≡ Menu

Unbearably Social

By Anonymous

For an introvert, I’m almost unbearably social. I live in this weird gelatinous state of both needing people and needing to keep away from them. I suspect this way of being stems from my bullied childhood; throughout middle school and the early parts of high school, I lived in the outermost exurb of Popular City, and every time the queen and her minions needed to turn on someone, they turned on me. I think it had to do with my sad combination of neediness and smart-assery, but maybe it was just because I wasn’t yet allowed to shave my legs. It doesn’t matter. For days I’d be ostracized, teased mercilessly, and then, for reasons I could never ascertain (although I spent hours trying to), I was let back into the fold. For a week, two, sometimes even a month, I was once again invited to birthday parties, allowed to hang out with the cool kids at lunch – but soon enough I was kicked out anew, tagged as untouchable, knowing that anyone caught talking to me would be considered untouchable too.

I can remember like my favorite song the sting of that cruelty, what it felt like to be ignored every time I tried to enter a conversation, what it felt like to have freakishly nasty rumors spread about me. I remember hiding in the bathroom every lunch period, turning in tear-stained homework sheets, faking illness so I didn’t have to face school. I remember the way, on Everyone Wear Your Benetton Rugby Shirt to Hebrew School Day, when I didn’t have a Benetton rugby shirt to wear, I was jeered at to the point where, for the first and only time, a teacher got involved on my behalf. “Girls, what horrible things are you saying to her? That isn’t very nice.” Her useless intervention meant, of course, that the next day I got it even worse. Not only did I dress like shit and was probably poor (otherwise whence the Benetton?) but also I smelled and was an ugly loser and needed to shave my fucking legs and didn’t know what a blowjob was. Etcetera.

So now here I am, a married woman, a mother, a professor, with several published novels to my name and twenty-five years between me and grade school – I even knows what a blowjob is –  yet even now the chill of being an outcast haunts me. I will do anything to keep my friends on my side. Six years ago I moved to the Philadelphia area after seventeen years in New York, but most of my New York friends wouldn’t know it, since I’m forever making the four hour round-trip to go out for dinner with them, to go shopping, to just hang out. I’m so thrilled, even now, that people want to hang out with me that the commute barely registers. I am constantly on call for heart-to-hearts, for helping out, for fixing things, for listening into the night. I bake cookies for my neighbors and drop them off. I watch their kids, happily. At least once a year I fly across the country for a visit with one of several distant friends. Doing these things makes me feel connected, and feeling connected makes me feel safe, and therefore happy.

But even now, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wait for all the people I consider close friends to realize that I need to shave my legs (or that I’m no fun, or that underneath everything lies this pathetic horrible neediness that clings to me like a smell, fuck you you smell). 

And this fear exhausts me. And my lingering distrust of everyone exhausts me too – even the friends I love best in the world, the people I’ve known for decades, even them, sometimes, I don’t trust. It flickers on and off like a fritzy lightbulb; we’ll be having lunch and I’ll look at them and think you, you’re going to find out the truth about me soon, that I’m an ugly loser, and for just that second, I want to fake an illness to get out of the whole thing.

But then we continue eating lunch, and I remember who I am, and the lightbulb turns back on. I am not the kid I was at ten eleven twelve. I am a grown up woman. I have a job, I have a family, I have a life. And I have friends who would never know the truth about me if I never wrote this down.

{ 0 comments }

In this new, occasional series, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore writes about girlhood friendships as they are depicted in pieces of art – film, fiction, photography, etc. 

There’s this moment I’m in love with in the middle of the film Hanna, when Hanna and Sophie have snuck back into Sophie’s family’s bohemian campsite after the girls adventure out on a double date with Spanish boys on motorcycles to watch flamenco. We get to be under the covers with the girls, their world flooded in red, and Hanna confesses to her first, best (and probably last) friend, that she’s not all that she appears to be. This moment of honesty is one of the truest depictions I’ve ever seen of how girls are when they are alone; a pre-sexual love—intimate, frank, kind. The chaste kiss the girls share seals a secret, and is exhilarating, and the cinematography captures perfectly the sweet breath shared between these two characters, whose lives are about to irrevocably change.

In my opinion, the movie goes off the rails soon after this point, destroying much of the goodwill it has earned by brutalizing Sophie and her family (I find this destruction to be a head-scratching move both in terms of story structure and in how it distances the viewer from Hanna—who, in spite of being a killer, we really love up until this point—but that’s not entirely relevant to this conversation). Instead, I revel in that moment in the tent: in Sophie’s know-it-allness, and Hanna’s strangeness, in the wonder of an unlikely friendship when the girl who seems to know everything insists to the oddball (who is much, much stronger than she appears) that they are two of a kind.

