Years ago, a friend and I took a few sunny summer days to explore the Pacific Northwest coast. Our main goal was to stay off the beaten path and experience life at a slower pace. Antique shops, flea markets, and art galleries were our destination, as were berry farms, deserted beaches, dusty book shops and coffee houses. We had reserved a couple of nights at bed and breakfast places along the way, provisioned ourselves with a picnic basket overflowing with Belgian chocolates, crusty bread, and the best cheeses we could afford, and set out.
She was to be married that summer, and soon after to move away. I suppose, in a way, we were gifting each other a last memory of our girlhood. Ours was a friendship that had carried us from childhood, through the turbulent, self-conscious adolescence, and into our twenties.
The views were stunning. Rolling pastoral beauty giving way to dense emerald forests. We followed a river that shined like mica and came into a village right out of a nautical painting. The sun was setting, all rose and apricot colored over the bay. We parked our car and strolled the heart of the main street in search of a coffee house. With steaming drinks and chunks of cheese filled bread, we made our way to the beach, content to sit on the sand and soak up the beauty before us.
As darkness was approaching, we didn’t linger too long. Somewhere along those dusty roads, the hostess of a white Victorian house was awaiting our arrival, probably eager to lock up and go to bed. Our bedroom, at the top of three flights of stairs, was under the eaves and decorated with a large-scale lilac print wallpaper right out of a Victoria magazine. The brass, queen-sized bed was piled up with fluffy pillows, and in the bathroom a claw-foot tub occupied most of the space. We loved it.
A misty morning arrived too soon. We took our time over breakfast in the ornate dining room, both decided that the food could be better, yet stuffed ourselves nonetheless, and set off for a day of treasure hunting. It seemed that time stood still. The clouds and morning drizzle cleared away, and our minds emptied of everything but the joy of each other’s company.
That night’s bed and breakfast was a far cry from the first. We took one look at it and turned our car around. It was spooky! Our overactive imaginations had us roaming the dark roads in search of acceptable lodging. Finally, after it seemed as though we drove for hours, we found a newly built hotel, devoid of character, as expected, but with views of the silver ocean lapping at the rocks below.
Before we headed home the following afternoon, we stopped into a local bookshop and sealed our three days together by each purchasing a copy of Jane Eyre. It was a favorite book to both of us, and a talisman to remember our friendship and our last adventure before matrimony.
Ever notice how catty females get when they’re out together and another of their sex walks by? In the split of a second that poor woman has been evaluated and judged, and without any reason. There’s no denying the bonding that takes place between us women through our mutual consent to trash another. And in my weaker moments I’ve succumbed to the bitch within very easily. I end up feeling so guilty and so disgusted with myself afterwards, that I vow never to do it again. Because I know better. I have been a victim of this sort of cruelty as a teenager. There’s no excuse for it.
I’m thinking about this as I’m sitting in a cafe, listening to a group of college girls dissecting another sitting at a different table with her boyfriend. I’m supposed to be working, but I find myself both fascinated and repulsed by their behavior.
When I was in ninth grade I had a mean girl experience. It was not at school, although if it would have happened at school, I would have understood why. I was, after all, in ESL, had a terrible accent, was taller than most of the boys in my grade, and dressed with clothes my mom bought at Macy’s - The Gap was the clothier of choice. But for some reason - and I cannot understand it to this day - people at school were pretty cool.
My enemy turned out to be my church best friend. She harassed me through phone calls late at night, made by her brothers, saying sexual things, terrifying me. I had no idea who was out to get me and why. My mom figured out it was her and called her mom. One of her brothers admitted he made phone calls on her behalf. My friend and her mom came over. My friend apologized and cried. She gave some stupid speech her mom made her say, I’m sure, but I can’t remember much about other than she loved me as a sister, blah, blah, blah. The moms made us hug it out.
But that was just the beginning. Because soon after, she wrote and mailed a letter -only one that I know of - to my crush, in which she posed as me. I have no idea what that letter said, but it must have been something really nasty, because he never spoke to me again. And I only found out about the letter years later, from my crush’s sister. Then, this friend proceeded to turn all of my church friends against me. No one would even say hello. Thank God I had supportive parents who understood my reality and did not ridicule it, nor expected me to deal with it. We switched churches promptly.
I’m angry with myself as I sit here, because I want to call these girls out on their awful behavior, but I don’t know how. I’m worried about making a scene in a place I frequent often. And is it even my responsibility? All I know for certain, is that if at least one of those childhood friends would have stood up for me, it would have made a world of difference.
I continually have to endure every brilliant pearl that falls from her daughter’s lips, every nuance, every sneeze. So many women fall into this trap and end up boring everyone to death with details that parents should keep to themselves. It’s almost as if parenthood sucks up every available brain cell and like the canary, whose brain cells regenerate every year, all previous data is erased forever and all you hear is this year’s song. Kaufman/Mack–Literacy and Longing in L.A.
I love this quote. It is funny and true and also sad. Once most of us become parents we forget about that intimacy created between friends through the sharing of our thoughts, and become good listeners only when it serves our purposes. When I make a new mommy friend, I put her through this test. I say something about my son or daughter and if she listens and asks questions I know she’s a keeper. If, instead, she cuts in and one-ups me, I listen politely and after a few banalities exchanged, I make my exit. I’ve realized something though, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make mommy friends who still separate their individual self from their mother self.
Soon after my son was born, a group of us newly wed mothers of infants (and one newly wed but not yet mother) got together one evening a week, rotating houses, eating and talking our way into the night about everything under the sun. We avoided talking about our babies, not because there was nothing to say, but rather because there was too much, and frankly we were sick of it. We also avoided inviting our husbands (but not the subject) although we did take a bunch of trips together with them, which were entertaining in their own way.
Others were often invited, but our best times were when it was just us five girls and our wailing babies. We learned a lot about each other and from each other. Our feelings were real, no false cheer allowed, no false sympathy. Disappointments, fears, desires that some of us would need an entire life to admit, were easily dispensed with, because we didn’t judge. We were eyewitnesses to each other’s existence. For some of us, it was the only outlet about the disillusions of life.
As the years passed a few other girls became permanent members. Kids have grown, some marriages dissolved, others have gotten stronger, but the purity of the friendships remains. We don’t get together as often as we used to, but when we do it feels like coming home.