(This was written back in the fall, but I just dug it out now and decided it was worth posting.)
I have an old friend staying at the moment; she came last night in a whirlwind and will probably stay for the next few weeks or so. Talking together about the last year, our lives are very different in most ways. And yet I can still see our outlines: hers, mine, all our other teen girl friends – cut from the same paper doll book. Some of us sharper, some torn off the very page, all clothed in the things we believed made us who we were. This is *who* I am, this pair of striped stockings, these combat boots, this disintegrating leather jacket picked out of a bin at the thrift store. Punk rock or otherwise we came together looking for the camaraderie we lacked in our schools and families for whatever reason. Came together in a city that was small enough to allow us to find each other, yet large enough to provide the venues in which to do so. The bohemian coffee shop, one such place, allowed us to be obnoxious and warm on winter nights as we smoked cigarettes and experimented with the type of coffee drinkers we could be. And we moved like that through the city, to greasy spoons and outdoor gazebos in the park, sat by the sea and wandered through neighbourhoods of old houses. Some of us already living on our own, others wishing we could as we inched through those last years of high school, hating every minute of the normalcy existing there. We were creatures made for freedom. That much feels like the truth – then and now. We weren’t made to be like regular folk.
And today who are we? A union leader, a jewelery designer, a surfer, a train-hopping photographer, an editor, and a lifelong aesthete. These are the ones who come to mind effortlessly, there were of course others and we were as many as a dozen at times on girls nights where we downed bottles of cheap red wine and talked about the boys we were sleeping with, many of them old enough to have rightfully been called men. But we never regarded them that way. Not those early ones. Not until we regarded ourselves as women which took some doing, delayed adolescence being what it is in our generation. Gorgeous girls. Aware completely of our power, yes, on some level and at least for me completely rejecting of it on another. I dressed like a boy and gave it away, couldn’t be bothered with the pretense of trying to get something in return for sex. And in that way we all differed for sure – some of us chaste, looking for romance or boyfriends – others looking merely for someone to pass the evening with. No one formula, no judgment either – though sometimes incredulity at who you might date or sleep with. Much stealing of boyfriends, much cheating, much passing around of men, much bad behaviour. At seventeen does anyone know any better? We lived so much of our lives unsupervised and yet managed to get ourselves to school, to work, and home safely after a night of drunken partying or LSD. At least we knew that much.
So when I see these women now, 20 years on from when I met most of them at the age of fifteen, no matter how different we are in our pursuits and choices of men these days – there is a bond between us forged in adolescence. But more than that I recognize the sameness across our speech and histories. None of us ever did things the easy way; shacking up with men who cheated, stole and used drugs, moving around cities and countries hoping to find some other part of ourselves, getting ourselves in various troubles, seeking always a way to stay who we were and yet grow up. And for the most part, it’s worked. Those experiences giving us all a world-weariness women of our upbringing should not have, we are able to shrug off the insanity of others for something we ourselves have seen in the past. Are able to one-up every hitchhiking horror story with one of our own, can hold court with the mystery of how a gorgeous woman like us could have come from the rough corners we describe. Settling into normalcy feels both like giving something up, and like it’s about time. And these days I reference my past less and less because it is too hard for people to reconcile that grubby, troubled girl with me standing in front of them talking about their economic situation and going on strike.
I’m sure all people live in pieces. This piece of me shown at this time, this piece of me shown at another. But around the fire at Kyla’s place I feel like I am all of me and those women are the only ones who ever get to see it. Although they don’t really see me in my working mode, they imagine it. Not only can they imagine it, they are proud of my accomplishments as I am proud of theirs and can see the whole of their lives spread in front of me. We are lucky to come together often still, most of us having settled close to where we grew up and despite the travel bug in some, there is also the grounding effect of the west coast on all of us who feel safer and comforted with a home base. I look across the firelight and see that each of us embodies some part of each other – there is an intertwining between us I can not imagine being broken.
I have at times wondered what will happen when one of us dies – a nasty thought and one which scares me as much as imagining the death of a biological sister – it’s unthinkable to me that any one of us should not exist. It’s unthinkable to me that we won’t all know each other for the rest of our lives. I mean, we are 35 now, and it’s been twenty years – the goal has got to be another forty at least for each of us. And even that is hard to picture, that we should get old at all.
But should that happen, should we age, it is something we will do together. We have our families, our partners, our children – and rather than interfering in our friendships, those things enrich them as we gather new people and experiences to share in our stories with each other. From fifteen until now we have been telling these stories, each year layered with more of ourselves on display for the others. There is nothing I would keep from this circle. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. The truth is always present, no matter how weird and distorted it gets at times. The truth is being fifteen and for all intents homeless, growing up rough and then emerging like crazed butterflies into an adulthood we weren’t quite ready for. The truth is that while these paperdolls all ended up wearing different ensembles, they were still essentially cut from the same paper. A sisterhood no matter how frayed or tattered.
Totally worth posting.
Thirty five has come to be the year of the shoulder check for all those people I’ve cared to discuss it with. Maybe the shoulder check is to make sure there’s no traffic as we start to move forward…
Reading it I felt all that history and kinship. What a lovely reminder of good things. And beautiful writing.
How beautiful. You brought tears to my eyes.