Here is the trailer for Hanna, which features a brief glimpse of the scene between Hanna and Sophie:

{ 0 comments }

By Kristy Kiernan

image-2I was the new girl. Always. We moved a lot, but this move was a doozie. From the sunny, laid-back beaches of southwest Florida to the frozen preppiness of Chicago’s North Shore and for the first time in all of our moves, I did not fit in. Southern accent, freckles, grinning at everyone, smart-ass Me in jeans, sandals, and pigtails vs. anemic, eye-contact avoiding Yankees in monogrammed turtlenecks and headbands. I was heavily outnumbered. And cold. Effort usually expended making friends was redirected to figuring out how I might be able to avoid leaving the warm house again… ever.

I don’t remember how Becca and Christina first approached me, but I do remember the relief I felt the day they did. They taught me how to use public transportation, where the Mrs. Field’s Cookies store was, and we even bought matching green-and-white striped Izod shirts, which we wore on the same day thinking that would be pretty cool, and then, after spending the day denying that we had planned it after it was clear that it was definitely NOT COOL, never wore again.

They had been best friends for a long time, and I don’t know why they chose to fold me in. They were a classic Mutt and Jeff duo – Christina was quiet, tall and too thin, with long red hair and nearly colorless eyes, and Becca was brash, short and too heavy, with dark hair and eyes. Perhaps I averaged them out, bridged their differences so they weren’t quite so painfully obvious. Whatever the reason for their kindness, I was grateful, and, eventually, took it for granted.

In sixth grade, the boy situation was just starting to heat up, and the three of us cycled through crushes faster than the leaves fell that fall. On a visit to the ice rink one Saturday, the three of us were sized up for a potential couple skate with an eighth-grade hockey player, and I “won.” We skated by Becca and Christina, who watched us silently, Becca’s eyes narrowing as she noted that the boy and I had taken off our gloves in order to hold hands.

I hadn’t even had any idea how to ice skate before that month, when Becca and Christina held my hands and pulled me along between them.

Things changed after that.

As they always do when boys happen.

Two Saturdays later we made pseudo-prank calls. Pseudo because we never followed through on the joke – we wanted them, the boys we called, to know it was us. And it worked. We wound up talking with the same boys we pretended we couldn’t stand during school hours, passing the phone between us, the first fumbling flirtations of girls without fathers. It was exhilarating, and dangerous, and, oddly enough… I was good at it.

Because I was funny.

I hadn’t known I was funny. I knew my family was funny, but I was the baby, and most of it flew over my head. My family was also cruel, as funny families so often are, and most of that flew over my head, too.

But on that day my funny kept the boys on the phone, and I was suddenly promoted to leader of our triad. And there was, as there always is, this one boy in particular. We all liked him. It was quite possible that every girl on the entire North Shore liked him. But Becca liked him best, and she was nervous when I dialed, twice pressing her thumb to the bar in the cradle to cut off the call before anyone answered before she finally turned away, head thrown back and hands held up to heaven, abdicating responsibility for what might happen next.

Christina watched without saying a word, worry accentuating her pale brows as they drew together, lending a rare intensity to her eyes.

The boy and I got along famously.

But I knew my job, and it wasn’t to flirt for myself. I steered the conversation to Becca with all the skill and subtlety an eleven-year old could muster.

He didn’t like her. He said she was fat.

And I didn’t know how to cover for him. How to spare her.

But I was funny.

I still don’t remember exactly what I said. But I bet she does.

I do remember that I used the word “chubby.”

And he laughed.

And she… did not.

I was, truly, surprised.

Instead she burst into tears, and then she left. I’d never seen anyone “storm off” before. But she did. Christina followed her, still without a word. They were out the back door and running down the alley before I registered what had really happened. I ran after them, and when I reached the alley I yelled after Becca, “It was just a joke! I was just joking!”

She stopped running and turned around, and she screamed back at me, “Everything is just a joke to you! Everything! Not everything is funny!”

Christina, halfway between us in the alley, looked at me reproachfully, and I, for once, was the speechless one when she said, “How could you say that?”

Becca looked at her gratefully and then turned away, and I could almost see her gather her dignity around herself as Christina joined her. They walked off together, Christina’s long, thin arm around Becca’s shoulders. I watched until they turned the corner.

I was funny. And I was cruel. And I deserved, without question, to lose their friendship.

At school Becca and Christina closed rank back into a duo, and I was left to fend for myself for the rest of the year.

People still tell me I’m funny. But I think more things than I ever let come out my mouth. Because while they might be funny, they might also have an edge of cruelty to them. Becca’s loss was devastating to me. But I admire her. I admire her, and Christina, for knowing more about friendship than I did at that age. I admire her for taking a chance on a girl who was so different. And I wonder if I changed her, too. If she didn’t take as many chances on people, because she learned that they might hurt her.

I still don’t remember exactly what I said.

But I bet she does.

