Old Friends

Last night I was thinking of my friend Lisa, from high school. She was my adopted “sister”. I’d had another bestie before that too, but our friendship had gone back to junior high and sort of stagnated in high school when I began to depart from the religious crowd at church. Indeed I became a wild child for a while and lots of my church friends, who I still really loved, became rather judgmental. I didn’t meet Lisa at church. Or even school. But at our part-time job. Lisa and I did everything together from junior year in high school on. When I moved out of my house temporarily, her parents took me in. Of course I moved back home soon enough, but I was quite rebellious!

The first night Lisa and I got to know each other was when a bunch of us went to a a Christmas work party that our manager threw at his house. We lived in the Chicago suburbs, and when I think about it now, I’m ultimately surprised that my very strict parents ever allowed me to go, because it was going to go on late and it was a very cold winter night with lots of snow. But my parents were not aware that the manager (who seemed old but really probably was only in his twenties at the time) would allow alcohol. Well, he told us “no alcohol” but never enforced it. Someone in my friends group had gotten a bottle of Southern Comfort, and passed it around generously. Really, at that time, being 16 and all, I had never really ever drank much. That night’s memory is both vivid and fractured, as just a few drinks of SC got me pretty buzzed but also seemed to enhance everything. I recall my friend Alicia and I trying to walk in the snow out front, and we kept falling down and laughing loudly. It’s the night I got to know my friend Bob better, also a co-worker; we stayed friends for many many years later. He was in my biology class and for a long time had a crush on me, and once tried asking me out, but I laughed because I thought he was too hot for little ‘ol me and I thought for those high school years that he only liked me as a friend. We did end up going to prom together (a story for another day), and by that time he had a girlfriend, but she had already promised someone else the date, before she met Bob. He was super kind, cute, and genuine, and made everyone laugh. But that’s the night my friend Lisa and I kind of bonded. We’d already been friends and talked a lot. People thought we were sisters because we were both about the same height, thin, and had wavy golden-brown hair. We began to just tell people, “Yes, we’re sisters.” We bonded over a silly thing: the nicknames our friends gave us after that night, which had to do with Southern Comfort. I became the “Southern Comfort Kid” because I got so silly on it. She became the “Chicken Soup Kid”, because on the way home she threw up her earlier soup on the way home, out the car window, from drinking too much.

Lisa’s family had moved from Boston during her junior year, so that’s why I hadn’t known her before. Her dad was from Galway, Ireland, and he was almost like a stereotypical Irish man. He had twinkling blue eyes, a deep accent, and enjoyed the drink. I was also somewhat close to Lisa’s two brothers and her sister. Her younger brother looked like a young Dax Shepard (before I ever heard of Dax), and her other brother was super shy. The mother was so kind to me and treated me like a daughter. Lisa didn’t like moving to the Chicago area. She missed Boston. But we became fast friends and just loved each other so much. Back then we were so in to Led Zeppelin. She had a big poster of Jimmy Page on her wall. He was cute, but I thought Robert Plant was cuter–and we had long light-hearted debates on the matter. My hair was super curly back then, and I could pull and brush it forward and then flip it back and look like Ted Nugent or something (I had no idea he’d become a crazy right-wing dude later on). We hung out with our other really good friends from work and school: Alicia, Bob, Laurie, Nancy, Tom, Ricky, Debbie, and others. Our parties were risky (we would hide pot in our work lockers–or at least Tom and Ricky did–and bring vodka into work and mix it with the orange/lemon drinks served at the restaurant). I spent many nights at Lisa’s house, and she at mine. It was just that type of friend: reliable, trustworthy, the kind you would spend hours talking with about everything under the sun. I guess I was thinking of her out of the blue last night because I was thinking about genuine friends, the likes of which it’s harder and harder to find when you get older. Outside my best friend, who is my husband, I have at least one other dear friend, my husband’s best friend’s girlfriend, who I have so much fun with. Then I have a handful of other friends we do stuff with, but unlike in high school, people are so busy and we are lucky to get together like a dozen times a year. But Lisa was just a rare friend who I did everything with.

