By Lisa Perry
It was the summer before our junior year in high school, though we’d known each other since we were infants. (We used to say, “we’d been friends since we were born” which was practically true.) That summer, Megana was 16 and had her driver’s license. She drove a teal green Saturn with vanity plates, rolled the windows down and blasted all the mix tapes I painstakingly made—all with elaborate titles and homemade cover art—or tuned her radio to KROQ. I was jealous of the Saturn and her driver’s license because I was still 15 and couldn’t drive yet, but she didn’t mind driving me around. We both wore braces and padded push up bras and were still that type of adolescent skinny that just came naturally, even after stuffing ourselves with pizza and french fries.
By that summer, many of our classmates had discovered alcohol and keg parties and sex, but for those few months, we cocooned ourselves in a kind of innocence that I remember in a haze of chlorine and sunshine. My family was a member of a swim club (which sounds much fancier than it actually was), and Megana and I spent almost every day there by the pool. She, who burned easily, slathered herself in sunscreen, while I tanned myself to the deep brown of my southern Italian ancestors. I was a daredevil and liked to do back flips off the diving board, while she was content to float along the sides of the pool, occasionally humoring me with a dive when I cajoled her into it.
We were both avid bookworms, and always brought dog-eared, water-splattered copies of paperbacks to the pool. That summer I read Ordinary People and immersed myself in the glamorous ennui of the rich and aimless. Megana preferred more romantic or historical books. We were both obsessed with The Mists of Avalon.
We’d order pizza to be delivered to the pool, and we’d devour it in minutes—ravenous after our swimming and sunning—washing it down with Cokes and feeling quite grown up about the whole thing. As the sun started to fade, we’d drive back to my house and play ping pong in my garage—I was more competitive but Megana was more skilled—and watch a horribly addictive, guilty pleasure teenage show called “Swan’s Crossing” (featuring a much younger, pre-Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar) that only aired over that one summer before being cancelled.
As we lay by the pool, or batted the ping pong ball back and forth, we talked about everything and nothing at all. First kisses, the SATs, our future children’s names (always a hot topic), or the unpredictability of our parents’ moods… our friendship was so ingrained and easy that even the silences felt like settling down under a cozy blanket. With Megana I could be a kid again—laugh my “ugly laugh” (as she called it) with abandon, be silly, vulnerable, and ache for adulthood all at once.
In a few years we’d be smoking menthol cigarettes on the beach, falling in unrequited love with gay boys and momma’s boys (our virginity a thing of the past,) and stumbling drunk down the suburban streets of Pasadena on winter breaks from college. There would be tears and fights, a brief friendship “breakup” during college, and twenty-something adventures in New York City. Later, we would both marry (acting as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, naturally), and become mothers. When I look in the mirror, I see wrinkles around my eyes and feel the weight of time as I drag myself out of bed in the morning. But when I’m with Megana, I am somehow instantly 15 again and able to laugh the way you only can with someone who has known you since before you learned to censor yourself.
Megana is part of the fabric of the memory of my whole life, but I remember that summer more viscerally than any that came before or since. For those few months, we were caught in a golden time – poised between childhood and adulthood, yearning for freedom and independence, yet not yet ready to grow up. It was the turning point between childhood and the vast beyond, and she, as always, was right there with me.
Lisa Perry lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and two daughters. She is a college counselor at a high school in Santa Monica and mostly writes letters of recommendation, though she hopes to someday complete the myriad unfinished novels languishing on the hard drive of her computer.