Kristy Kiernan is the author of Catching Genius, Matters of Faith, and Between Friends. You can find her on her website

{ 1 comment }

By Kathleen Pooler

KPoolerFSPic#2I was seven years old in 1953 when we moved into the small white bungalow at the bottom of a hill with my parents and my brother, Tom, who was two.

The houses across the road and up the hill on the right were shacks; small, messy tinderboxes with rusty lawn chairs, shovels, pails and garbage cans strewn about the front yards. The house above us on the hill was a large and sprawling white stucco house that peered down on our little white bungalow. It was the home of the CeCes, a family of six children. Nick, the father, was a short, gruff disciplinarian and Marian, the mother, a gentle, mild counterbalance.

Rosemarie (a.k.a. Re-Re) and I were the same age and spent a lot of time with each other playing hide-and-seek inside and outside. The house was always a mess, with clothes piled up in heaps in every bedroom, and papers, coats and boots scattered throughout the living and dining room. That made it easy to find hiding places.

Crowding around the black-and-white TV in the Ceces’ living room, I blended in with the pile of kids to watch the debut of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 when Re-re and I were ten. We were spellbound, giggling at the sight of him shaking his hips and rubbing his hand down his thigh. Mr. Cece shook his head, implying, “this is vulgar,” but we thought it was cool as we bounced to “Don’t Be Cruel” then sat mesmerized by “Love me Tender.” Old home movies of Re-Re and me jitterbugging to “Blue Suede Shoes,” twirling each other from one corner of the room to the other, captured our gleeful play. I loved to dance as I felt my purple, knitted slippers slide me across the floor.

On warm summer nights, all of the neighborhood kids (most of them CeCes) played hide and seek in the woods on top of the hill.

“Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler I” was the chant as we scattered in every direction, up the hill, down the alleys, behind the shacks and woodsheds.

Hiding behind a tree or burrowing under a bush and waiting to be caught had me holding my breath in anticipation. Then, the shrill whistle of Mr. CeCe calling his kids in for the night from his front porch pierced the silence of the evening. With that, every CeCe kid climbed out from his or her hiding space, hurrying back to the white stucco house from every direction, while the rest of us stood around, deflated and annoyed that our fun had to end. We’d linger for a while, directionless and disappointed, then part ways for our own homes.

The radio would be playing as I walked through my back door. The lights would be off and my parents would be sitting in the dark. The kitchen clock was ticking in the background. Dad was smoking his pipe, listening to Edward R Morrow daily radio news program, staring off into space while Mom sat next to him in silent participation. Tom, my four-year old brother, was sleeping in the next room. It was quiet and dark and I melted into the scene, wishing I could have been outside playing and laughing with my friends.

Our home was predictable with a boring, quiet order. There was something about the bedlam and chaos of the Cece’s home—the constant buzz of activity, the giggles and shouting as we’d all run  from room to room, slamming doors and squealing—that made me feel gleeful  and carefree.

Our house was across the street from a railroad station and we’d hear the loud train whistles at all hours of the day and night. Re-re and I would hang out at the station and watch the people get on and off the trains. Sometimes, we’d hook our metal skates to our shoes and lock them with key so we could roller skate on the pavement near the station and fly kites on the lawn in front of the station.

Although there was always a swarm of kids ready to play hide-and-seek or go trick-or-treating on Halloween, Re-re and I were the oldest girls of the gang and tended to sneak off by ourselves to hang out or talk. She had an older sister, Annette, who was a teenager and we’d watch on in wonder when she’d wear make-up and go out on dates.

“Go ahead,” Re-re waved her sister’s bra in the air and coaxed me to try it on as we lounged in her bedroom one summer afternoon.

“I’m embarrassed,” I said, wanting to try on her older sister’s bra but feeling like I was in forbidden territory. “Annette will k-i-i-ill us.”

“We’ll take turns,” Re-re said, her big brown eyes flashing with excitement. “You go first.”

“OK, but you have to do it, too.” When I looked over at Re-Re she nodded in agreement.

After I fiddled with the straps and figured out how to fasten the clasp in the back, I stuffed each side with a sock.

“I don’t really want anyone to see me,” I said as I hesitated at the bedroom door.

“Come on,” she said as she grabbed my arm and led me down the hallway.

When we walked into the kitchen, Mr Cece did a double-take, but didn’t say anything. His eyes zoned in on my chest and I looked away at the counter. A warmth flushed through my body until my face began to burn. I stood there feeling embarrassed, like I was naked. I glared at Re-re, who was stifling a giggle with her hand over her mouth.

Re-re and I ran back into her room, flopped on the bed and squealed into the pillows.

“OK, now it’s your turn,” I said.

“I’ll wait until Dad leaves.”

“No fair!” I shouted.

