One of the things that sucks about moving to a new city as an adult is that you never run into anyone you knew as a kid. My husband Michael has lived in Los Angeles his whole life, and everywhere we go we bump into people he knew from camp, from elementary school, from his middle school baseball team, and my special favorite, girls he made out with in the sixth grade. The closest I’ve ever come to that is when I was once waiting in the valet line outside of a restaurant, and I overheard a guy say he was from Philadelphia. I asked him where, he asked me where, we determined that I was a few years older than him, and then he asked me if I knew a girl named Risa who went to my high school, because she was the sister of someone he went to camp with. I was like, um, yeah, that’s me. I’d never the met the kid in my life, but we hugged like long lost friends, because when you live in a city where you have no personal history, stuff like that counts.
Which is not to say that I don’t love the friends I’ve made here, because I do. I have a wonderful, supportive, close-knit group of women in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But they’ve all known each other since middle school or even before, and no matter how close we become, I think I will always feel like somewhat of an outsider with them. I never knew the loser guys they dated in high school, I never saw them with hairsprayed bangs, I don’t know how cool they thought they were in their acid washed Guess? jeans. I know them only as grown ups, as people with jobs and husbands and kids and in-laws, and, more importantly, they only know me that way. Sure, we had some crazy nights in Vegas at each others’ bachelorette parties, but it’s not the same as having line danced at each others’ Bat Mitzvahs.
Recently, I came a across a line that went something like, “the older you get, the more you want to spend time with people who knew you when you were young.” It’s stuck with me, that line, probably because it rings so true. When I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I’ve been known to stay up late into the night trying to Google ex-boyfriends, old girlfriends, guys I had crushes on at overnight camp, or pretty much anyone who used to hang out in the McDonald’s parking lot on Saturday nights, when there wasn’t anything else to do in our boring little suburb. Sometimes I find somebody and send them an e-mail, trying not to sound stalker-ish or, if it’s a guy, trying not to sound like I’m trolling for dates. Usually, I get an e-mail back with a brief update of the last twenty years and a request to stay in touch!, which, of course, I never do. But over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect, for real, with some of my oldest friends, most of whom I haven’t spoken to since the Reagan administration. Some are living lives similar to my own, like my best friend from high school who has two kids and works part time, while others are living lives that couldn’t be more different, like my dearest friend from camp, who is gay and childless, and whose life is glamorous, spontaneous and sophisticated, or my friend who I’ve known since we were toddlers, who is a vegan and an artist and who rides a bike instead of driving a car.
I didn’t realize what I was missing by not having these friends around. They help round out my life, and they provide a depth and a texture to my friendships that didn’t exist before, when all of my friends were new friends. No, they’re not necessarily the people I would call to tell about my day, or to complain about something my husband did, but they get me in ways that my newer friends would never understand. They knew me when I lived with my parents, so they know why certain things about my parents still drive me crazy. They went to school with me, so they understand how I get when I’m under pressure. They know the guys I’ve dated and broken up with, so they understand why Michael makes sense for me. There’s a kind of comfort in not having to explain the back story of my life, and in being able to use the shorthand of my childhood. But most of all, I just love how the mere presence of them reminds me of things I’d completely forgotten. Because really, that’s what that line I read was all about. Life is serious when you get older. We have kids, we have careers, we have husbands and mortgages and aging parents and ten pounds that we can’t ever seem to lose… I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I’ve mooned someone out a car window, or got drunk in the woods, or talked on the phone until two in the morning, or snuck out of my house to go to a concert. I don’t have many opportunities to act crazy or carefree or immature any more. But I’m sure glad that I have friends who remember me when I did.