Saturday, February 07, 2009

Lost and Found

For one year of preschool and my first few months of kindergarten, I went to a small private school on the Upper West Side. It wasn't one of the fancy famous ones--in fact, it doesn't even exist any more--but it was fancy enough that I remember a formal lesson in how to hold a fork.

My best friend there--my very first real best friend, period--was a girl I'll call Katie. We met during naptime: we were supposed to be sleeping, but we each looked sideways and discovered each other, and were racked by fits of giggles. The teacher scolded us, but I didn't care: for the first time, I'd found something at school that I cared about more than I cared about Being Good.

The Mermaid Girl used to love to hear stories about me and Katie: how I went over to Katie's house and bounced on her bed and we listened to the "Cinderella" soundtrack and screeched "bippety bobbety boo!" over and over; how we were supposed to hold hands and walk across the street to the park for our daily playtime, but Katie ran, and I ran with her, and we both had to spend playtime sitting on the picnic bench, and Katie said loudly that she didn't care, she didn't want to play anyway, and I marveled at that because I did care and desperately hated being in trouble; how once I went over to Katie's house, all excited to spend the afternoon with her, and her mother came over and gently explained that Katie wouldn't be able to play after all, because her father had come to see her, and how I was so confused about that, because I'd thought I knew her father, the man who lived with her and her mother and her little brother in their exciting long-staircased brownstone, but he was her stepfather, as it turned out.

I didn't tell MG about how once there was another girl I was friendly with, until Katie said that she guessed if I wanted to be friends with that girl then I didn't want to be friends with her. So I started avoiding the other girl, and everything was okay after that. Even at the time, I knew there was something wrong with that kind of threat, but I shrugged it aside because Katie was so magical, so exciting, so special; it seemed worth everything, to go on getting to be her friend; even better, her *best* friend.

In the middle of my kindergarten year, my family moved to the suburbs. My parents and Katie's parents weren't friends, particularly, and long distance phone calls (even from New York to New Jersey) were expensive, and Katie and I were only just barely literate and certainly couldn't send letters independently, and so after a short while we lost touch. She did come to visit, once--maybe for my sixth birthday party--and I remember being excited but also feeling like it was strange somehow, off somehow, for my old preschool city friend to be appearing here, on my suburban street. And I remember talking on the phone with her once, in first or second grade, but it was strange and we didn't know what to say to each other.

After that, I never saw or heard from Katie again.

I've wondered about her, off and on, ever since then. In college, I thought about her a lot, maybe because I was spending a lot of time in exalted, obsessive love/crushed-out-ness, and my friendship with Katie was the first time I remember feeling something like that, or its preschool version, for someone my age. College would have been a good time to look for her--most people of my age and class were living and studying in a few dozen well-defined institutions, and even if she hadn't been at one of them she certainly would have had a close friend or relative who was--but somehow, I didn't. I think I was a little scared; Katie had always been a force of nature, and I was such a nerd--and, then, a newly-out lesbian to boot--that I was afraid she'd snub me, her old best friend, as not worthy of her time and reunion. I'd have rather not found her than that.

About ten or fifteen years ago, when the Internet made it easier, I started looking again, but without much hope: the name I knew her by isn't uncommon, and she'd had a different last name from her mother and might have changed it to match her mother rather than her mostly-absent father, and then we were getting to the age when people of our age and class were getting married, and many women do still take their husbands' names. Over the years, I found people with her name several times, but none of them seemed to be her, and after a while I gave it up as one of life's mysteries.

Last night, in one search that took all of ten seconds, I found her on Facebook.

At least I'm, say, 95% sure it's her. There were half a dozen women with the same name, and I sent messages to all of them, just in case. Most of them have written back by now and said sorry, it's not me, but good luck finding your friend.

The one who hasn't written back? I think that one is her.

She did indeed change her last name when she got married, but included her maiden name as part of her middle name on her Facebook profile. Her sampling of friends, which includes a few celebrities, was impressive enough to send me Google-stalking around to find out more.

Here is most of what I found out, which is general enough so that anyone who doesn't know her name won't be able to identify her: she's married to a lawyer a few years older than us, and they have two children and live on the Upper East Side. She donates to and volunteers for various worthy and vaguely-progressive causes. She has a law degree herself, but seems to have retired to stay home and take care of the kids. She goes to charity fundraisers.

