I spent a whirlwind two days in Fresno last week, bookended by evenings in San Francisco and Oakland, reconnecting with folks who were lost to me less than a year ago. Last year at this time, my life and the people gathered around me were vastly different and both where I am now and where I was then are/were wonderful and stressful and beautiful and difficult. I could never have seen then what exactly right now would look like, let alone get anywhere near how it feels – this airy, heart-swollen feeling. It sounds decidedly non-romantic and anti-sentimental to say the truth – that Facebook is responsible for most of it.
Facebook has changed my life in numerous ways – and depending on who you ask, they will see it as either positive or negative – but for me they are all positive in that the train is moving perpetually forward and whether you hold on or jump off is all you can decide. There are bombs (of the small and medium variety) that Facebook has dropped in my life that I still am not ready to write about (not yet, not really) and so someday I will work those out, too, and perhaps I will change my opinion. But today, coming down off of what I can only call a love hangover, I feel blessed to be in an age – and at an age – where I can find old friends and they can find me and we can appreciate what it is we’ve found: a collective memory that is larger than any one of us alone.
I read a very brief book review of Jennifer Egan’s new novel The Keep where the reviewer makes a statement that in this age of social networking, losing touch is becoming a thing of the past. This phrase kept ricocheting in my head all weekend as everyone marveled at how quickly we all came together and as we each sat stunned by the voodoo of our own presence among the group. I am of a generation that knows the pain (and sometimes relief) of moving and moving and eventually phone numbers are changed and jobs are changed and parties are moved and you have suddenly and irrevocably lost touch with someone you could not have imagined spending a whole week without in what feels like only months before. There is a comfort in that possibility – the option of being gone – lord knows I have used it to escape a love I could not have otherwise forced myself to part from – more than once. Unlisted, unseen, unfound. Until Facebook. And while sometimes a face pops up on the screen, or in your friend requests, that startles you, makes you long again for the distance of the white pages and a disconnected number – mostly, I find moments of goosebumps and anticipation as another long lost friend magically, without warning and in full color glory, stares back at me asking to be my friend again.
The trickling in of these old childhood friends has spanned itself over the last ten months and so it has been far from overwhelming – despite the turmoil of this year and the way that rediscovering my love for and from these people has contributed to an earth-moving, balance shifting discombobulation – it has both spun me around and churned me through this time of break-up. Each visit home over the last seven months has given me a chance to see people who knew me at a time that was specific and crucial and what I can now see as the wire cage the rest of my self- soul and heart and mind and body – that the rest of my life has been sculpted over. Each time, each person, has felt like a gift, or better yet – like a long lost favorite t-shirt you find, by happenstance, has been at the back of your drawer all these years. It looks the same, it feels the same and it fits the same.
I have amazing friends I have made throughout my adult years – friends who have known me through college and grad school and job changes and marital problems and who are here, day by day, to help me through the day to day. And I love them. I could not imagine life without them.
This visit, though, was singularly focused and without distraction, without other responsibilities or time-pulls – it was all about reconnecting with the people who spent time at the same high school, who ditched and drank and laughed and sobbed with me. There is something remarkable about the people who knew you when – when you were a child, when you thought you weren’t, when you thought you might die if he doesn’t call, when you might have died because you took too much, when you acted recklessly and rashly to make your friends laugh and to know that you were alive, when you drank so much or pushed yourself too far just to see if you would die. I’m sure not everyone pushed themselves and shoved at the limits as much as we did. And I know that countless others shoved even harder. But we were reckless. We were heady with rebellion and distress. We were angry and we were also funny and kind and full of love. As a group, we can piece together a history that no one of us can remember alone.
