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Pickle Me This

June 6, 2016

The people we used to be

IMG_20160601_084118I was crossing the street in April when I heard somebody calling my name. I turned around to see a familiar face, a friendly one, but I couldn’t quite place it. My first instinct was that this was my best friend from grade 7, but as we spoke I realized it wasn’t her after all. This woman had a different job, a different narrative, it emerged. But I’d greeted her with such familiarity, that she had no idea I was confused. We kept on talking, and then finally I realized that it was my friend’s younger sister, who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in about twenty years, though our parents in our hometown kept tabs on our whereabouts. I knew a bit about what she’d been up to and we reconnected for a few minutes, and she informed me that her sister, my friend, was about to have her first baby, had gotten married, had found herself in a pretty nice place in her life.

So naturally I went home and googled my friend and her husband’s name, and I found them on Instagram. And since then it has been really nice to get a glimpse into her life and to provide her a glimpse into mine, because while we drifted apart when we went to different high schools, throughout grades seven and eight, she meant a whole lot to me. Our friendship was hugely formative. We were two weird and awkward adolescent girls, but we were weird and awkward in such complementary ways—both of us had our eyes on bigger prizes in life, though we didn’t know what they were yet. Both of us were utterly unimpressed with popular culture at the time (and for good reason—this was 1991) and obsessed with nostalgia. We used to listen to “American Pie” over and over again, and feel like something essential was forever lost to us. I was crazy about the Beatles and wanted to be a hippie, someone bohemian, and my friend had a bit of that bent herself—her parents weren’t into materialism, and I recall that she didn’t have cable or perhaps a TV, which was as radical as it got in the circles I travelled. What I don’t think we ever articulated but were forever circling around was longing, for the kinds of lives we’d heard about in songs our parents sang. I didn’t want to live a conventional life, but I was so conventional, I didn’t even know how to go about articulating that.

And I can’t help but think how useful the internet would have been to a couple of funny girls like us. Yes, the internet and adolescent girls is a disaster, but not entirely. I recall how lonely it was to be a weirdo in 1991, to love old music and want to wear flowers in our hair. Yes, grunge was starting to happen, but we were sheltered, and we were never wild enough to do teenage rebellion proper. We weren’t grungy. There wasn’t any kind of culture out there that we knew about, that we could tap into, so we made our own instead, in the songs whose lyrics we memorized and analyzed, and the objects we revered, and all  the things we talked about, the questions we tried to answer in circles. I recall we kept a notebook in which we wrote each other back and forth, and I remember lists like, “Things I want to be,” “Things I want to do.” I remember the goodness of a friend like that who made those things seem possible.

I sent my friend a message on Instagram this morning. I wrote to her, “Do you remember that 23 years ago today we went to see Paul McCartney play at Exhibition Stadium?” My dad took us. It was magical. I think the weather was terrible all day long, and then it wasn’t just in time, and then a guy offered us a free rickshaw ride. And then there was an actual Beatle on the stage, Paul McCartney promoting his album, “Off the Ground.” I have never felt so small in my life as I felt in that crowd, one of so many fans in the stadium, and Paul McCartney couldn’t see me—it was first time that it had occurred to me that he had no idea who I was. But I could see him, and it felt like I was engaging in something real for the first time in my life, a religious experience of a sort. I was part of something bigger than myself, and gave me an inkling that there could be a place in the world for a girl like me after all.

I didn’t get a reply from my friend. Not long after, a photo popped up on her husband’s instagram feed—their baby had arrived. On June 6, I marvelled to myself. How auspicious. It probably hasn’t occurred to her, but it means something to me, and  how wonderful anyway, to paraphrase Joan Didion, to check back in once in a while with the people we used to be.

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