My Memory Keepers

I met my high school girlfriends in Palm Springs for a weekend to celebrate our 50th birthdays. It has been 32 years since we all lived in the same place. By the same place, I mean Los Angeles, but I also mean in each other’s exact space. We moved freely in and out of each other’s homes, in a constant exchange of clothes, shoes and gas money. We collectively owned three prom dresses – the same dress in three colors – that we passed around as needed. These dresses were mini on them, knee length on me.

During these years, we soaked up each other’s home life the way we soaked up our own. We experienced each other’s parents’ and siblings’ best and worst behavior but didn’t really discuss it. It was just the way it was at that house, like each home had it’s own laws of physics. At this house, we are not allowed to open the container of milk. At this house, we tiptoe around the stepfather. At this house, anything goes.

After high school, you don’t dwell as much in your friends’ homes. You live together in dorms or apartments and socialize at bars. You may meet your college friends’ parents briefly at school events, but you never see them in their pajamas. You never hear them yell; you never smell the smoke inside their Chevy Impala.

With high school friends, complete transparency is a starting point. You make friends and then invite them home into your ecosystem. You show yourself to these friends before you’ve had a chance to think better of it, because yours is the only family you know. At 14, you don’t stop to analyze what you saw at your friend’s dinner table. But you can’t unsee it either.

During this weekend, I felt as if I was seen as the odd plant I’ve become, but by people who are familiar with the soil in which I grew. All of the childhood memories that I hold in the corners of my mind are also held in the corners of my friends’ minds. None of us had anything to retell or explain; we are the keepers of each other’s histories.

Because of this, our weekend required no social effort. Nothing was too much or inappropriate. With friends like these, you can present something whole and unedited as if it’s transferred from one heart to another. An old friend might say, “Yeah your family really was a mess,” and in the next instant, “I loved them so much.” And that’s actually the whole story. An old friend can hold both things in her heart – what wasn’t perfect and the beauty of that thing.

Like any group of 50 year olds, we’ve endured a bit of life. Seeing my friends so grown and resilient made me feel proud of them and myself. How did people who regularly [redacted on the off-chance my children read my column] grow up to be responsible adults? At what point did they all learn how to cook? How is it possible that we’re collectively (over) parenting eleven teenagers?

We talked about a lot of stuff, but what we didn’t discuss was the next cycle – our own teenagers bringing their friends into our homes and what impressions we might be making. We’re all saturated enough in our own families to think things are perfectly normal, but no family is perfectly normal. Everyone’s seen me in my pajamas. I’m feeling a renewed gratitude for my lifelong friends and also for my children’s lifelong friends, who will certainly be the keepers of their histories.

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