April 24, 2011

A long time ago, we used to be friends...

...but I haven't thought of you lately at all.
If ever again, a greeting I send to you,
Short and sweet to the soul is all I intend.

Yes, but during my Veronica Mars marathon, the Dandy Wharhols tune reverberated, until I did think of you, and you, and others lost along the way, whether through my choice or theirs.

First, Jennifer, who is seated beside me toasting at the bar in Lake Placid. She, almost 2, and I, almost 3, settled in our mothers' favorite banquette, Shirley Temples in hand. We had our summers together until I was 18 or so.

I have found Jennifer again (through Facebook, which knows us all); now she lives in India at an ashram and does yoga almost full-time. We were the only children in her uncle's hotel in Lake Placid -- two toddlers well acquainted with the cocktail hour.

I have reminisced about our adolescence in fiction: smoking our parents' cigarettes, drinking wine the bus boys brought in to the kitchen when we were on glass-washer duty, getting stoned with one of the waitresses and gobbling entire boxes of Freihoffer's chocolate chip cookies.

All Jennifer has said is, "I don't think of the past very often, but those days -- they were golden." So they were, days crafted by a generation that believed in leisure and escaping heat: my family stayed at our uncle's hotel every year for the month of August.

We swam, water-skied, pretended we were bicycling on the white fiberglass paddle boats; We played tennis, backgammon, all manner of card and board games; we ice skated at the 1932 Olympic rink; bowled in Saranac, the next town over; stole chocolate chips from the pastry chef's kitchen and gobbled them up on the 18th green of the golf course next door where we practiced gymnastics.

When it rained, we went next door to the big hotel's game room, playing pinball at ten cents a throw, back when the scores were analog and digital was a gleam in no one's eye. We also excelled at shoplifting from big hotel's gift shop.

We dressed formally for dinner -- preening in our fancy outfits when our moms let us wear mascara, non-waterproof variety, that made black tears pour down our cheeks when we laughed so hard we couldn't but cry. We had manners, drilled into us as toddlers, corrected when we were teenagers who couldn't be bothered. Yes, those days, that way of life -- it was golden, and I miss it.

Then there's Jamie's mom -- my friend from college who decided, belatedly, that she didn't like the way I behaved in front of her kids one day, after 8 or 9 years of being perfectly content with my role as Aunt to her kids, Aunt verging on Auntie Mame, the one who always played with the kids and brought them presents galore.

I spent hours on the phone with her when her husband was on a nuclear submarine in waters unknown, before email and other electronic means of communication. At the time, I believe I was the only adult voice she heard during the day above the clamor of her three children.

Her conservative husband, when I did see him, humored me: he didn't know anyone else who would so appreciate the irony of a coffee cup that read "U.S. Navy Earth Friendly." He called her diploma "your father's receipt." I refer to it as my mother's picking up a four-year bar tab, but the sentiment is the same.

I missed the memo the year she was evaluating and dropping friends with abandon -- in retrospect, it seems clear: I was far from the only one dismissed, and, presumably, I was among the last. Still, I spent hours worrying about her and her family when communication lurched to a sudden halt, only to discover she was angry at me -- but phrased it passive-aggressively: the children, she said, couldn't understand my sleeping late, for example.

I wondered why she couldn't explain to her kids that my way was different from hers, for whatever reason -- she was fond of reminding me that we shared an education, but evidently hers didn't lend itself to bringing up her children the way our generation was brought up: the adults were always right. She could have used one of those T-shirts: "Why? Because I'm your mother. That's why."

Who else, cared for one day and always in memory, regardless of how our connections were severed: the college BFF, for whom that second F had a timer on it; the stockbroker who was once my financial planning study buddy, and who wanted to continue our business relationship minus the friends part.

She, like Jamie's mom, was a Republican, and that ultimately would have broken that camel's back. But there were years that I was at her house so frequently that her 6-year-old son asked her if she and I were getting married -- little boy gender-bender circa 1995: I loved him for that alone.

I miss her about as often as I miss my manic-depressive friend who took it upon herself to call my shrink and tell him things I had told her -- hello? If you benefit from my illegally obtained largess, shouldn't you just say thank you and keep your mouth shut?

When you reach a certain age, you have enough detachment to think of friends in a former life as just that: people in a life you no longer live, or even remember all that well.

Still, it saddens me to hear the lyrics: "...we used to be friends."


Blogger Gray Matter said...

This was both wonderful and painful to read. I wish I couldn't relate so much.

2:59 PM  

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