The six of us peered into each other’s eyes, trying in short seconds to excavate the girls we’d known when we were sixteen from the fifty-six year old faces staring back at us. Then we flung ourselves into hugs. Wonder and words and laughter and very old trust sparklered across my Arizona lawn.
We’d found our safe place during adolescence on the sands of Stuart, Florida, and in each other.
On this balmy February 5, 2015, we bunched on the grass after landing in Phoenix from St. Louis, Atlanta, Hayden, Idaho; Greenville, South Carolina; and Punta Gorda, Florida, together for the first time since tenth grade.
For a year I’ve sat in the sanctuary of my office and mined a story a week from my murky memory. I painted scenes, picked perfect verbs, imparted emotional truth. I didn’t picture the three-month Facebook free-for-all that woke slumbering relationships along with recollections.
My two-and-a-half years in Stuart started at the tail end of fourteen as I fled my father’s strictures and flew under Mom’s radar.
Mom navigated her nursing career, new marriage, and my nine-year-old brother’s undiagnosed dyslexia.
These girls and a couple others kept my stupid—jumping off bridges, stealing candy, and inhaling a substance Bill Clinton couldn’t—to a minimum.
But in the melee of life—moving to new towns, matriculating, marriage, motherhood—I lost these crucial friends and they lost each other.
I wasn’t the only one who had found safety in our Stuart sisterhood. Denise Domansky’s family had bailed Delray Beach before we met because she’d gotten beaten up for being white. Mitzi had slept in Vietnam to bombs rattling in her bedroom windows. Family members of Aida’s schoolmates in Colombia had been abducted. Tara’s mother had survived the beheading of her first husband. For Carolyn, overrun with brothers and missing her dad who captained big boats in the Merchant Marines, our sorority meant solace and fun.
Aida brought a red notebook stuffed with our junior high notes—some with snippets of her old bickering with Denise we’d almost forgotten. Now, we guffawed over the notes we’d signed with numbers instead of names in case they were intercepted. Aida out-remembered us all with stories and details we knew were true the minute she spoke. Denise’s brother, Mike, younger by seven years, drove from Vegas to see Denise and collect a hug—forty years late—from Aida, his boyhood crush.
This weekend, Denise finally got the slumber party at my house she’d missed all those years ago in Florida because she had to babysit. She called the trip her out-of-the-box weekend and hiked a mountain, tasted Thai and vegan fare,
and let Carolyn commandeer her into 10,000 steps a day. Always our champion of doing the right thing, Denise segued this skill into parenting. Her dread-locked son, contemplating a step off the straight and narrow, slammed home after curfew one night, still innocent, because he’d heard Denise’s voice in his head.
Mitzi—the loveable Jesus freak of our youth—was another voice guiding our choices. She said we were the ones—none of us then particularly religious—who stuck by her when others called her too Jesus-y.
I credit Mitzi’s tenth grade prayers for pointing me to the faith that backboned my adult life.
Mitzi wished we didn’t remember every crazy thing she did back then, like bringing home ex-con Frank Costantino, whom she met on a criminology field trip, to spend the night with her family. Mitzi also accompanied the former mob member-turned-Christian to Raiford Prison where she told inmates how their letters affected high school students.
Mitzi sent for college info from every Christian college in the country, determining to attend whichever university sent a packet, containing yellow paper, on October twelfth. When no mail arrived that day the girls tried their best not to rib her. Mitzi later landed at Oral Roberts University—via old fashioned prayer.
Carolyn, our voice of reason—then and now—coached Mitzi, Tara, and I in marketing our businesses. She cajoled us into playing Head’s Up on her phone and yelling seventies trivia at the top of our voices. She, along with Mitzi, played driver and helped me grill each girl about our disconnected years. She’d known—when I didn’t—that we “got” each other as teens because we’d both been divvied an extra helping of angst. And as adults, our affinity hangs on.
Giddy over escaping winter and too much work, Tara propelled us through the weekend with more words than we’d ever heard her utter. Tara grew up to be a psychotherapist, among other careers. She lay awake in bed on the nights before the reunion thinking up a game of questions. She snagged us with Bananagrams, then got us talking about virginity and regrets and boys we loved.
We continued to peel back the years while we hiked Sedona’s red rock, the ridge over Canyon Lake, and the marshes of the Riparian Reserve.
We discovered we’re monogamous, most of us making it with only one man. We’re moms who muscled our way to matriarch by going to college, carving careers. Like the rest of humanity, we earned maturity by the things we muddled through. One of us lost a long string of years to the control of a cult. Another was widowed at twenty-three. One took decades to dig the bliss from wedded bliss. One visited her child and her dreams in jail.
Before the weekend wound down, we comforted a daughter who landed in ER, did damage control when a demented parent detonated a family crisis, and welcomed a son who boomeranged home with a broken heart.
We’re Protestant, Catholic, Universalist, and free thinkers. We lean left and right. Today our relationships, like our food, tend toward healthy. And somehow we learned to give back. Mitzi supports an orphanage. Carolyn gives money to the homeless because “Five dollars means more to them than to me. If they feel they need to spend it on liquor, that’s their call.” Denise contributes to her church. Tara and I mentor/mother younger women. Aida and her mom have humanitarian goals for their house in Peru.
We talk about getting together again, but we don’t know if life will short-circuit our good intentions. We don’t know whether we can sustain friendships flung across the country. We don’t know what this weekend will mean in the scope of our lives.
But we fell in love with each other all over again. We discovered the brief time we shared as kids counted. And we’re glad we took this chance to remember and say thank you.
[Today, Aida works with English as a Second Language elementary students in Punta Gorda, Floirda. Tara owns a women’s consignment store in Hayden, Idaho. Denise is head of accounting in a large intellectual property law firm in Greenville, South Carolina. Mitzi owns Bali Sterling Silver, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Carolyn does interactive website development and interactive marketing in Atlanta I am a novelist and memoirist in Phoenix.]