|J., my best friend of forever|
The thought of those teenage years set off a visceral reaction that makes me squirm. In high school I wanted to be one of the cool kids--the cheerleaders and the daters and the effortlessly fashionable--but instead I was one of the good kids. I got good grades and played in the orchestra, and I was as happy as a teenager can be, but oh, how I wanted to be Cindy whose hair curled in a perfect flip, or Linda who knew just when to laugh, or Deb who was tiny and bubbly.
I wasn't brave enough to be bad and bad is the currency of popularity during high school, so I skated at the edge of popularity, with good friends all around me but not quite sitting at the cool kids table. I really, really wanted to sit at the cool kids table.
After we graduated I kept in contact with my immediate friends, but not so much with the rest of classmates. Going back to the 10-year reunion didn't help; it was too soon, and in spite of the interesting things the good-but-not-popular had been doing (I had been back from the Peace Corps for three weeks, not even long enough to lose my Costa Rica tan) we fell effortlessly back into our high school roles. The only difference was that the cool kids were outside to smoking pot instead of cigarettes while the rest of us talked about debate trips.
I went home and cried.
So when I read on Facebook a few weeks ago that one of the women who still lives in Tiny Town was going to have a cook-out for our class, I almost didn't go. "There's no reason to," I told Husband. "I still see the people I want to see, and I don't need to be reminded that I don't have perfect hair or know when to laugh." I was kidding, but not really, and mostly relieved that we wouldn't get into town until after the cook-out was supposed to start. The hostess reassured me that it was going to be informal and I could drop by later, but...I didn't want to go.
I happened to check my phone as we were driving toward my hometown, though. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology a picture popped up of people who had arrived at the picnic.
"Oh, my gosh!" I gasped. "It's J., my best friend from before I started school, and C., my best friend from when I was in country school, and I'd really like to see what Ronda is up to, and there's Alice!"
At the absolute last moment we turned down Pine Street to where the cook-out was being held, and when I walked in the gate it felt like a true homecoming.
We have reached a stage in life where we are what we are, and astonishingly, perfect hair no longer has much impact on how much I enjoy or fail to enjoy a person. Instead the qualities that made J. my best friend from forever have fed our friendship over the years--she's still kind and generous and funny and so willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The same qualities that made C. my best friend in country school are still at the forefront--she's still vivacious and hard-working and high-achieving even in retirement.
Age is a great leveler and bad's worth has been devalued. I'm so glad I stuck around long enough to find this out.