But we sat on her bed and waited until Mr. Cece left for work before we walked out of her room. We were both flat-chested this time, and I was mad. I stormed out her front door and ran to my quiet, calm home where, for once, I welcomed the boredom.

Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse and a sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. You can find her on her blog, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

{ 10 comments }

“Can You Play?”

By Kathy Murtaugh

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 10.33.58 AMHere’s what I remember (and imagine) happened that day almost sixty years ago.

The bell rang shortly after lunch on a hot afternoon in late August startling our dog Sammy into a frenzied race to the front door.

“It’s just Dottie, Mom,” I said after peeking out from the kitchen doorway into the hall that led to the open front door. Mom was wiping milk spills and crumbs from the porcelain enamel table, and peanut butter smudges from the little boys’ faces. My seven year old sister Marie, younger than I by a year, but taller and a good deal bolder, was carrying dishes to the sink, shaking her head.

“Oh dear, remind her Billy can’t go out to play unless you or Marie are along, too. Anyway, the little boys are about to go down for a nap on the porch.” That upstairs sleeping porch held five beds and a crib for the lot of us kids.

Ha. Needs one of us along! That’s because of the Valentine candy box, I thought as I loped down the hall to open the screen door amused at the memory. Just last March a policeman had returned Billy to our front door. Dottie had walked him uptown to Walgreens and shooed him in to get the candy box to bring home to our mom as a “present.” Big red candy box, on sale, half-price, and almost as big as Billy himself. Only he didn’t have any money, and neither did she. And when the clerk stopped him at the door, she had run off and left him there.

“Hey, Dottie! Come on in. We’re done with lunch,” I explained in case she was hoping to eat with us.

“Hey, Kath. Can you play?” she asked grabbing Sammy’s front paws as he jumped up to greet her. They danced around a bit, Sammy’s tongue lolling and dripping. All the dogs in the neighborhood loved Dottie.

“Mom, can I go out with Dottie?” I called back to the kitchen, not able to hide a pleased smile. I couldn’t remember the last time Dottie had asked for me instead of Billy or Marie. I might have been the neighborhood killjoy of the eight and under set except that I didn’t have even that much influence. Their joy carried on, mostly without me, as I curled up on that upstairs porch with my pile of books.

“Sure, darling, ” Mom replied coming down the hall toward the front door Tommy on her hip. “Stay outdoors though. Remember the boys will be napping. Hello, Dottie.

We headed up Pine Street walking on the cool parkway grass to keep from burning our bare feet on the  sidewalk. We passed Dottie’s house, and when we didn’t turn in, I asked, “What do you wanna do?”

“Come on!” she said, her face brightening, her gait suddenly quickening to a trot. Now we’re horses again, I thought, remembering the time she had lead the herd of neighborhood children galloping through the unfenced backyards, neighing and prancing and swaying her willow branch tail behind her. On cue, we had all neighed and pranced and swished our switchy tails, too, until Mrs. Miner hollered, “You’re trampling my seedlings! I’ve told you, Dottie Howard, ‘Stay out of my yard!’” Dottie had laughed then. “You Murtaughs know better!” Mrs. Miner had called to our retreating backs. Pulling Billy along, Marie and I had exchanged a worried glance, but galloped on.

All that fleeted through my mind as we crossed Provident Avenue and headed toward Green Bay. Feeling a bit wary and winded now, I said, “Dottie, I’m only allowed three blocks. That’s my boundary.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, we’re stopping up here,” she reassured me.

And we turned down a long gravel driveway and entered a back garden.

“Who lives here?” I asked. No response to that, but just a whispered, “Come on! Come on! You’ve got to see this!” We moved toward the back of the garden, me imitating her stealthy backward glances. “What are we doing?” I whispered to her back as she quickly straddled the split-rail fence and hopped into the next yard. With less  grace I lumbered over the fence and landed next to her.

“Well?” she asked with eyebrows raised, waiting for my reaction.

Before us stretched a sight unseen in any of the yards we had run through on our block: three taut wires between two posts, holding up vines laden with clusters of perfectly round purple-blue grapes. Aunt Virginia had grapes like this, I remembered, then recalled my mother’s gentle hand stopping mine at Aunt Virginia’s stately table as I reached toward the bowl for a second helping.

Dottie plopped down cross-legged and pulled off a bunch. “Look, you squeeze it and it pops right into your mouth. Don’t eat the skin. Spit the seeds in the pile.” Looking down the row I saw two perfect pyramids of discarded skins and seeds about four feet apart. “Sunday I found this,” she explained, noticing my glance. “That first one’s my pile. That one’s me and Marie’s.”

Suddenly feeling less chosen, I began to squeeze one after another of the grapes I had plucked from that perfect arbor into my watering mouth. Our pile of discarded parts quickly mounted along with an uneasy feeling. “Why didn’t you ask Marie to come with us?” I finally asked.

