On Thursday night my friend Sandy’s father died. I was feeling sad for her and sad for myself, for being at the stage of life where your friends’ parents die. My friends Vince and Miller called. They are also friends of Sandy’s and for them the news of her father’s death had sparked one of those arguments that only a couple who has been together since high school can have.
They called me to settle the question of whether Miller had dated a certain boy (the answer, yes). The conversation spun off in to trying to put together a timeline of our young lives and romances, memories of stupid things we did, and for reasons best left unsaid, an unquenchable desire to watch the movie Camelot. I went to bed still sad for Sandy, but also laughing and grateful to have so many people who share my memories.
Saturday I got to see Sheila and Kate, friends I haven’t seen in years. Sheila’s father also recently died. She and I, both mothers, talked about how much we missed lazy Saturdays spent wandering in and out of stores and meeting people for coffee. Kate is a real-life Hollywood writer. Sheila and I wanted dirt on that most nostalgic of shows, Mad Men, which Kate used to work on. We had questions such as, “Is Jon Hamm really that good looking?” (ok, that was my question and apparently, yes). But we also just wanted to talk about the characters.
I mentioned that in watching reruns recently I noticed how much more fun Joan used to be and used to have. Kate agreed, “I think she did used to have more fun when she was younger, she hadn’t been worn down, she hadn’t had a kid, she hadn’t been raped.” The three of us spent a long, effortless time talking about our careers and our declining eyesight.
That night my husband Danny and I went out for our anniversary. We went to our old neighborhood and ate a delicious dinner in what used to be a hang-out bar with no menu. We went to a play at a theater where we had both seen a lot of plays, and also where I used to take resist-a-ball class, because of course.
My friend Phil co-wrote and stars in the play and at one point, standing very near us, he begins a monologue. As the monologue progresses Danny and I realize that the story he is telling involves Danny’s oldest friend Eric, who committed suicide five years ago. The story is not about Eric, or his death, but about an old apartment of Phil’s. Eric and Phil were neighbors.
Later, over dessert, Danny and I try to joke about it. “Well, it’s not every day that a play brings up your best friend’s suicide, and not even thematically, but literally.” But all these memories are too close to the surface in this neighborhood where we used to live. The jokes fall flat and we bring home our uneaten desserts.
On Sunday, Danny and I take our son Joey to the forest preserve to learn how to ride a bike. This is not an unloaded situation. It starts with a fight between Danny and Joey on whether or not today is the day, which leads in to a more general fight and tears. I can not ride a bike, and have tried to stay as far away from my kids learning how to ride a bike as possible. I don’t want to put my childhood on them. But Joey wants the dog and me to come along.
I take the dog for a walk and fifteen minutes later I get a phone call. “Mommy, I can do it, come back.”
When I come back I see him, my beautiful son. He is pedaling quickly but effortlessly, a wide smile on his face, he looks as though he’s been riding for years. His father watches from behind, an equally wide smile on his face.
When we were in college Miller told me that I was the only person he knew who looked forward to nostalgia. It’s true, sometimes I live too much in the past. I hold grudges and memories close to my heart. Maybe it is because I’m a writer, or maybe I’m a writer because I am always reworking something that is already past. There is an undeniable joy and comfort for me in reliving the past, even the painful parts, and in reconnecting with those who were there with me.
But sometimes the trip down memory lane is too bumpy even for me. At those times even I know that the best thing you can do is pedal quickly in to the future.