Those People Who Knew You Before You Were You

I spent a couple of days in Monterey with Kate this past weekend so I could take some photos of her baby (four months already!) and see her place before the Army moves them again this summer. It was a teeny trip, one of those fly-in-fly-out jobs and I went solo while Kyle stayed at home with the kids.

Most of the weekend was just chatting since we’ve hit our thirties and figured out that vacations full of “things to do” are seriously overrated. Since we’ve been friends for twenty years now, the conversation flip-flopped between current events in our lives and things that happened a million years ago involving people we don’t talk to anymore. Kate’s parents are relocating and had sent some of Kate’s old things to her so photos, notes, and emails surfaced to remind us of how lame we used to be.

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I don’t remember the photo above. It was apparently taken when I was in the 9th grade if that date stamp is accurate and I would have just turned fourteen some weeks before. I’m not in touch with one of those girls anymore and I’m really only half in touch with the other, but for some reason I remember all of our shirts so clearly and I could probably tell you the color of the backpacks and hair scrunchies that we can’t really see. Why my brain has held onto that information…I don’t know.

Not all of the photos were that old. There was one later in high school but I didn’t bother to save that one because all you can really see in it is how I was really too skinny to just be “skinny” and leave it at that. There were more smiling photos with Kate and I standing with people we don’t talk to anymore, arms around everyone and totally oblivious to the fact that we should have just taken photos with the two of us standing alone because pttth to them.

Others photos were later, college but early college because then Kate and I hit a long period of never really managing to be in the same city at the same time and that streak has continued. I did pop up again, this time in her wedding album from just a couple of summers ago, and while I was looking at a pic of Kate with her bridesmaids (myself included) I was wondering if it would take a super sleuth to connect that photo of the woman in the blue glasses standing next to the bride in the perfect eyeliner with the two dorks doing jazz hands on a junior high stage.

In addition to the photos, Kate has emails and notes, most of them saved from when she was in college. I skimmed them and found a couple my ex had sent her right after she introduced us. It was funny, because at first I skipped right over them…feeling somehow like I was invading his privacy…but then I went back and looked at them. They were all full of excitement and compliments for me and the kind of exclamation points someone uses when they’re falling in love way too fast.

I hadn’t kept those early emails from my ex. The vast majority of our correspondence was deleted a long time ago when I realized that it really was never ever ever going to be fixed. Like the skinny photos and the pictures with people I’m not friends with anymore, I had actually forgotten words like that existed and now to read them fifteen years later was actually kind of nice – complimentary that anyone had ever given me that many exclamation points in one five line email I wasn’t ever supposed to see.

That is what really old friends are, isn’t it? They’re the places where we quietly keep the things we can’t always hold on to. They filter and process our memories, bringing them out when we might need them and gracefully recalling only the parts where we look good. We always get to be the good guy in hindsight (even if we were probably the bad guy) because we were learning or we were young or it was obviously someone else’s fault when you line all the evidence up.

I was thinking about that when Kate was driving me back to the airport and I realized it’s because we probably love our friends more than we love ourselves most of the time. I’d bet hard money that my memories of Kate from junior high and high school are a thousand times more complimentary than the ones she has of herself because I remember her as fearless, so strong, effortlessly cool, and annoyingly pretty. When she tells stories from school, I’m often shocked at how “wrong” she remembers things because she takes herself down a notch…but then I guess I do the same.

Being honest, I don’t believe that friendships are forever. Lots of people are now people I used to know. For most of them, there aren’t any hard feelings or sad stories. We were friends and stuff shifted and we lost touch. But I do have those touchstone friends – the ones that snuck in and became “my people” – and I probably have even more of those than I really deserve because even one or two would have made me a very lucky lady.

I won’t list them. That’s not what this is. I don’t want to do shout outs to my Taylor Swift squad or anything. I’ll just say that maybe picking a handful of people to really love the crap out of is actually more self-serving than we think it is. Perhaps we’re giving them all that love at fourteen and fifteen and nineteen and twenty-three because there’s a part of us who knows we might need a weekend in the future to get it bounced right back.

P.S. Kate’s baby. The cutest. I already miss his little fuzzy head.

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