February 28, 2003

I don't have a lot of female friends. A few years ago, in a more immature time, I may have been That Girl - the one who claims that other girls just don't like her, and that she'd much rather hang out with her guy friends. Since then, I've realized the childish competition and insecurity inherent in that attitude. I still have close relationships with several guy friends, but I also have a much greater appreciation and desire for close female friendships. Unfortunately, developing and keeping those can be harder than it sounds, particularly once you're out of school, in a serious relationship, and in a city far away from the female friends you do have.

All of this makes me nostalgic for one of the most uncomplicated friendships of my youth. The friend was Mac, a girl I had known since early childhood, but with whom I didn't really become close friends until she moved down the street from me when we were about nine. There are hundreds of stories I could tell about Mac - she was the girl-down-the-street, my primary companion. From ages nine to twelve, I spent more time with Mac than with any other person outside my family. Though we had our conflicts and competitions, there was something very steady and reliable about our friendship, and I suppose that's the way good friendships should be.

Mac moved away from SmallTown just before seventh grade, and that loss genuinely affected me. Though I certainly developed other friendships throughout middle school and high school, none of them were ever quite as straightforward and easy as it was with Mac. Much of that is almost certainly due to the onset of adolescence and its ability to wreak havoc on all kinds of peer relationships. But I also wonder - if Mac had stayed the girl-down-the-street with me through our teenage years, would I have a better idea of how to handle female friendships now?

The following is perhaps my strongest memory of the friendship Mac and I shared. I think it resonates because I have never quite managed to duplicate that sense of no-questions-asked on-call-ness in my friendships since then.

Fall 1990, 11 years old

It's after school, and I'm alone in my house. My mother will be home later, held up by some sort of faculty meeting at the elementary school where she teaches. Until then, I'm just killing some time, and talking on the phone to Mac. (To this day, I still remember the phone number she had back then - it's burned into my brain right next to that of my sixth-grade boyfriend.) Her mom is in the background, fixing dinner. I'm using the phone in my parents' bedroom, sitting on top of their dresser, and leaning back against the oversized mirror that covers most of the wall behind me. Absorbed in the conversation, I fail to realize that the mirror, rather than being attached to the wall, is simply propped there, with its bottom edge resting on the dresser. A few fidgets later, the left side of the mirror slips off its resting place on the dresser, and crashes down hard into the space between the dresser and the wall. This, of course, forces the right side off as well, and following another crash, the whole mirror is now resting heavily on the floor.

By some small miracle, the frame and glass remain intact, but the mirror is much too large for me to move on my own. Scenes of my mother's reaction upon returning home flash ominously through my 11-year-old imagination. On the other end of the line, Mac has heard the crashes and my gasp, and I fill her in on the debacle in front of me. Before I even realize what's happening, Mac has commanded me not to touch anything and to expect her at my front door in forty-five seconds. And then she's hung up.

True to her word, Mac tells her mother simply that I need help with "something," and sprints across the two front yards that separate our own. Within five minutes, she has helped me re-hoist the mirror, deftly hidden a chip on the mirror frame behind my mother's jewelry box, given me a big hug to calm my nerves, and raced back to her house in time for dinner. I am left feeling as if the whole emergency never happened, and to this day, that is certainly what my parents think.

I have my chance to return the favor some months after, when a nervously home-alone Mac calls me to say there's a strange man knocking on her front door. Taking the backyard route, I slip into Mac's kitchen, and together we are strong enough to stand resolutely out of sight behind the door until the man goes away.

Just one down-the-street girl looking out for another.

February 24, 2003

Every girl has her bad boy crush at some point in her life. Mine was Wheels, the boy who reappeared at SmallTown High after having lived in the mysterious world of "somewhere else" since early elementary school. As absurd as my desperate crush on Wheels appears to me now, thinking about his smile still gives me butterflies. Such is the power of the bad boy.

Summer 1994, 15 years old

First piece of background: My mother's sister lives in Australia, and during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, Mom and I went to visit her. It was an eye-opening trip in many ways, not the least of which was finding out just how much more "cultured" Auntie was than we. We also discovered just how much "cultured activities" can equal boredom.

Second piece of background: The aforementioned Wheels had solidified himself as my hardcore crush by the end of our freshman year, mainly by sitting behind me and flirting with me in, of all places, Latin class. (I know what you're thinking, but he really was a bad boy, I swear! He even stole a car once! Okay, it was his grandparents' car, and he brought it back, but still. I was certainly scandalized. He mooned people from a school bus window - how about that? It got him kicked off the baseball team, at least...) I was convinced that he was only a few more classes away from recognizing our joint destiny when summer inconveniently arrived. I have pictures that I took of him during Latin class on the last day of school. (Need I even tell you that I only pretended to have brought my camera for more general last-day-of-school reasons?) I also ended up in some pictures from that day, and I am wearing what, at age 15, was my most seductive outfit: a shortsleeved black bodysuit (the kind that snapped in the crotch) featuring a surprisingly low-cut neck, and dark green shorts with the legs rolled up as far as dress code and decency rules would allow. I seem to remember that I got those shorts at Cato - some people will appreciate all that that implies - and that they came with a black "leather" belt sporting a large, slightly southwestern-style buckle. I was, of course, wearing the belt that day as well. Despite such a carefully put-together ensemble, Wheels never took the hint, and I entered the summer of 1994 with my love for him unrequited, any chance of seeing him quashed both by summer and by spending three weeks of that summer on the other side of the world.

All that somewhat digressive background brings us to somewhere near Sydney, Australia, where my mother and I are attending a dinner party with Auntie, her husband, and some of their friends. The actual dinner has come and gone, and all that I remember of it is my introduction to mascarpone. The adults are solidly into a post-dinner conversation involving Australian politics, and though I didn't realize it at the time, I can almost guarantee that my mom is nearly as bored as I am. It is late enough, and dull enough, that I can get away with actually resting my forehead on the dinner table, something Mom would normally never let me do at our own house, much less at someone else's.

In the distinct memory I have of that night, my forehead is down, but my eyes are open, and I'm staring unseeingly at my shoes under the table. In my mind's eye, all I see is Wheels. I imagine him smiling at me, holding my hand, sitting next to me at a basketball game, so close that my entire leg touches his. And in my supreme conviction that he will soon see the inevitability of our pairing, I imagine telling him about this night - about how I escaped interminable boredom by daydreaming about him and his smile and his soon-to-be-proclaimed love for me. It will be a funny story for me to tell, particularly when he responds by listing the myriad times that same summer that he drifted into reverie thinking about me.

It will come as no shock to anyone who was ever fifteen (or even just in love with a fifteen-year-old boy) that these revelations never came to pass. No, the closest I ever came to such a deep conversation with Wheels was listening silently on another extension while Volt, my best friend at the time, called him and not-so-slickly tried to get him to discuss how he felt about me. Because that's just the kind of bold, liberated, confident 90s woman I was.