Six years ago, I moved back to the town I grew up in because my husband was offered a job in radio. While initially the transition was difficult, we’ve settled in and found a wonderful community, and I’ve learned to see my hometown with new eyes. Yet, in the first year I had to confront all of the versions of myself that had inhabited this place. This story comes out of that process of reconciliation.
The summer after high school graduation was a time of abject terror and an absolute lack of direction. Most of my friends were headed off to college, but I hadn’t filled out a single application. I was done with school and planned to continue working as a dietary aide at the local hospital, saving up to travel and backpack all over Europe. I cockily told any adult who asked that I was going to “the school of life.” Now I know I was just scared. The unknown loomed large and I didn’t know if I could navigate it. I also knew myself well enough to know I wanted to write, and I couldn’t take any more classes that were required, not yet.
That summer, I hung out with my two best friends. They weren’t friends themselves, so it meant two very separate social lives. One of my best friends was a guy, a year older, and a jazz saxophonist enrolled at our local university. We drove around a lot, smoking, listening to Miles Davis, and talking easily about the small stuff and the big stuff. I knew he wanted more, and before he left town, before our friendship drifted off, I knew he loved me, but he was so cool that he never pressured me in any way. I loved him, intensely, but I couldn’t imagine anything physical, and not because he wasn’t good looking. I liked looking at him. He had a great face. He could make me laugh, and just being around him was an easy pleasure. I really thought anything physical would ruin everything because all of my sexual experiences had been fleeting, inebriated, or impossible encounters. I wanted to be friends with this guy forever. I didn’t want to risk ruining the intimacy we had.
My other best friend was a smart, beautiful, reckless blonde who drove a white Mustang convertible. We worked together. We’d played basketball together and had been friends since seventh grade. She’d had the sense to graduate from high school early, had already completed a semester’s worth of college classes, and was taking summer classes. She had an engineering scholarship at a great university awaiting her in the fall. We’d drive around, smoking, talking about boys, and planning the evening ahead of us. We loved risk and hated this town. High school, and working at the hospital, had revealed a social and economic striation that enraged me, and it perplexes me now why it didn’t serve as a catalyst to leave.
My best girlfriend had two younger sisters, and we’d often hang out with them and their boyfriends. One boyfriend, a kid in my graduating class, had a rich stepfather and a house with a pool. We’d go there to drink and skinny dip in the dark. The night swimming felt like a reprieve from something ominous and heavy, until one night when this stepfather came home unexpectedly, and turned the underwater pool lights on. He stood there, laughing and leering, and we never went back.
I have not seen either of these people, who were such huge parts of my life and who I genuinely loved (with all of the complex emotions loving someone entails), in nearly two decades. I’m unable to articulate how or why we lost touch, although I am certain it all has to do with the complicated business of growing up and becoming who were really were. I have forgotten so much, perhaps some of it willfully. These characters are not based on the people I knew, but this summer, at the public pool, I saw a group of teenagers swimming, and my friends, and the the feelings—of being lost, and found, of dread and excitement—all came back and I wrote this story quickly, as soon as I got in the door, still in my bathing suit, and wrapped in my towel. I was afraid it would evaporate as so much of that exhilarating, dreadful time thankfully has.I hope, if I hurt either of my friends in the past, that it has evaporated too.