I recently reconnected with a childhood friend (whom I’ll call L) and we enjoyed a couple of long visits before she and her husband decamped for another part of the country. Frequent playmates when we were very young, we pretty much took each other for granted by the time we hit high school, then went our separate ways until The Magic of Facebook brought us back within hailing distance of each other. I have been delighted to rediscover the bond we forged before kindergarten. While we’ve led very different lives, it didn’t take long to find our footing on the old common ground. Our parents had been neighbors and post-WWII newlyweds together, long before either of us was born, and our families stayed close.
We had a big time a few weeks ago, going through old pictures, resurrecting memories for each other, and gossiping about everybody we could think of. L recalled one time when she spent the night at our house. We must have been older than kindergarten age but maybe not by much. My little sister and I argued bitterly over who would get to share her room with our guest (L was between us in age and proprietorship was murky), so Mama opted for peace and quiet and put the three of us in her double bed (and herself and Daddy in one of our rooms). The reason L remembers it–and probably the reason I blocked the memory–is that she got sick during the night and threw up in the bed. Remembering how childhood nausea worked in our family (wildly contagious), I’m betting my sister or I–or maybe both of us–vomited, too. Anyhow, that was it, just one of those things that sticks in memory for no particular reason.
We drank some more beer and kept playing “Whatever became of so-and-so?” Hearing a particular name, L chortled and said, “I remember throwing up in the backyard with him at one of those parties at __’s house.” This would have been in high school, when we had all determined that our small town was the most boring in the universe and the only way to endure our captivity was to do all the things we thought our parents didn’t want us to do. Smoking cigarettes and drinking too much figured largely in those activities. That incident is not L’s only memory of the boy we both knew for as long as we could remember. She just happened to recall it right then.
I grabbed my high school diploma and hit the ground running. My hometown was a very small place and I had some damned big ideas about how the world worked. There couldn’t possibly be anything else to learn in that place where too many people were my kinfolks and WAY too many people knew my business. For a long time, I hardly ever looked back.
Fast-forward a few decades to now–my parents aren’t there any more, so I’m no longer obligated to visit. Imagine my surprise when I realized I want to go back. Turns out you can’t move fast enough or far enough to outrun your hometown. It’s like trying to outrun your hair. And that’s a good thing. Reconnecting with folks I grew up with has been interesting and fun. We aren’t going to suddenly become BFFs, just because we’re back in touch. A lot of us don’t have that much in common, really, except that we come from the same place. But that’s not nothing. Maybe I’ve finally outgrown a blind spot, or maybe this is some of that wisdom that’s supposed to make up for the bifocals. For whatever reason, there’s something I like about having known these people–and them having known me–way back when.
I have to wonder, though, whether anybody remembers the time I threw up in English class in the seventh grade. I really hope not.