Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Morning After, and It's a Whole New World


We were all cool in our own way, but she was the coolest. We all listened to the same kind of music, but she, more than anyone, influenced us. We all had friends in different social circles, but she was the one who glided from group to group with the most ease.

I don't remember specifically when we met; whether it was seventh or eighth grade, whether it was in gym or pre-algebra, or when we really started being friends. I just know that there was this group of girls who had been friends for a while and who I always thought was very cool. One day, for some unknown reason, they decided to let me be a part of it. Clichés become clichés for a reason: they are often true. So when I say that becoming friends with these girls changed my life, it is both clichéd and unequivocally true.

Most of my childhood was spent moving from school to school. On top of perpetually being the new kid, I was left by myself a lot from a very young age, leaving me with almost a crippling shyness, something that was exacerbated by the fact that not spending a lot of time with kids my own age made it difficult for me to relate to them. I was insecure and making new friends was challenging for me. I was a follower and all of my actions were influenced by whoever I was hanging around. As it happened, when these girls made me their friend, I had a best friend who I idolized. I followed her everywhere, and usually where we ended up was in trouble. I did a lot of things then, that had I been seventeen at the time, would have been completely normal--if not expected. But I wasn't seventeen, I was thirteen, and the path I was on was not a good one.

But these girls were different. They got good grades and they didn't skip school. When they wanted to rebel, they dyed their hair with Kool-Aid and pierced their ears with safety pins. It was controlled danger--and it was comforting. After a while, I stopped hanging out with the friends I had before, and became a full member of this new group.

She was the ringleader. She was the most outspoken, and even though she was kind of a new kid, we looked to her to guide us. She lived in the center of town and her house was a magical place to me. Going there was like stepping into a TV show. Her family welcomed us, and in high school, her home became our meeting place; her family became our second family. We could go there when things got complicated at our own homes or when we just wanted some pasta--'cause her dad could make some pasta. Growing up with a single mother made me appreciate the normalcy of it all. The bickering, the yelling, the family dinners. It was so different from my own house, and I loved it.

Watching MTV and talking on the phone were two of those "teenage" activities that I very rarely did. When we became friends though, she would call me after school (she had her own phone line, which was the coolest thing ever) and we'd sit in our respective houses watching MTV and talking for hours about what we were watching. She knew how to fold notes in a complicated fashion. We all made up aliases and the Can You Be Miss America quiz. She and the other girls made me feel normal. I could relate to people more.

We traded clothes; we were obsessed with the color silver and girl bands. We listened to L7 and Hole and tried to be different from everyone else in their Guess jeans and Champion t-shirts. We wanted to be misfits. We were called skaters and bangers, neither of which was exactly accurate. When a guy in our grade said to us, "You guys are freaks...and you're not even the cool kind!" We felt like we had won.

In high school we developed more independent interests. A few of us got into sports, I got into theater, and she wanted to start a band. Our group of friends expanded. We became friends with a lot of guys and sometimes these guys became our boyfriends. But she was still the common thread between us all. She had the plan. I would call her on the weekends to see what was going on and she would tell me immediately because she had already talked to everyone else and mapped out our evening.

We didn't talk about the future very often. She and I only had vague ideas of how we wanted our lives to turn out. I'm not sure if either of us had any specific goals other than just kicking ass in general. When we would have discussions about marriage and babies, as teenage girls invariably do, I would talk about what I wanted to name my kids (two girls, three to four years apart) and she would talk about how she never wanted to have kids. Over the years, my baby names changed, but her insistence that she wanted to remain childless didn't.

I was dismayed by her adamancy for a couple of reasons. From my father, I have inherited the belief that everybody should be married and have babies all the time. This man has had four wives and five kids. He's clearly a fan of both. Although I do have kind of a "babies, yay!" point of view, I'm not one of those people who thinks that a woman cannot be truly happy unless she has children. When she said she didn't want them, I didn't think it was something about which she would eventually change her mind. And while I respected her decision, I considered it to be a major loss because I always knew that she would make an amazing mother. there are so many shitty parents out there that we need someone like her out there raising a kid or two, just to balance things out a little bit.

One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is forgetting what it's like to be a kid. It's a delicate balance between friend and authoritarian, but I've always had faith that it would be a balance that she could successfully strike. She'd be the cool mom and a whole new generation of kids would escape to her house. The fact that this wouldn't happen, that my kids wouldn't know her kids saddened me.

But then, a few days ago, all of that changed. She found out she was having a baby. It was accidental, and she was understandably terrified, but the word on the street was that she was also excited. And so was I.

Once again, she was leading the way for all of us in another stage in our lives. Whenever I take that step, her mistakes and successes will be there to guide me; a fact that I find amazingly comforting. None of us expected this to happen at all, and if it did, she certainly wouldn't be the first. But now that she is, it feels like this is how it was always supposed to be.

The next eight months are going to be terrifying. Preparations will be made, plans will be changed, and she will somehow ready herself for her entire life to be turned upside down. In about eight months, there will be a baby. This baby will have no idea how important his mom has been to so many people, how much she has influenced us and changed our lives. He will have no idea how lucky he is to have my friend, Lauren Patricia, as a mother, but he'll be lucky enough to find out.

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