Sandwiched between the comic desperation of The Graduate and the innocent whimsy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we came of age in the early 1970s. Dressed in the uniform of the day – tank tops and army jackets atop rag-tag hip-huggers – Leslie, Bernadette, Tonda and I bonded over Lark cigarettes, Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, pot, pills, the Grateful Dead and any other substance or activity that horrified our respectable suburban Maryland parents. While they tried to buffer their children from the evils of society at large, we did our almighty best to seek out and embrace trouble in every possible form.
Forty years post-high school graduation, the invitations start appearing on my laptop screen. Don’t I want to reconnect with all my old friends during the summer of 2014? Frankly, no. But I’m suddenly curious about what had happened to three of my gal pals. We’d kept in touch sporadically online but had gotten together only once, at an official twentieth high school reunion. Now, instead of attending a larger gathering, I suggest creating a more intimate one of our own. A few emails later we’re all in.
“You guys look amazing!” I call out as Leslie and Bernadette emerge from a car in front of my house. After the requisite squealing and reassurances that we do, of course, look far younger than our fifty-eight years, we hoist overnight bags into my SUV and head south.
Leslie and Bernadette have ended up in California, Tonda in rural Virginia and I’d returned to live in Washington, DC, twenty-five years after leaving. Tonda has offered her sprawling lakefront home as the reunion destination, so we set aside roughly twenty-eight hours to catch up on an accumulated one hundred and sixty years of post-graduation living.
Fetching bottles from the wine cellar and curling up on oversized leather sofas, we fill in the gaps created by four decades of absence. With three divorces, six husbands, nine children, teenage pregnancy, serious illness, drug and alcohol issues, menopause and restless leg syndrome (or did I make that up?) among us, we covered a lot of ground.
Leslie, always known for her reckless abandon, makes it until eleven p.m. when Tonda carts her off to bed, one glass of Chardonnay too many. At two a.m., bleary-eyed and exhausted, we agree to call it a night.
“It’s an accomplishment that we all survived the seventies and arrived here,” Bernadette says. We’ve just tallied the astonishing number of friends we’d lost to suicide, addiction, accidents and mental illness in the decade following graduation.
Later, I try to meld the sepia-tinged memories I have from adolescence with the three very real, vital, funny and smart women who sat alongside me. As we spoke of what we’ve left behind, I wonder how much of our past is woven into the lives we ultimately come to lead. And I remember Ferris Bueller’s prescient observation: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”