A few weeks ago, knee deep in this thing that I’m doing called writing a memoir, I got out a giant box of stuff that I’ve saved over the years. The box contains newspaper clippings, softball awards, diaries and report cards but mostly letters from my childhood friends.
Our family had moved from Battle Creek, Mich., to Reading, Pa., in 1976. It was our seventh or eighth move. I had lost count by then.
I started fourth grade that year, and the rest is history. By fifth grade, there were four of us. We walked to school together every morning and did the reverse after the last bell had rung. We hung out at each other’s houses where we ate tons of junk food (like Doritos when they only came in a red bag and M&M’s when they included the color tan) and had at least four sleepovers a year — one for each of our birthdays — and ate more junk food.
In the middle of seventh grade, my family moved again. It was only an hour away, but when you are 13, one hour might as well be 20. I shrieked when I was told.
My brother and I were bribed with a swimming pool and a phone line in each of our rooms, but I wasn’t having any of that. I wouldn’t have agreed to move for a million dollars, and that would have bought a crap load of baseball cards back in the day. I spent the next few years with my arms folded in front of my chest, the only protest that I was allowed.
After we moved, my friends added another member to the group, which was always hard for me to swallow. I guess the number three was too unwieldy and uneven. I felt like the original Darrin in Bewitched.
We kept in touch by writing back and forth, and visited each other’s houses for two-day weekend sleepovers. The long-distance portion of our family phone bill routinely hit the $100 mark.
As we got older and obtained drivers’ licenses, there were road trips. We went to Wildwood, N.J., for senior week and to Live Aid. Apparently, we were the only ones who applauded Billy Ocean. It says so in one of the letters.
As I read each card and letter looking for clues to the past, I am reminded about how these communications were a lifeline to everything that was important to me. I saw how my friends bought cards for me for the major holidays, probably at one of their trips to the Berkshire Mall, and passed them around in school so that each could write a paragraph or two or at least sign their name and offer a quick greeting. There were carefully printed messages on Ziggy and Snoopy note cards and on lined notebook paper. They told me about the movies they had watched, the albums they had purchased and the boys they liked.
I was struck by how often they wrote and the considerable length of most of the notes.
The frequency of the missives slowed down as they got older and got boyfriends.
One friend continued to write from college. I didn’t remember that.
I recall her phoning her from time to time, but we were both busy with school and new friends and our new lives. She had a steady boyfriend, who she would later marry.
I never went to the wedding. I was the only one from our original group of friends who was invited. By this time, they had drifted apart. I was young — 23 or so — and it all seemed too much. Shit, I’d have to go out and buy a dress or something to wear (this was back in the day when middle-age butch wore dresses — or at least pantsuits) and drive myself there and back. I was, and still am, directionally impaired. Plus, who would I sit with. It was all too stressful, so I didn’t go.
I never knew her boyfriend/husband. I don’t think we ever met. I had never crushed on any of my friends, but I think a part of me was jealous that I had been replaced in a way, just like I had been all those years ago when I moved away. It had always been us girls. I mean, why did she need a boyfriend anyway. It was probably because she wasn’t a budding lesbian like me and saw boys in a more practical and useful light.
She never talked to me after that. I saw her sister years ago, and she told me that I had really hurt her.
It’s a big regret that I still carry around.
I looked her up on Facebook the other day. She has three kids and is active in her church. I bet I could get a letter to her through the church. I want to tell her that I’m sorry. That I miss knowing her.
I have been drafting the letter in my head, even though I no longer have any Ziggy note cards. I wonder if she would even read a letter from me once she figured out who it was from. I’m fairly certain that she would remember my writing just as I did hers.
She often signed her letters, “Please write back. We miss you dearly and enjoy your letters so.”
I think for a moment how wonderful it would be to seamlessly fall back into that back-and-forth rhythm of letter writing.