The movie version of that quote hit me smack in the face this weekend. Because… I think I realized... It's true.
Which brings me to the story of the tall tale.
I had one of those friends when I was 12. Her name was Suzanne. We met at age 11 in middle school - sixth grade. It was a new school for both of us, and we met because her last name started with "A" and mine with "C" and because of the alphabet, we ended up in the same homeroom next to each other. I was fortunate to have intimately connected with her before RE-connecting with friends from my elementary school.
The next few years were, as with most kids, the happiest I can remember. It was before I became an insecure, stressed out, depressed teen and started hating myself in high school. In fact, my attitude was likely responsible for our slowly falling out of touch with one another.
But yesterday and today, I don't remember any of the negative stuff, or arguments, or when the last day was that I saw her. I only remember the great stuff. I remember late nights lying on the floor listening to music with her, especially Boston and the Electric Light Orchestra. I remember thinking she was the sister I always wanted and how her parents treated me like one of their own. I remember how her mother bought me my first pair of swimming goggles because my parents weren't coughing up cash for something they never believed I would stick with. And I remember The Lake.
The Lake was the place where legends were made. Her parents owned a house on a lake in northern Connecticut, near the Massachusetts border. They invited me to spend a week there every year. And every year, Suzanne and I spent most of that week's waking hours on the lake in their little Sunfish sailboat. We sailed every inch of that lake. When the wind was strong, we acted like it was a catamaran and hung on for dear life. And on hot days, sometimes we purposely capsized it just to go swimming or to get wet. One of us always "acted" like it was accidental. It was never scary, except for the time she got tangled in the rope as the sail caught the wind and dragged her in the water away from me while I screamed "don't leave me!" (You know, because there are sea monsters. and sharks. and Jason Voorhees.)
And then there was the The Storm. Now THAT actually was scary. It was the stuff of legends, and as far as I was concerned, it had grown into a tall tale. My husband Jim has heard one too many times. I'm sure he thinks I made it up. And for all I know, it gets wilder with each telling, even though I never set out to embellish the details. Because the story was legendary enough without having to do that. But before I tell the story of The Storm on The Lake, let me tell you a little more about Suzanne.
Suzanne was one of those people that had a number of fantastical things happen to her. Call them tall tales, call them legends, but they happened. And she didn't make them up either. I have first-hand knowledge. Because I was THERE for some of them.
There was that time when we were picking blueberries in a field near The Lake and it was raining everywhere - we could hear the rain hitting all the leaves around us - except it wasn't raining on us. It was like there was a hole in the clouds right above us wherever we went.
There was that time our swim coach gave her an All American award for scoring team points in the 500 yard freestyle by finishing only 450 yards. Or was it 400? Who knows, really? It was too far to begin with. And, she got the points!
There was that time she became the first person I ever knew to be hospitalized. We were all jealous because not only did she get to miss school for a week (!), she also managed to lose weight without dieting and come back to school looking like a model (note, this happened in the years we girls had become obsessed with how we looked). She also had an IV - seriously, who even knew what an IV was? It was legendary.
And then there was The Storm.
Suzanne and I were on the boat in the middle of the Lake when we heard it approaching. The sky was black as night in one direction, so we decided to head for the beach. Just as we turned the boat toward the shoreline, something magically horrific happened. The wind went dead calm and the water turned to glass. It was the day I learned the true meaning behind "the calm before the storm." It was the eeriest experience of my entire life.
As the thunder got louder, we looked at each other, aghast - we were sitting on a boat in the middle of "flat" water with a metal post sticking straight up in the air, the highest point in the landscape. There was only one thing to do, take down the sail and paddle like madmen.
No, we didn't have oars. We got down on our bellies, her on one side of the boat, me on the other, and used our hands. I'm sure we were laughing - probably more like hysterics. It would have been hilarious if we weren't so scared. We inched along, and it seemed there was no way we would make it before the full fury of the storm hit.
Moments later, we looked up in the direction of the storm and saw what appeared to be a wall of water slowly making its way across the lake. Yep, to a 12-year-old (to anyone?), this was terrifying. Seriously, to this day, I have never seen anything like it. It was rain, but it looked more like a tidal wave. Who made the tidal wave in a tiny lake?
It must have been adrenaline, but Suzanne and I managed to paddle that little boat all the way to the beach before getting drenched. We grounded it and sprinted for dear life. To the house. To shelter.
And I've been telling people that story ever since - for more than thirty years. I had no idea if she continued to tell the story. Or if she remembered it the same as I did. Or if I embellished it. But every time I told it, I kept us in that moment. Young. Totally dependent on a best friend in a crisis - in which the only way to survive was together. We had outwitted the devil.
This past Sunday, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, Suzanne stopped at my house while driving cross-country to Connecticut after visiting family in Washington and Idaho (it's bizarrely coincidental that she was also in Coeur d'Alene last weekend - the same time we were - but we failed to connect). She wasn't able to stay for long, but it didn't matter. Seeing her was like having all the happiest memories of my childhood materialize right in front of me.
And one of the greatest moments of the day was when we brought up "The Storm," and my husband realized who this was sitting at the table. I think his words were "oh, YOU'RE the one!" -- like.. ok, ok, let's get the REAL story behind what happened that day. And I let her tell it. And our stories are identical. Embellished? I don't think so, but who really knows? The most important thing was that we embellished it the same. Even after all these years. I guess that's the power of a tall tale. It's the memory that something actually did happen that bound us to this particular legend. Our legend.
And this year, we'll be spending Thanksgiving together. Hopefully to create more legends of our own. And I'll get to tell her, while I'm able to, how much I treasure our friendship past and future.
Thus, it's indeed true - you never DO have friends like the ones you had when you were 12. Or, in this case, 49.
|Jim, me, Suzanne in Cleveland|