On my first day back home in Maine for Christmas vacation I met up with a friend I’d known since preschool — and was introduced to his wife. As I approach my mid-20s, this is getting less unusual, yet I still can’t quite get over it. In my head, this friend — affectionately termed “the brother I never had” (or, alternately, “the bane of my childhood”) — will always be a small boy liable to be armed with a Super Soaker, a garter snake or both. I resist telling his new wife the stock lines that siblings tend to tell new spouses. “Gosh, you seem great. What are you doing with this guy?”
The best part of coming home for the holidays isn’t the snow, the trees or even the fact that I’m on vacation. It’s seeing so many of the familiar faces I grew up with.
Surprisingly, he is the one to bring up early misadventures. “Hey, Meg, remember that time we tied your wagon behind a bicycle and accidentally threw you out of it on a corner? Man, we thought we’d killed you.”
As the only girl in a group of mostly male neighborhood children my age, early social acceptance was closely linked to hours of attempted airplane building and that one time we shook up a warm soda can and put it in the trash compactor. Small wonder I turned out the way I did.
My high school best friend also happened to be visiting home for the holidays. I realized that I was actually going to have to look up her phone number (Remember when we memorized phone numbers — before phones had built-in address books and speed dial?). I was uncertain of whether I would even recognize her voice if she answered. I shouldn’t have worried.
“Hey, darling,” she said, as soon as she picked up the phone. “Should I put the kettle on?”
Seven years have gone by since we graduated from high school, and she no longer makes my tea without asking how I like it. Her younger sister, who was performing in the local middle school play when I first met her, is now studying for medical school. But despite the passage of time, I’m shocked by how much feels the same: the curved shape of the mugs, the conversation, even the comfortable, familiar feeling of her all-women household.
On Monday, I drove down to Belfast to see a college friend. I used to drive that route every weekend; even though some of the landmarks have changed — new stores appearing that never were this far north before, other buildings gone altogether — the winding curves of the road itself haven’t altered a bit. My hands on the wheel know every turn with the same ease my thumb felt dialing once-memorized phone numbers.
Perhaps the best reunion of all was seeing my old friend and skating partner at his new home. I pulled into his driveway unannounced, figuring I’d just poke my head in and say hi. It had been several years since I’d seen him, and never at that address; when he came out on the front porch, the unexpected nature of my visit kept him from recognizing me for a few moments. “Can I help you?” he asked, politely.
“It’s me, Meg!” I said. The sudden recognition and surprise on his face made me laugh out loud. I’m so used to being told that I look exactly as I always have — not a day older than I did when I was 14 — that I was delighted to be, if only briefly, unrecognizable.
Coming home to my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, always gives me a strange, foggy, contradictory feeling of deja vu mixed with disorientation. I look around with new eyes, and my old journals, books and posters look back at me. Like the old clothes from high school that I always end up wearing on visits home — decade-old fabrics I haven’t brought myself to get rid of — I feel like I’m moonlighting as my younger self. It all still fits fine, and yet, it doesn’t feel quite right. Though I treasure the connections I have maintained over the years, I don’t yet have the knack of coming back to them without feeling as if I need to slip into the past as well.
Soon all of the festivities will have died down as the mad rush of December falls behind us. The cookies have been eaten, the visits are over, and it’s time to start the new year. I’m hoping that 2010 will see me keeping those old connections, but with new memories, new roads — and new adventures.
Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in New York, shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, go to the BDN Web site: bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org