“Aw, she was feeling all sorry for the old lady,” Dottie replied.

“What old lady?” I asked.

She gestured toward the house. “What a baby. Started crying about her grapes took three years to grow,” she whined in imitation. “Don’t worry. I saw her go out earlier. Look, driveway’s empty.”

My throat clenched as though hands had grabbed around it, and a sickening feeling stretched downward to my stomach. I glanced left and right to see the grapes still hanging, hoping there were enough for the old lady to still enjoy. “I gotta go,” I said getting up slowly, wiping my hands on my seersucker shorts. “My stomach hurts.”

Dottie followed me home. We didn’t gallop, or even trot. At the door, I explained, “The boys are napping. So, you can’t come in.” She turned, and with arms extended leaped over all five steps, landing on the walk below. I watched as she headed next door to the Knight’s house. I turned toward the basement to try and get the purple stain out of my shorts before my mother asked me about it.

Kathy Murtaugh grew up in Winnetka, Illinois with four brothers and a sister. In the late 40′s and early 50′s the neighborhoods exploded with post-war, baby-boom children who were allowed to run free from a very early age. Little did the parents know all that went on. Or maybe they did, but they trusted us to figure things out for ourselves; which, mostly, we did.

{ 1 comment }

My “Bad Friend”

By Anonymous

“Your parents know!” She pulled on my arm the instant I stepped on campus, dragging me to the edge of the walkway, just beyond the steady stream of kids lugging backpacks beneath the covered sidewalk. “Your dad called my dad!”

Panic. Dread.  The one time—OK, second time—I tried to do anything, anything!, and my parents had already found out. “What are we going to do?” I asked, my cheeks burning. My parents were already troubled about my friendship with her. And if they’d known I sometimes thought of her as my “bad friend,” well, they would have worried even more.

“Your dad is scary,” she said in this little girl voice she had sometimes. She could seem so innocent with those big blue eyes and that sweet voice.

My dad was not scary at all. Just maybe not terribly warm, especially to a friend he disapproved of. Not a fun dad, like hers. Not the kind of dad who would ever, ever, buy wine coolers for his 16-year-old daughter and her friends. Definitely not the kind of dad who would look the other way when those same girls walked out his front door, headed on foot to an 18-and-over club in a college town known for frat parties and excessive drinking. “But what did he say?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Nothing really. Just that he wanted to meet.”

I groaned. Of course. My parents always wanted to meet the parents of anyone, everyone, I was going to be friends with. It was so annoying.

“It’s because I spent the night two weeks in a row. That’s probably what did it.” I shook my head. “What are we going to do if they know?”

“Your parents already hate me!”

“They don’t hate you.” It wasn’t a lie. It just wasn’t exactly the truth.

I met her Sophomore year in Drama class. She had transferred from the other high school in town. She wasn’t like most of my friends who all got 4.0s and were life members of the California Scholarship Federation. Not that she wasn’t smart and couldn’t pull A’s, because she could when she got her shit together. But she wasn’t a goody-two-shoes. She listened to Liz Phair and the Descendants and smoked cigarettes in her little black car and swore (but never in front of my parents). She drove fast and wore Betsey Johnson dresses to school and went to parties at the Washout. She was going to get dual citizenship when she turned 18—American and Irish. She had an aunt she visited every summer on the East Coast, living in a mansion and hanging out with prep school boys. When she had left back in June, I had cried, watching her drive away. We had written letters all summer. Around school, people called us lesbians because we would hold hands and share the giant chocolate chip cookies the cafeteria made and bags of plain M&M’s and Big Gulps of Mountain Dew mixed with Pepsi that she would buy at 7-11 on her way to school. We were glued at the hip, with five classes together, and no one could keep our names straight anymore. We didn’t even care—even though we laughed about how we didn’t look a thing alike, not when I was blond and she was brunette. She was cute, with that dark straight hair and bright blue eyes and the palest skin you ever saw. I still remember how she told me I could be popular if I would just go to parties sometimes.

But when I tried—getting tipsy on Bartles & Jaymes and smoking cigarettes without inhaling and dancing in that club and making out with some boy I didn’t even know who ignored me a week later when I went back—well, I got caught.

Except it turned out my parents had no idea what we’d been up to, they were just doing their parent thing, thinking I was spending an awful lot of time at the house of someone they didn’t know, but I was afraid enough of disappointing them that I never spent the night at her house again, didn’t try drinking again—not until I got to college and then just barely. Because even at sixteen I knew my parents were right to be worried, they were right, they were right, only it took me another year to see just how right because she was fun and sweet and she needed me in a way my other friends didn’t.

{ 0 comments }

Caught in a Golden Time

By Lisa Perry

LPerryFSPic#1It 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. 