Those facts are the bare outline of a certain kind of life, a life I know about from friends of friends, from books and movies, one that's very different from mine; though, except for the geography, it's not so very different from the lives of my students' parents, at my old workplace. I can guess some things about her, just from that outline: that she went to private school through high school, and then to a good college; that somewhere in there she travelled, probably in Europe; that she met her husband in law school or at work; that her kids go to private school, too; that they have household help; that their building has an elevator and a shiny lobby; that they have a summer home in driving distance of the city.

In other ways, I know nothing at all. I don't know anything about her that I know about my old high school and college friends, or even my invisible blogging friends. I don't know where she went to college, what she majored in, whether she passionately wanted to be a lawyer or just kind of fell into it. I don't know whether she ever lived outside New York. I don't know what her favorite books are (though I know that one of her favorite TV series is one that I like, too). I don't know if she kept on holding her friends so tightly, whether she had a lot of friends, whether she was wild in high school. I don't know if it was hard for her to give up work, and if she plans to go back to it when the kids are older. I don't know if she gets along with her mom, or her dad, or her stepfather. I don't know what happened to her little brother, who we used to tease. I don't know what about her kids worries her, if their births were hard, what she's proud of in them. I don't know anything about her grownup self, really.

But I knew her right away, when I saw her Facebook picture, even though I haven't seen her for thirty-five years. She has the same dark hair, the same piercing, forthright eyes. She still looks like a force of nature.

From that, and from the causes she supports and the things she's listed as doing, I know she's the same girl who ran across the street to the playground, and then said she didn't care. The same one who did care, passionately, enough to get people--me--to do what she wanted; the same one who looked over at naptime, giggling and transgressive. She doesn't live a transgressive life now, for sure. The outline of her life is different from when we were four, but the core is the same.

I have a feeling she's not going to write back; it could be that she doesn't even remember us being friends. But it almost doesn't matter: I think I'm finally old enough to not care if she thinks I'm a dork, to not measure us against each other, to not worry, after all these decades, if she thinks I'm worth being friends with. I'm just happy to know what happened to her.

And we're only about halfway through our lives; if she wants to get in touch, she knows how to find me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

els, thanks for this.

i am actually thinking about joining facebook. for a long time i have thought it was silly, but now i see it as a way to both feel more connected to people who are important, and to get little glimpses into many lives.

for example, if you wanted to, you could go to my cousin's facebook page and see photos of all the food we made to eat on new years day.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

els, I love this story. I hope she writes back.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous MonkeyPants said...

This made me think about a very intense friendship I had in my teens. Thank you for that.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I hope she writes back, too.

My best friend from that era of my life was my next-door neighbor. She was a year and a half older, two years ahead in school. There was always a disciple/guru element to the friendship. But she stopped speaking to me when she got to middle school -- I wasn't cool enough. The not-cool-enough lasted even when we were carpooling to high school together, and I never forgave her for it. Not that she ever cared, I'm sure.

Anyway. She's on FB, and we have a couple of high school friends in common. She's in NYC, and very hip. I wouldn't dream of sending her a message. I know already -- she wouldn't write back.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

you just never know! i went to preschool and then private school (graduating class had 69 kids in it) in New Orleans with many of the same people. our private school was K-12...and i didn't go there for K. i transfered in 1st. i've found or been found by many people on FB from nursery school/private school. many who i was friends with up until about 6th grade...and then they became cool...and i guess i just wasn't. sure..i haven't a whole lot in common with most of them. but ALL have been very gracious and given me at least token notes saying how adorable our children are. what i've found is that most are very accepting of my family. i guess that surprises me. but it's been very nice. i hope she gets back in touch with you!

5:07 PM  
Blogger liz said...

I hope she writes back.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Laurie G said...

That's some wonderful writing!

11:33 AM  
Blogger MexicowithKids said...

I love this post, savored it in fact!

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Politica said...

OMG -- Susan just told me I had to read your post. I just ran across a childhood friend on FB (she contacted me) and have been spazzing about the fact that I sent her a brief life-update and haven't yet heard back from her. Too funny.

5:31 PM  
Blogger jo(e) said...

What a compelling story.

I still live in the community I grew up in so I run into childhood friends in the grocery store. I suppose that's why we aren't bothering to find each other on facebook. When I do run into someone I knew long ago (it's usually at a funeral or a store or the field days), I'm always surprised at how much they really haven't changed.

4:36 AM  

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