My two best friends came for a visit last week. I've known them for thirteen years, ever since I was sixteen. What is it old friends know about you that other people never could?
When I think of the three of us in high school, I think of Sarah's LeBaron Convertible (which we dubbed "Cher" after a face lift in which she went from navy blue to cherry red) show tunes blaring, our hair tangling in the wind, singing at the top of our lungs. Crying our eyes out after watching Reality Bites for the first of a thousand times. Sharing our (probably terrible) teen angst filled poetry. Watching Katie playing her guitar through the crowd and being in on the secret meanings of her songs. The giddy rebelliousness we felt as we ripped our clothes off on the shore of Medicine lake in the middle of the night and plunged into the black, weedy depths.
Of course, our lives took us in different directions. We've all followed winding paths to adulthood- Sarah's took her from Wisconsin to Alaska to Oregon, adding a big white dog, a ginger headed husband and matching wild woman toddler, a beautiful house and a nursing career along the way.
Katie became a mother to a very lady like little girl in glasses. She still pursues her love of music, playing shows around Minneapolis, touring and recording whenever she gets the chance. She works for the college she graduated from, helping other young musicians pursue their dreams and traveling all over the country. She's met a wonderful man who is a great father to Lou and yin to her yang.
Our lives have taken us far from each other and sometimes it's a few months between phone calls. But we come together for the big moments, and every now and then, manage a trip together. What surprises me every time is that being together is never easy.
You would think that after so much water under the bridge and such a rich knowledge of each other, our visits would be awash in nostalgia and reminiscences. But, what makes our relationship so charged with magic is that I can feel them shaping me even as we sit poolside sipping mai tais. Of course, we always have fun. But, there is always an element of discomfort- the kind of pain that growth requires.
As I watched them with their families this past week- busy being moms and wives, I was also struck by how happy they are, how much themselves. For some reason, it felt quite lonely to me. It brought me back to my own winding path and how far it has diverged from the expected, the usual. I felt a bit lost. All the things that make a typical life are missing from my own. No career, no home, no kids. I thought again about how diverging from life's usual trajectory leads you to uncharted territory. You have nothing to rely on or plan around but yourself and your own internal compass. When you add in children, a home, a nine to five job, there are things that follow logically. One thing necessitates other things. The freedom and flexibility of my life also comes with a cost- it comes at the expense of certainty.
Then I found myself thinking about triangulation. When distances are too difficult to measure physically, you can find the other two fixed points in the triangle and find their angles to ascertain the third location. That triangle might span miles or inches. And you can use the information for navigation.
My friends have lives very different from my own. Welcoming them into our home was a joy, and a huge departure from our usual routine. Our normally quiet, tidy house was turned into a wild, messy, joyful base of operations. I didn't get to share my day to day life with my friends, perhaps because it is unsharable. By it's very nature, it is solitary, quiet, meditative, slow.
I felt myself looking in on their world as parents- the love they feel for their children is so palpable, so real. Yet it is something I just don't comprehend, because it is incomprehensible to someone who hasn't done it. The only person I love with that crazy, wild, unabashed, bottomless love is my husband.
But we don't need identical lives to share this bond of adopted sisterhood. In fact, it's better as it is, with each point in the triangle distinct, unique and telling each member exactly where she is.