My coffee shop time on Tuesday was dominated by a wonderful mix of songs from the mid 90’s. I sort of suspect someone broke into my attic and stole my old high school mix tapes to play at the General that morning because wow, these tunes are familiar. Bare Naked Ladies, Dave Mathews Band, Oasis, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sister Hazel, and most importantly, Counting Crows. Their song “Anna Begins” was one of the most important soundtracks to my high school experience. I fell in love to that song, got my heart broken, betrayed my best friend, and faced myself for the first time as an adult. That song created inside jokes, made it into senior year yearbook notes, and still, nearly twenty years later, evokes some intense emotions.
There were four of us. Anna, Mike, Jamie, and me. We were a balanced group of guys and girls, nerds and musicians, theater geeks and poets. They were my best friends. There were others who we loved and who loved us – Sue, Mas, Austin – but it was magic when it was just the four of us. We had more fun doing nothing than I had doing anything else. Our nothing times might include spending an entire afternoon at Wildwood state park throwing handfuls of grass at each other; or sitting in Jamie’s living room and watching the clock tick, intermittently spraying Jamie’s elderly weimeraner, Shad, with the spray bottle when she did something forbidden. Our nothing times are my best memories from high school. We were thrilled with the chance to be together, we laughed ’til our sides ached, we created jokes and nicknames and catchphrases that followed us through graduation and college, that I still remember and would respond to today.
I was in love with all three of them. Jamie was nerdy and awkward. We played viola together, and he introduced me to many Lucinda-shaping pieces of culture, including Cowboy Junkies and Monty Python. Anna was naturally beautiful, a writer and an actress. We wrote each other poems and stories, and sat dreaming on her roof all summer. Just being with her made me feel smart, creative, funny, and less vacant and alone. I couldn’t imagine high school apart from her nourishing friendship. And Mike. Mike was my boy nextdoor, our funny leader, the light that we all competed to bask in. I have never loved anyone else quite like I loved him. I loved him enough to compete with Anna for his affection, to sneak out to the woods behind our houses to make out on cold November nights, to forgive him when he asked me to prom and then took it back when someone better wanted to go with him a few days later. My love for Mike was selfish and generous, self-discovering and self-denying. I shaped myself around him, around all three of them. Years later I still fit that shape, I still know myself as one corner of our four.
As intense as they were, none of our friendships lasted much past high school. For a few years, we’d get together on breaks or holidays, meeting for a meal at the local diner or going to a Christmas open house together. There was no big falling out, or even bad feelings. I still love these three people as I love myself. But when we lost our immediacy, the chemistry got strained. And as we grew up and moved on with our lives, maintaining connection became inconvenient, and the magic waned. For a few years, I would invite Jamie over for dinner while we both lived in Boston, and call Mike on his birthday, but it never satisfied me. Even in the age of Facebook, there does not seem to be any technology that usurp time and distance to maintain our closeness.
A few years ago, I discovered that Mike and Jamie had both gotten married, improbably on the same day, across the country from each other. My husband of five years walked into our bedroom to discover me weeping over my laptop, and asked with alarm what had happened. I choked out the “good” news. To his great credit, Scott knelt down next to me and gathered me up in his arms and murmured, “aww honey, you must feel like you lost them a little, huh.” I have rarely loved my husband more than in that moment. He held me as I cried and apologized, invoking the refrain from our beloved song lyrics. “Sorry, Scott. I’m just not ready for this sort of thing.”