{ 0 comments }

Birds, Bees and Bullfrogs

By Lee Anne White

LAWhiteFSPicMom was in the basement doing laundry when the doorbell rang. I swung the front door open wide to greet one of the older neighborhood boys. He was standing there with two large plastic buckets and a grin on his face.

“Hey, would you like to buy some frogs?” he asked. I looked deep into the buckets. Sure enough, they were filled with frogs—and not just any frogs. These were enormous bullfrogs carrying baby bullfrogs on their backs.

“Cool! How much?” I asked.

“Two bucks,” he responded. I ran to my bedroom and dumped out the measly contents of my piggybank, scrounging around for enough nickels, dimes, and pennies to make the purchase. Two dollars was a lot for frogs. Heck, it was a lot for anything based on my allowance, which was earned one dime or quarter at a time for doing chores around the house—but I had never seen so many frogs at once, much less any carrying babies on their backs.

We made the exchange and I headed straight to N’s with the buckets before Mom could figure out what I was up to. N’s house was behind ours—through the woods on a well-worn path that crossed a vacant lot and a gully that we called the foxhole. N and I rode our fat-tire bikes on those trails and played army in the foxhole, building underground forts beneath the tree limbs dumped there by our fathers.

N was a lot like me—ten years old, brown hair, and happiest when building tree houses or playing ball on the front lawn. People often mistook us for sisters—so much so that we started telling people that we were when asked, and sometimes even when we weren’t. To make it official, we made small cuts on our hands and then pressed them together to mix the blood, making us blood sisters.

Most of the neighborhood girls would have squealed and told me the frogs were gross, but not N. She loved bullfrogs as much as I did. We routinely got in trouble with our mothers for dawdling too long on the walk home from school because we’d get sidetracked trying to catch frogs and tadpoles in the neighborhood pond with our bare hands.

We headed to the woods with the buckets and a shovel, and took turns digging several holes. We dragged the garden hose out into the woods and filled the holes with water. Then we carefully placed our new amphibian friends in their new homes, covering each hole with old window screens we found in the shed, and securing them in place with rocks. We didn’t want our frogs to escape.

As was often the case, there were a few flaws in our plans. When we checked on our frogs the next morning, the holes were almost dry. Even though this was dense red clay, the holes did not hold water like the pond down the street, which had a running stream and dam. We filled the holes back up with the water hose and checked it again that evening. We also realized that we didn’t have food for our frogs. “Where will we get flies?” N asked.

By the second morning we had a new problem on our hands: The holes were filled with eggs—enormous masses of slimy, jelly-like tadpole eggs. We had seen clusters of them in the pond before, but never like these in our holes. There were thousands and thousands of them.

We also noticed that the baby frogs were no longer on their mothers’ backs. Puzzled, we headed to my house and pulled the F-G encyclopedia off the shelf. There we read that a male bullfrog “hugs” the female for several days, causing her to squeeze out thousands of eggs, which he then fertilizes. Hmm…so maybe those had not been baby frogs on their mother’s backs after all. While we pondered this new information, we added water to the holes again and wondered what to do next. There was no way all those tadpoles could live in these small holes once they hatched, and we couldn’t fill up the holes twice a day forever.

On the third morning, the frogs were gone. All that remained were the eggs. The screens and rocks were still securely in place, which made us think that some of the neighborhood boys had stolen them in the night. Or perhaps our parents had found our tiny frog-filled holes and released the frogs out of pity.

We never did learn what became of those frogs. Later that day, we hauled buckets of slimy tadpole eggs to the pond down the street and refilled the holes with dirt to hide our failed attempt at raising pet frogs. Undeterred, our outdoor adventures continued—chasing rabbits in the neighbor’s backyard, nursing injured birds and chipmunks back to health, catching butterflies and lightning bugs, and even adopting a chicken that had fallen off a poultry truck—wondering if it, too, might lay eggs. It did not.

Lee Anne White still loves the great outdoors. She has written seven books on garden design, recently published a book of photographs called The Mutable Sea, and blogs about the role of creativity in women’s lives. You can find her on her website, blog and Twitter.

{ 2 comments }

Enter J.

By Cindy Day

CDayFSPicThird grade. Mrs. Hayes’ class. Brimming with confidence, I bring my completed project up to the teacher. We’ve done an exercise to demonstrate alliteration and my poster says “Sophisticated Cindy.” I’m feeling good about my work until my friend turns around and asks me what “sophisticated” means. We’re standing right in front of the teacher. I have no idea. The meaning is vaguely positive, possibly sort of grown-up, but beyond that I haven’t a clue. To save face, I whisper into my friends’s ear, “It means, um, I think…,” I stall.

Mrs. Hayes kindly interrupts and explains that it means mature, refined, well-established. I’m thrilled to hear it.

