boots,
beside a similarly stylin' MTF, old friends were just a taxi ride away. A long, motion-sickness-inducing taxi ride, then through the 3 story lobby, past more mailboxes than there were students in the Cuters' high school, and up almost all the way to the top. Tucson's one-story adobe homes felt very far away.
Rang the bell and fell headfirst into my past. There was my very first date - he'd escorted me to a bowling party in the 6th grade. Gallantly, he claimed to remember the entire event. Thankfully, he'd forgotten the orange and white stretch pants I'd worn. My memory was crystal clear : I'd left my front door with a smile on my face, loving my new clothes...... and then he asked me why I was wearing pajamas. A lot of the fun of dating was lost for me that evening. The look on his face when I told my story was the first indication I had that something was going to be different about this weekend. He looked genuinely sad that he'd hurt me. 43 years later and he felt my pain.
Oh, yes. Something was definitely going on.
Without name tags (don't groan -- you'll be hearing more about them over these posts) recognizing people took some artful questioning. "So, where are you living now?" was a good one, because I knew who was from Harrisburg and Cincinnati and L.A. and might be able to make a good guess. There was a good deal of discrete whispering and huddling in the kitchen for a run-down of names and salient factoids and then we were off to dinner.
I live in a destination. When guests come to visit, they can rest assured that I've scoped out the restaurants and that they're getting the best the neighborhood has to offer in whatever category they can come up with. My old friends did a great job in the "lots of people with lots to say who want to eat lots of different things" department. Our long table along the wall was as unobtrusive as such a thing could be, and our reshuffling and regrouping and waving and "hello-ing" was no louder than any other table's conversation. OK, maybe just a little louder. But it was happy talk, and who could be mad about that? Ruth remembered being my campaign manager, and Ann didn't know where Kay was, and the conversation bounced around like that over fajitas and burgers and tuna and salads and then someone did the math for the check and we were out of there, on our way to the next party.
(This was also the last time that everyone in the group was able to speak. By the next morning, the first cases of laryngitis began to emerge. By the end of the weekend, there were only one or two of us still able to croak above a whisper.)
Those of us not staying on the Upper East Side returned to the bar in The Park South for a pre-reunion-stop-by-if-you're-in-the-neighborhood get-together which had been announced on Facebook.
And this is where it starts to get mushy, as in wiping tears out of my eyes. Things began to take a turn I hadn't expected. I just knew going into it that everyone would be exactly the same. Nasty then would be nasty now. Boring then would put me to sleep tonight. Attitude was attitude and I was prepared. MTF and I had all our snarky responses ready. We were on the alert for each other's distress and were ready to intervene if necessary. This was going to be tough, but we would get through it. After all, we were pretty fabulous ourselves and.......
And none of that was needed. There was a warmth and an inclusiveness and a willingness to share that, if it existed in high school, was well hidden from my purview. Easy camaraderie - I was stunned.
Then I heard my name - my childhood name, the name no one has called me for 4 decades - in a voice I would have recognized even out of context. Her freckles, her sparkly eyes, her hair (a little less red, but still thick and enviable), her just-like-her-mother-had perfectly polished nails and that voice, that voice that tormented me on the playground and on the street we shared and in our hallways and suddenly she was hugging me tightly and expressing joy at our meeting and telling everyone in earshot that we'd known each other since we were 1 year old and how great it was to see me and then she looked me in the eye, hugged me tighter and shook my world: "I was sooo mean to you when we were young. I am so sorry. I am so not that person anymore. Will you forgive me?"
I realized that I had nodded agreement with her admission of guilt - yes, you were mean to me. Like a ton of bricks it hit me that I had never, in all my life, admitted that fact out loud. We were friends. We lived on the same street. We played together as kids did back then, ringing doorbells at friends' houses up the street until you found someone at home to do something with. Our parents liked each other. I always knew she was mean to me, but we were still friends.
If anyone holds the key to the intricacies of a young girl's mind, please enlighten me. All I know now is that a knot which had been hiding in a storage locker in my soul is now sliced through. Vanished. I've been carrying around the little slights and the bigger hurts and she looked right into my eyes and brought it out into the open and squished it like a bug. I cried. She cried. People noticed and smiled as we hugged and laughed about her "12 Step Friendship Program" and from then on it was perfect.
Yes, perfect. Sometimes hot and overcrowded and rained upon but always perfect. I had been wrong - people weren't going to be the same.
(next: Chapter 3 The Main Event)