Same Difference

This originally appeared on my old blog, Nothing But Bonfires, in June 2012

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.” 
 — Barbara Kingsolver

My friend Caroline came to stay last week. When I talk about Caroline — or at least when I talk about her in my head — I describe her as the Rayanne Graff to my Angela Chase. “My wild friend Caroline,” I call her, as though those of us in our thirties with mortgages are still capable of being wild. Oh, you should have seen her then, though. Everything vaguely naughty I ever did, I did with her.

****

My husband and I pick her up from the airport after work and drive the long way home, past the beach. A small part of me has been wondering if the next few days are going to be awkward; we’ve only seen each other three times in the last fourteen years, and people change. The sunset is unusually pretty and I point it out. She takes a dutiful picture from the backseat.

****

Everything is off at first. Pulling up in front of the house, my swelling sense of pride is squashed by the dog turd sitting squarely on the front path I scrubbed the day before. I’ve filled the fridge with wine, but she barely drinks. The steaks I’ve bought to cook outside stay wrapped in plastic when it’s discovered we’ve run out of propane for the grill.

Instead, I make risotto. We’ve got mushrooms, we’ve got rice, and I’ve got twenty minutes to stand in front of the stove and stir. Caroline pads upstairs in pajamas, hair wet from her shower, and sits with me in the kitchen. At one point while we’re chatting, I put down the spoon to show her something. She picks it up and stirs, not missing a beat.

****

Here is the thing about people you’ve known forever: you don’t forget how to be with them. It’s marvelous as a magic trick, but the jokes that were funny then are funny still. One of you starts with half a memory and the other recalls the rest of it. You tumble backwards through the past, stripping the years of their stories, grabbing greedily at them as you plummet further. Oh, remember that time when — ?

Yes! Yes, I remember.

****

At school, we were always different: her the faithfully fearless one and me just trying it on for size. I thought we might have evened out over the years, but I never got much better at breaking the rules.

Her stories still start with things like “Wait, didn’t I tell you about the time I got deported from Russia?” and I shake my head, feeling tame and dull. Oh, my sensible couch. My sensible jeans.

“Well,” she says, “turns out that I’m never allowed back in the country. You won’t believe what happened.”

Still my wild friend Caroline, I guess.

*****

She leaves on a Friday evening and we wait in front of the house for a taxi that takes an hour to come. “It’s been great having you here,” I say. “Just like old times.”

“It’s funny,” she says. “For being such different people, we’re really similar.”

“I know,” I reply. “Why is that, do you think?”

“Because we grew up together,” she says simply, and the taxi rounds the corner onto my street.