The friend who called my bluff was named J. She was my best friend and was just the slightest bit wild, which was exactly why I was drawn to her. When I went to her house, her parents let us walk to the candy store on the corner by ourselves. Candy was rarely allowed in my house, so the prospect of being in a candy store ranked up there with Christmas. J. introduced me to Fun Dip – basically a bag of sugar with a sugary stick to lick, coat with sugar, and lick again. It was glorious.

While J. lived on a standard suburban street in New Jersey, I lived in a wooded, century-old gated community where the closest neighbor was two acres away. No candy stores in sight. In order to make the place look more interesting on playdates, I made the most of the scarier parts of the property – boarded up, dark bathrooms in an old indoor tennis court, falling-down horse stalls in an ancient barn and a dark, mildewed gardener’s shed. I played up the possibility that someone had forgotten to cover an old well in the woods.

There were actual dangers, though. Up at the top of the ridge behind our property, a major highway had been blasted through the rock, creating a thirty-foot cliff. We could just hear the traffic from the driveway but the worst of the noise was muffled by a stand of trees up a rock-strewn hill. I had only been up to the cliff to look at the highway once or twice with my parents. I wasn’t allowed up there on my own.

Enter J. An expert at coaxing me to try new things, she suggested we climb up a few of the rocks one day. I countered with the argument that the rocks were crawling with snakes. Everyone knew that. Undeterred, she started climbing. I stepped gingerly on one rock and then hopped to another. Dark corners just large enough to harbor garden snakes were everywhere, but since no snakes appeared, I gained confidence. We climbed and climbed. I started feeling proud of our progress. We didn’t look down — just found footing and worked our way up through the rocks and trees. And then, we were past the last of the rocks.

I turned around and panicked. There was no way we could get back down safely. We were stuck.

J. suggested walking farther — something I never would have considered had I been alone. We walked up to the fence that lined the cliff above the highway and followed it for a while. I’m not sure what we had in mind, but we gradually came out of the woods and onto a street I had never seen before. A street lined with houses. Llewellyn Park, where I lived, didn’t have anything like that for miles. How had we gotten out of the Park and into suburbia? How far had we walked? More panic set in.

We held a conference. Should we knock on someone’s door? Should we ask someone to call the police for us? We were totally lost. The thought of turning around and going back seemed impossible. The rocky hill, which probably intimidated not a single child of previous generations in the Park — was terrifying to us. We were children of the eighties; wary of kidnappers, over-scheduled with after-school activities, and only marginally familiar with the natural landscape outside our doors.

I noticed that the mailbox nearest to us had an “M.D.” on it. A doctor seemed less likely to be a kidnapper. I lived up to my “sophisticated Cindy” title and made an executive decision. We would knock on the door, explain that we were lost, and have them call the police. J. agreed. We walked up the little pathway and knocked. A woman answered. “Can I help you?” she asked. I explained our situation. The woman gave us a look. Instead of calling the police, she suggested simply giving us a ride home. Never in a million years would I have thought of that. Our eight-year-old knowledge told us to avoid strangers and find a policeman – it didn’t extend to getting rides home from nice ladies in Twilight-Zone-style neighborhoods.

In the end, we got into a complete stranger’s car and drove back down the highway, through the Llewellyn Park gate, and back up through the park. I was thrilled to see our house through the trees.

As we approached the bottom of our driveway, J. suddenly said, “This is fine!” “Are you sure you don’t want a ride up to the house?” the woman asked. I started to say yes, but J. insisted we get out. I imagined she had done something similar before to less-than-stellar reviews by her parents. Maybe she knew my parents would flip out (which they did). The driver must have smiled to herself at our little disagreement, but she let us out. On the way up to the house, we put our heads together and talked quietly about what we’d say.

“You cannot tell your mom about this,” J. insisted, urgently.

“Okay.” I said. “We’ll say we were out for a walk.”

“You can’t tell her the truth,” she said. “We’ll get in trouble.”

“Okay.”

I still remember opening the front door and looking at my mother. I hadn’t planned on telling her anything, and I could see that she wasn’t worried. We could have gotten away with it. But then I looked her in the eye. I’ve always been the type of kid that told her mother everything.

“You wouldn’t believe what just happened!” I said, and I could feel J. poking me. But the whole story came out — and man, oh, man were we in trouble. The trusting look from my mom turned into a stern one, and then a furious one. I could feel J.’s “I told you so” look, but I was powerless against my mother’s psychology. We were probably grounded or something — I’m not sure what the punishment was.

J. moved away a few weeks after that. I was devastated — I loved having a best friend, and especially loved having a friend that broke the rules. When I accidentally stole someone’s pencil sharpener later that year and didn’t return it, I felt awful for weeks. If J. had been around, I probably would have felt a little less lost.

Cindy Day lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and five-year-old son, and works in digital product management. She lets her son eat far too much candy. You can find her on twitter and her blog.

