Layers Of You

I’m all packed for my trip and just watched the last episode of my netflix. I ate dinner hours ago and would sort of like to eat a new, completely different dinner. It’s freezing cold in the cloud room at the moment; I am writing this bundled up in a sweater under a down blanket and kind of shivering and thinking longingly about getting in under the flannel sheets. No flannel sheets (or any sheets) for me tonight though, just the tender mercies of coach class. I hope a redeye on a Monday night won’t be too crowded and that I don’t have to braise in someone else’s plane stench. An upgrade is probably too much to hope for though.

I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving for let’s see, about ten years. I went home the first couple of years of college but west coast to east coast for only a weekend is a rough proposition in the best of times and Thanksgiving weekend certainly cannot be called the best of times. Since then I’ve had some very nice couple of Thanksgivings, a surprising number of which have involved having picnics in either state parks or < a href="http://allchiara.com/2004/11/30/a-very-nearly-perfect-thanksgiving-weekend/"> cemeteries. Last year was one of the best I have ever had and I had looking forward to doing it again this year but fate in the form of the Key Girls intervened and so it is I am sitting around waiting for Treasa to get home from her pizza party and take me on down to Sea Tac.

I guess it was something like February or March that Ashley called me from London and told me she and her husband wouldn’t be coming home to Florida for Christmas but \\would\\ be there for Thanksgiving, and would I consider coming home too? “I know you never do, for Thanksgiving, but I’m not going to see you any other time this year and I really want to,” she said. That is a very difficult request to turn down, and Marah thought so too, so we’re all going to be home. Manya still lives in Miami so she was easy to convince.

I’ve written a lot about the Key Girls over the years, so much that I can’t even think of specific entries to link. We’ve all known each other since we were about eight…actually Marah and Ashley have known each other since they were two, and I think Manya has been around a little longer too. I didn’t show until a little later, and we have gone through many different permutations of friendship in the intervening, oh, twelve or fifteen years, with different pairings and loyalties…but we’ve known each other since we were eight.

It wasn’t until I went away to college on the other side of the country that I realized that not everyone has that, has friends for so long or so intensely. My sister and I were pretty combative when we were kids, and we went to different schools and didn’t really see each other that much, even though we were technically housemates, not to mention blood relatives. Not so the Key Girls. What amazes me now, thinking about our friendships as children, was the sheer amount of time we spent together, every day. We went to regular school together and carpooled (sometimes) to Gifted together and did projects together and traded Sweet Valley Highs and went to ballet and Brownies and church youth group and birthday parties and Halloween costumes and talent show performances and pretty much everything together. And that was just during the week. We were always at each other’s houses to sleep over for the weekends, and we wrote letters to each other during summers when one or all of us were away, and Marah and Ashley and I all went to the same summer camp one year (“She wears a K for Kahdalea!”) and some of us were in plays together and on and on and on. Mrs. Roboto and I needed a couple of weeks to find a time to have dinner together but I could and did spend hours and hours with those little girls, with what feels like no planning and no plans.

We rode bikes and went to the beach and to the pool…when you grow up in Florida you spend a lot of time in the pool…and to the 7-11 for slurpees and I guess just walked around the Key a lot. Marah’s mom is a vet and after school on her carpool day we’d go hang out at the surgery and play with the animals and draw unicorns on the whiteboards. Manya lived in a big condo…complex, I guess, and you could go to like four different pools or the video game room or all along these little twisty paths that ended up in little gazebos or at tennis courts or whatever. We went to the pool at Ashley’s too and watched Growing Pains, and at my house I think we played dress-up and played “house” out in the back yard because we had a swingset with a tent thing attached that you could use as the house.

I’ve said this before, but the thing I have a hard time remembering is what we talked about during all that time. That’s how I know I am really a grown-up: I can’t remember very well what it’s like to be a kid with no real agenda for the day, no errands that need to be run or appointments to be made. I know we talked about the other kids in our classes. We felt ourselves, I think, to be a little lower in the deadly social hierarchy of sixth grade than we would have liked, and we spent a lot of time talking about popularity and who was popular and mean and who was popular and secretly nice. Do the popular kids, I wonder, know that there is a whole amateur industry dedicated to observing and analyzing them? What did they think about us?

Later we talked about God, as we began to be more involved in the church choir and then church youth group and then the church mission trips and then the church proper. We sang a lot; between camp, church, and Andrew Lloyd Webber we knew a lot of songs. We talked about the future; what junior high would be like (would we wear makeup?) and even what high school would be like (would we have boyfriends?) Are those the kind of topics that require constant conversation, in carpool, in the church van, at school, at lunch, out on the mats behind the gym, on the way to play practice with maybe a stop at TCBY or The Last Carrot on the way?

It’s not that we don’t have stuff to talk about now, of course. We only see each other once a year if we’re lucky and between husbands and babies and moving to London and just the ordinary minutiae of life it’s not like there’s a dearth of conversation topics. We keep in touch pretty well over the year, between Christmases, so it’s rare that something big happens to one of us and she doesn’t tell the other three. We fall back into it pretty easily, we are comfortable and honest and hilarious when we get together. They tell me about marriage and motherhood and I tell them about whatever the hell it is I do instead of marriage and motherhood. We get nostalgic and we annoy their husbands sometimes with our inside jokes and complicated references, but we also talk about real stuff, now stuff, everyday stuff. We were friends as kids but we’re friends as women too.

I guess that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t think we’d be friends now, at thirty, almost thirty-one, if we all met each other walking down the street. We wouldn’t be walking down the same street in the same city, for one thing. We also wouldn’t be walking down the same street in the sense that our lives have all taken very different paths since we all lived in the same place, and I’m not sure we could recognize each other as good friends if we didn’t already know each other, if that makes any sense at all.

I think about them a lot though. Every year that goes by I think how few people have the luxury of spending time, as adults, with people who knew them as little kids. Do you have anyone like that in your life? Someone who knows layers of you that no one else can, even your parents or your significant other or your housemates who are taking you to the airport tonight? I sometimes have very visceral memories of us at different times and places on the island, at different ages (with different hideous hairstyles) talking about different things, and I always wonder what happens to those memories when you die. Do the little girls still walk along the beach in shoes made out of grapetree leaves, do they peer over the edge of the treehouse when one of them jumps, do they play Monopoly on a cool tile floor, do they cower in fear during A Nightmare On Elm Street? That doesn’t ever really go away, does it? Somewhere it’s still 1987 in the bright island sun and we are walking back to the classroom all the way from the banyan tree in the school field, laughing and screaming because Manya just struck Juan Mejia, the biggest jock in the whole sixth grade, out at kickball.

It’s time to go to the airport now, where I’ll yawn and look at the clock and curse how heavy my bag is. Tomorrow I’ll see all the Key Girls and marvel at how things have and haven’t changed.

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