Saturday, August 4, 2012

Childhood Friends Make Midlife Easier


by: Amy Ruhlin

I am in the midst of motherhood when the phone rings and I see the name of a childhood friend on caller ID: a woman whom I have known since I was five years old but have seen only a few times since we were 18.   I hear her voice and it sounds like home.

I still think of us as girls. I can see us on picture day in kindergarten and I remember her smile outlined in dimples.  I see us years later walking home from junior high school together (no, it was not called middle school in the 70s). We had matching Dr Scholl's sandals and ate grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with pickles for our after school snack.

I wore a green dress in her wedding in the early 1980s.  In those days we dyed satin shoes to match the bridesmaid dresses, and as we talk on the phone I realize that I've still got those green shoes; my daughter played dress up in them for years. I wonder if I've held onto them for a reason.

She tells me that she is now divorced, that she is finding a new life and that she is in transition. She says that she is "getting herself back" and though I am delighted to hear from her, I do not yet fully understand what she means or why she has chosen this particular time to reconnect.

Months pass and  I hear the voice of a different childhood friend on my answering machine. I remember us as teenagers:  we sit cross-legged on the floor of her basement agonizing over boys and listening to albums. I can see the cover of the great first Boston album: guitars as spaceships hovering in a black sky.   She also married in the early 80s and I stood by her side in purple taffeta.

She says that she has been thinking about me since her daughter is now a teenager and is burning CD’s for her boyfriend. It has reminded her of our days in her basement. She tells me that her kids are growing and for the first time in a long while, she has some time to herself; she is in transition. She says she remembers our special  friendship and that she has never really found anything like it since.

Years pass and I stay busy in the throes of motherhood. I am wrapped in the cocoon of the comfort of daily routines, the laughter of young children and my role as a mother.

Then I begin a transition of my own.  My kids are nearly grown, I start to let go and I try to figure out who I am now and what is next. I think about the phone calls from my childhood friends and I begin to understand what they were looking for.

I buy the Boston album (wow, it’s on CD now). I turn up the volume and alone in my car, I try to remember the girl I once was. I dig out high school yearbooks from the attic and open the1978 edition.  I see a photo of another friend from our gang. She is laughing.  I can almost hear the lilt in her voice and the sight of her face makes me smile. I wonder if she is still funny; I have not seen her in over 30 years.

I read what she wrote on her photo: "I'll always remember you even in years to come.  Please keep in touch from time to time."

 I copy her words and send them to her in a facebook message.

"This is what you wrote in my yearbook.  I think I am going to cry," I write.

She writes back: "I'm going to cry too! We all MUST get together."

All of us are still here, most of us are now 50, and we discover that we all live within driving distance of each other. We make plans to meet.

Weeks pass and then I am in my car, driving four hours north and singing along to my Boston CD. I cannot wait to see them.

They surprise me by bringing another classmate.  She looks just the same with her signature short hairstyle. She says she uses a flat iron now and we howl; we remember when she used scotch tape to flatten her hair overnight so that it would be straight by morning. 

The five of us spend the weekend sprawled out on the sofa eating chili and flipping through yearbook pages.  My friends are still funny and still listening to rock 'n roll. They still have dimples and still straighten their hair. It is so good to see them.

I hear them speak my name and I am just Amy,  as I always was to them, before my role as a mother. It is so good to be just me again; it feels like home.

Only one of us is not yet 50 but she will be this September. Last week, she sent us all a message:

 "My brother is having a blowout for my 50th. Please make plans to attend."

Her message reminds me of her words in my yearbook; words that took me more than 30 years to notice and then nearly made us cry.  I plan to be there for her birthday.


  1. I, too, still have many friends from high school, and when we are all in the same town, we get together. There is something about people who met us when we were young that help us remember who we truly are inside... and allow us to see how far we've come!

  2. The amazing thing about childhood friends is that you never feel old with them. My step-grandmother once told me, when she was in her 80s, about going to the doctor with a woman who had been her best friend since they were 11. When the doctor referred to her friend as "an old woman," my step-grandmother was outraged, thinking to herself "Old woman? She's not an old woman!" In her mind, they were just the same as they were when they were kids together, and always would be.

    1. Karen when I was with them I didnt just feel 16 I WAS 16! I agree it IS amazing

  3. You did it again.....moved me to tears. I so love your writing. I think it takes me back to those days that I listened to Boston and so many other "records" with your sister. It goes so far back as listening to the Monkees at the house on Collett Street, not the one closest to Terrace Place where I lived but the one further down the road. I remember your excitement as that weekend was approaching and was so thrilled to live part of it with you through the pictures on facebook. Six years difference in age seemed like a huge difference back then but now it seems as if we are the same age. I've told you before but I'll say it again. I'm so proud of the YOU that you have become and so glad to have reconnected with the Amy you are now. Your biggest fan... trying to see through the tears to type this.

  4. ** I hear her voice and it sounds like home.** love that line.

    So happy that you connected w/ your old girlfriends.

    You must have SO much to talk about! x

  5. I love this. Isn't it wonderful how you can see an "old" friend that you haven't seen in years and you pick up like hardly a week has gone by? A bunch of my high school friends are getting together, the end of this month, to dance on the beach to the music of another classmate's band. I can't wait.