I chatted today with one of my oldest friends. She lives on the other side of the country; we don’t talk often, and I see her even less frequently. Anne and I met in kindergarten, and despite the fundamental differences in our personalities and interests, she was probably the person outside of my family who I spent the most time with during my childhood.
I started thinking about the significance of old friends today after Anne and I hung up. I was telling her how much my son Michael misses sports, as he’s recovering from ACL repair, and she asked if it was okay for him to swim. I told her that yes, it was, but that I’d asked him, and he didn’t really want to go to the pool. And besides, I told her, he’s really not a great swimmer.
Without missing a beat, Anne said, “Oh, so THAT’S something you passed along to him!” She’s absolutely right. I can swim, but I didn’t learn how to swim until much later than all of my peers, and it’s something I’m not particularly skilled at. At camp, my friends (including Anne, by the way) passed swim test after swim test, learned to dive, and passed lifeguarding classes. I never made it past the beginner swim group (which was obvious to everyone, because back in the day, at our Girl Scout camp, we wore colored swim caps that indicated which level we were in, and I spent summer after summer wearing that stupid red cap).
What struck me was that a little detail that most people don’t know about me was right at the front of Anne’s mind, decades later.
This is what’s so great about old friends. They share the little secrets that seemed so important when we were kids — the things that don’t matter so much now, but helped shape who we’ve become as adults. I’d bet Anne remembers who my first crush was. I know I remember hers. I know that her elbow had a handful of tiny pebbles in it, because she’d fallen (off her bike, I think), and the scrape was never completely cleaned out. Anne knows that for whatever reason, in 5th grade, I volunteered to play the baritone horn in band. And that because she was more than a few inches taller than me, stronger and more athletic, I would carry her flute home, and she would carry home my baritone.
Anne knows that I was a nerdy perfectionist. I know she was a much better athlete than I was (mostly, I think, because I was never interested in playing sports as a kid). I know she had a paper route (because I took it over for her one week when she was on vacation, and gained a new respect for her when I experienced how difficult it was). But we were both good students who loved to read. We rode our bikes, made prank phone calls, and watched episodes of the Brady Bunch.
I only remember getting into one fight with Anne. We were about 10 or 11, and as was the style, we were wearing tube tops, which at the time, neither of us had any business wearing. I can’t remember what the fight was about. But it’s the only fight I’ve ever had that turned physical. Let me just put it this way: you can’t be an adolescent girl wearing a tube top and throw a punch without things getting weird. I remember the fight ending when we noticed our tube tops were around our waists, and we started laughing.
Now that’s something only an old friend can appreciate.