Sometimes you have to go to where you came from to know where you are going. And recently I hopped a plane at the absolute last minute to do just that. I come from a small southern town with a roadside stand where I spent my high school afternoons and weekends as a cashier. It has a horse barn where I learned to ride, to get dirty and to fish in the early morning. It has a quaint Main Street on a hill that I used to drive down way too fast.
Three of my best friends from high school still live there and so do my parents. I claimed this place in ninth grade because it claimed me. I had moved a lot and I was ready to stay somewhere for a little while, to dig deep and go to high school with the same kids from year to year. My stepmother grew up there too and while leaning on her deep history, my family settled in quick and became a part of the landscape of the place.
I met Nikki in gym class the first day of school of ninth grade, third period. “You can sit beside me,” she said. And I pretty much hung with her for the next four years. Through her I met a whole slew of other kids that never treated me like I was the new kid. I got invited to parties, I was one of them.
I got off a plane recently and called Nikki from the runway.
“I just landed, I’m on my way,” I said.
“Come on,” she said. “I have beer.”
I got to her house and could hear her in her bedroom watching her favorite college football team.
“Hello!” I said.
“Hey baby!” she said and hugged me the way she always does–so tight I can barely breathe. I love her hugs.
I immediately started taking off my clothes while she found me a towel. We had dinner and a 20-year high school reunion to get to and there was no time to waste. I hopped in the shower and Nikki put the finishing touches on her hair just as though we were in eleventh grade headed out to the movies or some low-rent place to go dancing.
Nikki filled me in on everything I’d missed since I’d last seen her two year ago. It was hard to believe it had been that long because we picked up like I’d just seen her a few hours ago. But it’s always like that. I showered fast, threw on my dress and was just putting my shoes on when our friend Ben knocked on the door. Ben married our friend Cathy years ago and she’d sent him for us.
“Come on in Ben,” Nikki said. “Is Cathy still fixing her hair?”
“Yep,” he said.
After a few hugs we grabbed our stuff and piled into Ben’s truck. When he pulled into his own driveway we piled back out and headed in through the back door and straight into Cathy’s bathroom where she was finishing her hair.
“Look,” Nikki said pointing at me. “She literally was in the shower ten minutes ago.”
“Don’t even say that,” Cathy said pointing to her own hair. “This shit took me two hours!”
It was so good to see them.
“Cathy, I need lipstick,” I said. “I must have left it in my car this morning.”
“Top drawer,” she said. “And bring it with you.”
I rummaged and found the right color. Then we headed out into the warm, southern evening. Back in Ben’s truck, it was just as it always been. Purses in seats, adjusting of mirrors to do last make up checks and Ben in the driver’s seat. Poor boy has been driving us around for 20 years, I thought.
At dinner and the reunion itself, I sat back and listened to the stories of other people’s lives. I heard about their marriages, their jobs, their kids. And they heard about mine. Twenty years out our lives are not that different. I’m not sure if this surprised me. I stayed up until the wee hours snuggled into my friend Cindy’s couch, under the same blanket with her, just talking.
I needed to go home. I’ve been struggling a bit lately with a lot of things. Where I live, what I do, how I mother my two daughters. How do we keep any of this in perspective when it is all moving so fast? Sometimes you just need to go back, touch base, remember where you started. I didn’t find all of the answers I’ve been looking for but I did breathe in some warm, sweet air and sit in the glow of lifelong friends. It was exactly what I needed.