{ 0 comments }

The One That Got Away

By Alexandra Smyth

ASmythPicOur friendship was the kind of all-consuming comradeship that only teenage girls and young women can experience. The core of it lasted less than a year, while we both worked at a large bookstore famous for becoming the center of its employees’ lives. I noticed her immediately on my first day – Betty Boop come to life, cheerfully manning one of the many cash registers. She wore a vintage cardigan with a white and brown fur collar, and a kicky pleated skirt, with adorable brown kitten heeled shoes. Her hair was a mess of brown curls and every so often she would throw back her head and laugh and laugh while ringing up customers. I knew she was the kind of girl I longed to be: wild and free.

We met at one dive bar or another. All of the employees at this bookstore liked to drink – excessively and together. Shortly after I started working there, I began making the nightly pilgrimage to neighborhood watering holes with my coworkers, hoping to make some new friends. She and I started chatting about some topic or another and soon we were cackling like a pair of old biddies. I felt a giddy rush unrelated to all the booze walking to the train that night: I had found one of my own.

Soon we were tangled up in each other’s hair and each other’s lives. She helped me get in with the cool crowd at the bookstore and taught me how to roll my own cigarettes. We spent our fifteen-minute breaks together on the side of the store chain smoking Bali Shag rollies and cracking each other up, posturing like gang molls to keep errant men from approaching us.  We drank cheap champagne mixed with lemonade on the lawn of Prospect Park and went to dance nights with our other female coworkers, giggling and goading each other into flirting with the older, predatory men in order to get them to buy us shitty, slushy alcoholic drinks we would then share. We were broke but deliriously happy. Alive. I had never felt so accepted in my life. After years of feeling out of place in my various teenage cliques, I was part of a tribe, because she took me under her wing.

We spent a summer like that, counting the hours at the bookstore by day, howling at the moon together at night. One of our coworkers took to calling us the Trouble Twins because we constantly wore each other’s clothes, because our dark hair and curvy figures sometimes made it difficult to tell us apart. She was my partner-in-crime, consistently pushing me out of my comfort zone, cracking me open and forcing me to live with abandon, instead of worrying about doing everything right like I had in the past.

When I stumbled in this frightening and thrilling new way of living, she would patch me up, literally and figuratively. One night, after drinking way too much champagne and lemonade in the park, I fell coming up the subway steps.  She noticed my bloody knee before I did, as we waited in line at the bodega on the corner to buy beer, and she helped wash and bandage it as I wobbled back and forth, my leg kicked up on the kitchen sink Rockette-style, my arms wrapped around the shoulders of two of our strapping male coworkers, who were, of course, in love with her. When one of those boys broke my heart, she nursed me through the pain with beer, cigarettes and embarrassing stories of him in years past.

The most fun we ever had was when we went to see the Dirty Projectors play a free show at the South Street Seaport, just the two of us, completely out of our gourds. The opening band was terrible, so we retreated into the air-conditioned oasis that was the South Street Seaport mall. We were moments away from getting second piercings in our ears at a Claire’s when The Dirty Projectors started to play. We bought bejeweled cat masks instead, and watched the concert from the balcony, looking like a pair of feline Holly Golightlys. We went back to my apartment afterwards, and stayed up all night drinking, smoking, and talking, waiting for friends of mine who were driving up from Virginia for a visit to arrive. When they finally showed up at 6:30 in the morning, we were still wearing the masks, and took them to a greasy diner for breakfast, then slept all day only to get up and do it all again the next night. And so it went, as the summer lazily dragged on.

Like all torrid love affairs though, ours slowly burned itself out. As the days turned shorter, we both quit our jobs at the bookstore in the name of self-improvement. She was going back to school.  I was moving on to a better position at a bookselling company. Without the bookstore to orbit around, we started seeing less and less of each other. She got a part-time job at a very hip clothing store and made new friends there. I applied to grad school and began seeing the man who is now my husband. Life got in our way. There was no fight, no fall out – it was just that in order to grow, we had to grow apart.

She eventually left the city, decamping to New Hampshire with her then-boyfriend. She moved back a year later, but I was entrenched in a full-time job and an MFA program, leaving little time for running with the she-wolf from my past. I bump into her from time to time, and there is always such a rush of warmth and love between us, but the all-encompassing, swept-up nature of our friendship is gone. I think back on that time in my life so fondly, and will always be grateful for the girl who taught me how to live life wide open.

Alexandra Smyth is a graduate of the City College of New York’s MFA Creative Writing Program. She is the 2013 recipient of the Jerome Lowell Dejur Prize in Poetry. Her work has recently appeared in Sixfold, Poets and Artists, and Keep This Bag Away From Children, among others. Alexandra recently completed her first poetry manuscript, titled That Kind of Girl. She can be found at alexandra-smyth.tumblr.com.

{ 0 comments }