I had high hopes for the weekend. I was fully prepared to be let down, at least a little (and can’t believe that I wasn’t, not at all). We planned it as an anti-reunion in the style of a real reunion. We plotted and planned and made it all happen. The core of us met before the first gathering of the day at the sidewalk just outside our school where we stood for so many thousands of hours that it sometimes surprises me that our footprints are not etched into the concrete. We stood, sat, slept and passed out on that sidewalk. We smoked and drank and ate Twix bars on that sidewalk. We scratched our names into the two blocks of wet cement that popped up like beacons to our defacing hearts in 1988. We stared at those etched in names and symbols as our older selves – transported back to then, still standing hazily in now trying to remember the details.
Planning to meet around noon outside in July in Fresno was in a lot of ways a bad idea. But it was the time we had and so slowly, cars started arriving. The people who lived across the street eyed us occasionally as we gathered with hoots and hollers and hugs and began to amass on Barton Street. We were sweating and trying to hide from the sun. We were giddy and amped up and on edge. Some of these people I have seen in the last few months, but some I had not. And I surprised even myself when I broke down and wept as I walked up to a friend I had not seen in at least fifteen years. We hugged and cried and I realized in that exact moment how much I had missed her, even more than I knew. This happened again and again.
People showed up for the various events of the day that I didn’t even know others of us were still in touch with. We frantically phoned another friend that I had not realized wasn’t invited because I had mistakenly thought he was someone I liked much less – the real names behind the names we called each other lost in time, lost in my grown-up brain. Families arrived – fully formed human children trailing behind these people I knew at the same ages – and I was struck by how much we are all still the same despite all evidence to the contrary – even walking, talking evidence that filled up chairs and ate red velvet cake.
The thing about the whole day, the whole weekend, was that all of these people are different – how can we not be? – but we are all still the same. We are all still the people who made fun of each other and egged each other on and played jokes on each other. And the same people who always took the call, who walked or drove or biked to your house when you needed them, who dropped everything and risked suspension, detention, endless grounding to be there for you. We were young and old and ageless as we floated in the pool or reenacted ridiculous YouTube dances or tried to sneak obscene photos of each other at the bar or sang so hard our legs hurt.
I don’t know that I could have loved these people any more in 1988, 1990 or 1992 than I did that weekend (and do right now as my heart aches, in the best of ways, writing this). My love, in fact, feels deeper because I know not only what we all lost when we split apart, but what we’ve found. One friend said she feels like she has found her whole childhood and I can’t disagree. I feel like I have found a lot of faith in the longevity and the elasticity of human love and friendship. Some of us just lost touch, but some of us weathered all sorts of storms together until there was the one we could not make it through. Some of us struggled alone and together until we turned around and didn’t quite know how we had ended up so far apart. Yet, on that uncomfortably hot weekend in July, we were all there and open and giving and grateful.
I read a blog today by Betsy & Iya about a college friend’s memorial service and she wrote about how her friend’s mother spoke of the fact that 100 things happen in any one day and 99 of them are good, but we only see the one that is not. Betsy wrote about wanting to focus on those 99 things every day and the warmth and love she felt among friends while in LA for the memorial. Sitting in the pool or staying up late talking to friends and fighting off sleep because it meant this would all end, I couldn’t see anything but that 99 – 99 separate joys lit up and spinning around in front of me, refusing to be missed. 99 lovely promises of the kind of love that hibernates and hides away, but is always there and comes back to you, in the most surprising of ways.
When we were fourteen or eighteen or twenty-two – we could not have predicted how this would happen and yet it has and now will happen again. In the time of twenty foot tangled up phone cords and miraculous beeping pagers so you could stay in touch away from home and big, heavy phone books – we could never have predicted any way to stay in touch except the old fashioned way of parents who never move. For all that can be said of the depersonalization of the computer age and the ways that we create simulated selves and images that are what we want to be, not who we are – there is a more powerful truth for me: this magic of pixels and electricity and light has brought back to me my youth – joyous and tragic and really fucked up and hysterical. Thank you Facebook, for bringing me gifts that I had no idea I wanted (& needed) so badly. Thank you friends, for being the kind of people I always knew you were – smart and generous and so unbelievably hilarious. I have much love for my posse – te quiero por vida y con todo mi corazón. De verdad.