In a fair suburb of New York, the same suburb where Uptown grew up, I spent my formative years at an all-girls middle/high school nestled on a hillside. The school was founded at the turn-of-the-century. We had a headmistress, a tragic Gothic tale, which resulted in a lively ghost who was rumored to roam the halls, beautiful old stone buildings and dormitories whose rooms were nestled in the eaves. It was an idyllic setting where we all read Jane Eyre, spent evenings laying on the great lawn looking at the stars, and winter days sledding down the steep hill on our lunch trays. We all had that teenage angst (some more than others), but we were part of a global community, with nearly 70 percent of our student body hailing from around the country and around the world. Two of my closest friends however, were New Yorkers (one suburban and one a city kid).
I was always fascinated by the city friend, she possessed an “otherness” about her that could only have been a direct result of her growing up in the Village during the 80’s and 90’s to artistic, Bohemian parents. Her mother looked like a dark-haired version of Claudette Colbert, but spoke in a voice more akin to Lauren Bacall. Her father was a little more of a wayfarer and eventually moved out of their apartment and to the “gritty” neighborhood of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
Having our school situated on the train line to Grand Central, my two friends and I spent almost every weekend in the city, visiting the Met and sitting directly across from the massive “Joan D’Arc” painting (second floor, make a left, walk down the hall and another left and it’s all the way down on the right) where my suburban friend would sit sketching, while my city friend would be writing songs about the paintings. I would simply sit there staring, taking in the art and watching people react to the paintings. We would then roam through the Village, stopping at Hudson Street Papers and Tea & Sympathy and walk along Charles Street. My city friend had such a self-possession. Everything she did intrigued me. She was perhaps, the person I most wanted to be at the time, because she was so unlike me. I didn’t have an air of mystery, grow up in Manhattan, attend art openings since birth, or act in my mother’s movies and performance art pieces. But I so wanted that all, minus the dysfunction that seemed to come with it.
In tenth grade however, my city friend betrayed me in a typical adolescent way, and we were no longer friends. There were no more impromptu photo shoots in the music building while she strummed Mazzy Star or Tori Amos on her guitar, no laughing in the dorms as we recited Shakespeare, Dickinson or Rossetti with each other. My suburban friend remained, but after her parents died within a few years of each other, she receded, feeling a bit like she had been marked by a scarlet letter. I stuck by her through high school and even college. September 11th happened while she was studying in Morocco. We spent the day instant messaging each other, since news was being censored on her end, I was her one link to the rest of the world that day. I sent her a care package with peanut butter and that horrible cover of Time magazine with the Twin Towers being struck. We lost touch shortly after that. Until today, when I reached out to her and then the other friend found me.
I met my suburban friend at Tea & Sympathy. A place which I’ve written about and been to hundreds of times. As we sat down today, examining each other’s faces for signs of the girls we once were, she remarked, “I haven’t been here since high school.” She looked around and I knew she saw exactly what I did. A version of our younger selves, sitting in the window, having tea, laughing and whispering. Who would think that in nine years, not much has changed. We were both the same people at the core. She’s still funny, honesty and fiercely intelligent. I’m still me. But we’re both free of that adolescent pain that held us back from being ourselves. We picked up exactly where our last tea left off, we laughed and whispered, talked about our lives and passions and our futures. “This was fun,” I said. “Let’s stay in touch. Maybe do something next week?” And true to her humorous and candid form, my friend replied, “I’m glad you said it first. Because last week I said that to someone I hadn’t seen in a long time and they said, ‘ummm, yeah. Maybe I’ll call you.”‘
And our city friend? She has changed her name, and now shares her new identity with that of a Pre-Raphaelite muse. Her photo square sits in my “Friend Request” box on Facebook, her strong features staring back at me. I haven’t accepted her yet. The adolescent in me is brutal, she wants the adult me to remain mysterious, self-possessed, and let the city friend wait there, in limbo. And for once I’m listening to my younger self, and leaving the request “pending.”