I still remember the day she went to college. I was really a part of their family, so I went up with the family to help her move into her new dorm at Aquinas College in Michigan, and I remember crying with her mom that day, and just feeling so sad because Lisa would no longer be around. I briefly attended a local college before moving to Indiana and going to Purdue University. Lisa and I kept in touch. I visited her at Aquinas a lot and we went to kegger parties in the nearby vicinity of Aquinas in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I remember those old two-story houses with big front porches and autumn leaves falling around them. I had such a great big crush on a guy who had long hair (think a straight Jonathan Van Ness), and he actually got killed in a freak accident. Before attending Purdue, I had applied to Ferris State University, north of Grand Rapids, and gotten accepted into one of their science programs (back then it was called Forestry, but I’m not sure they still have that), but my dad and mom were moving from Chicago back to central Indiana (where I’d grown up before high school days) and didn’t want to help pay for an out-of-state college. I sometimes wondered how different my life would have been.

Slowly but surely, Lisa and I adapted to life without being right next to each other at every possible moment. She went on to get married, as did I, and really, the next time I saw her was in 2004 or so when she had twins and I was temporarily moving back to the Chicago area. I spent an afternoon hanging out with her and her then babies, and it was really nice. In 2009 when my father died, she called and we had a great talk. Her father died two years later, and same thing. But I have never found her on social media, and we really haven’t been in touch since. The only people I have regular contact since those times are really our other friends Alicia and Laurie, who are on Facebook–but it turns out that none of us are very active there. I’m actually fine with friends drifting in and out. People move on, move away, and things just change. It’s the place in your heart that’s frozen that sometimes means the most. But there’s a very few people throughout my life who had that kind of impact on me that Lisa did. I guess a lot of it had to do with us going through the emotional teenage and young adult times together. I look so fondly back on those days because the people I loved, and who loved me, really molded me to be the person I became. I’m happy I became me, and so that’s the gist of it, really. Because I am full of such fond memories like this.

I also sometimes feel nostalgia because the world was so vastly different. Though I was always into the environmental movement, from as early as I can remember, the mainstream media wasn’t talking about climate change yet. We didn’t have this crisis looming around us, or we did but didn’t quite know about it. I was always the type to think of myself as small and real problems as something bigger than me–like, instead of ruing that some guy didn’t like me who I liked, I worried more about people with real problems, like not enough to drink or eat. And now I don’t worry so much about personal things that seem petty but about others who are being far more affected than me. Like children being detained at borders or refugees or women being beaten and raped (I have my own #metoo thing that happened as a  young adult, but am not sure I’ll ever have the courage to talk about it in this blog) or low-lying island people already having to move because of destructive storms and rising seas or people of different skin colors being victimized or all the other things happening now. When I look at it, I can only empathize. I’m not in a position of knowing what it’s like. And though I have my own personal worries, my life is cush comparably, so a lot of times I can just feel guilt or anger or sadness over things that mean that other people or animals or the planet itself is hurting.

Thinking about people like Lisa makes me aware that I was so fortunate to have wonderful people in my life at those pivotal times. There was a certain sweetness in friends I don’t see as much as an adult: like something genuine and reliable. I don’t understand the modern world, which has so much internet culture that is entitled, raging, dependent on memes and iconic pinpoints rather than really meaningful ideas, and likes to use/make fun of others rather than embrace differences. I do not play those games, and when I find others do, I walk away fast. Anyway, even though Lisa and I have lost touch in the past few years, I can’t help but believe that if at some point, our shared memories come to her out of the blue, it would probably make her smile. People like these, you hold for a lifetime.

Featured image: Back when I hung with Lisa, selfies and cell phones weren’t around. Any photos I have of her are at my mom’s, the holder of all printed photos. So, who else to put up here than Jimmy Page? Here he is in 1983–by Dana Wullenwaber.

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