Close Encounters

Posted: June 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers | No Comments »

I went on a shower-free long weekend camping trip several years ago with my then-boyfriend, the long-haired tie-dye-wearin’ Mike. We flew to Oregon for some hippie-fest where the temperatures were blisteringly hot and the fairgrounds served up billowing gusts of dust like some kind of movie set fog machine.

At the end of the trip we were chicken-fried in sweat and dirt, exhausted from excessive indulgences and poor Therm-a-Rest sleep, and each sporting our own musky funk. It was the first time I’d ever flown somewhere to camp, and as we waited for our luggage, tent, and sleeping bags to come around the baggage carousel I realized I wouldn’t have minded the airline losing my stuff. The connection I had with those belongings was like the one I had with my backpack contents after a month of collegiate Eurailing–gratitude for having served me well, along with the desire to burn it all and never see it again.

As I’m yawning and scratching at myself like a geriatric Basset Hound, I’m suddenly jolted by a woman’s voice calling from behind me at close range. “Kristen? Kristen Bruno?”

And before I have time to do a flying dive into the crowd and log-roll my way to anonymity, a perky woman in a crisp linen suit presents herself before me. She was someone I’d gone to college with. I didn’t know her really very well, but in that small liberal arts school way, with any given person there tends to be at least one person in common who you both slept with. (Just kidding, Dad!)

She seemed to want to lean in to hug me, but on scanning my rag-tag clothing–or maybe smelling it–she reconsidered and just said, “How are you? How long has it been?” All this while no doubt thinking pityingly what a shame it was that I’d become homeless.

For a split-second I considering busting out a, “No hablo Englaise.” Unfortunately though I took French in school so I’m not really sure how to say that (or, obviously, write it). My luck.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve had an encounter with my past that I’d rather not have had. But everyone has ducked behind a life-sized cut-out of Michael Moore to hide from an old high school classmate at their home-town movie theater, right? Or veered into a random store to avoid passing an old acquaintance on a sidewalk? Surely I’m not the only one to have sunk my face in Common Grounds to hide from/spy on an old boyfriend at a coffee shop. (Hey, at least I inadvertently upped their readership.)

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of times when I’m actually the person to prance in front of that past-life chum and ask in a dramatic lilt, “Tracey Phillips?” There are times when I’ve managed to comb my hair before going into public, am sober enough to not slur my words, and feel genuinely happy to see and reconnect with someone I used to know. Even when it’s been since I had an asymmetrical haircut and listened to Dead Kennedy records (yes, records) that I saw the person last. Sometimes I’m actually eager to show off the life progress I’ve made!

And sometimes I’m just not in the mood to hear about the hockey team the other person’s husband just bought. So sue me.

There’s also the other problem I’ve harbored in these situations. It’s the inexplicable seemingly-incurable syndrome I suffer from which makes anyone I bump into–whether we were good friends, barely knew each other, or threw blue drinks at each other in a girl fight at a Funky Cold Medina party. No matter who it is and my level of fondness or disdain for them, for the life of me I cannot manage to end our sidewalk encounter without saying, “We should get together some time!”

Truly. I need to have some kind of electric cattle prod classical conditioning therapy to break myself of this habit. There must be some way that other people manage to just say something clever like, “Okay. Bye!” And then walk away.

How can something so simple be so impossible to do?

Anyway, these days what I’ve come to realize in a reverse engineering sort of way is that the spate of old friends that the universe recently served up to me, I’ve been happy–no, delighted–to reconnect with. And it’s not because I’ve been walking around lately in smart starched clothing and wearing a becoming shade of lipstick, with nary a speck on my teeth.

I can only deduce that I’m feeling quite happy with my life. I’ve got this little love dumpling Paigey who, lizard skin and all, dazzles me daily with her sweetness. And Miss Kate, a gorgeous blond with little braids who can talk circles around kids twice her age. Not to mention the man who made it all possible, Mark, who is either smarter than he is funny, or sweeter than smart–oh, I sometimes just can’t make up my mind which of his many fabulous qualities wins out over all the others.

Knock on wood, but, surrounded as I am by these three blessed ones, how can life not be divine?

Oh sure, there are plenty of things that if pressed to I could conjure up as “wants.” Things that I feel we should have, or do, or be like in order to be fully self-actualized. (And let’s not forget the where we could/should live issue.) But really, if it weren’t for those things existing in their state of not-yet-thereness, what would the impetus be to ever, say, go to another yard sale? Knowing there is room to grow doesn’t have to be crippling. It can just help you justify buying more crap.

Last Sunday I spent such a lovely few hours visiting with my junior-year-in-France pal Randy. Just chatting and catching up and noshing. After Kate’s initial two minutes of shyness melted away, she was having Randy carry her on his shoulders at the farmer’s market. Which was sweet in that way that it is when your dog instantly accepts the new person you’re dating. And then, in that small world thing that is frankly no longer getting surprising, it turned out Randy and Mark somehow knew the same academic-type person from some college or other.

I’m hoping to see more of Randy: Some nights where I can act like a non-Mom and hang out like a kooky kid in the Mission, and some times when he can come to Oak-town for a family dinner and to get his dapper shirts covered in baby spit-up.

The visit we had several weeks ago now from no-longer-long-lost Sydney was also great. I mean, she and I were friends long before either of us ever even had a boyfriend, and here she is walking into my living room with her husband of 17 years. It was wild. Being able to go out to dinner with someone you haven’t seen for 25 years–and really having fun–validates my childhood character-judgment and friendship selection process.

As visual aids to going down memory lane–and to really bore our husbands to tears–I pulled out an old box of stuff I’d saved from the era of Sydney and my friendship. We flipped through yearbooks, those photo albums where you pull back the clear plastic sheets and stick your pics on the tacky pages, and embarrassingly enough some of my old school papers and report cards. (“Kristen is such a bright girl. If only she was less distracted in class she could really live up to her potential.” Imagine that repeated over the course of 10 or so years by various teachers.)

Of course, it wasn’t until I put all this old stuff back in the box to stick in the cellar for another 20 years that I found a letter Sydney had written me. Assuming she’d give me her blessing to reprint part of it here, I think it’s a testament to just how long ago it was that we were friends back in my beloved smallest state. The fact that it’s a real old-fashioned-type handwritten letter is maybe proof enough.

“Do you have cable? We don’t but Sharla does. There is this new channel MTV. Do you get it if you have cable? It’s like radio but it shows the groups videos for their songs. I
t’s excellent!!”

But wait, there’s more…

“I’ve fallen in love with Aldo Nova. “Fantasy,” Foolin’ Yourself,” “Ball and Chain,” etc. I listen to that album constantly.”

Reading this letter explains a lot. I now understand why Sydney was eager to come out to San Francisco to see me once we’d reconnected. Like me, she’s not the only one who periodically feels the need to prove how far she’s come since way back whenever.

And in all honesty I was really thrilled that she came. Not only do we have the memories of our foolish Aldo Nova-lovin’ youth–though, to be clear, that was really more her thing than mine–but we’ve got the makings of a whole new now-we’re-grown-ups friendship. We’re determined to not wait another twenty years until we get together again. Hopefully Mark, the girls, and I will make our way to Austin one of these days to see Sydney and Tere and meet their kids. 

And when that does happen, you can rest assured that I’ll be wearing my linen suit to the airport.

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