For years my friend J’s daughter M had a photo of me on her childhood bedroom wall, right next to the head of her bed, where she could see it as she lay down. It had a large cartoon bubble saying, “Hi, M!” that I had cut out and taped to the picture. The last time I saw her, M was 13 and whipsmart. Her mother was about to get married and was stressing over wedding details, so M and I decided to get out of her way. Over lunch M challenged me, “Ask me about anything and I’ll tell you about it.” She was that confident.
I was in graduate school and exposed to a lot of esoteric ideas, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “Post-structuralism.” M’s face fell. She didn’t know anything about post-structuralism. I immediately felt bad about my choice. She was only 13, she shouldn’t know about post-structuralism, indeed few people should, it is mostly just playing with ideas that are much more easily expressed in simpler terms. I barely remember what it is myself these days. I told her it wasn’t worth knowing about, and I tried another topic, but her confidence was bruised, and she no longer wanted to play the game.
Now she is 31. My friendship with her mother, begun when we were 11, unraveled, and I lost M too. I look at her Facebook profile and she looks uncannily like her mother, but her posts reveal a very different woman. Grounded, hilarious, still whipsmart. I miss her. I am glad she makes so many of her Facebook posts public, though I feel a little strange looking at them.
Turns out she attended the girls’ school where my mother taught for several years, and where I attended summer programs, then went to college at my alma mater. I found all this out after the fact. I felt robbed of years of sharing. But, I know she is off limits. She belongs to her mother.
Her mother has become, for me, rich material for writing. All the great topics—teenage infatuation, drinking and drug use, friendship, betrayal, loss—swirl in my memories of her. I feel a tad disloyal, using her in this way, but she dumped me after 27 years of friendship. Surely I can mine that vein of murky, mucky emotion.
I was stuck at J, but her name bubbled up. So I exploit the memories.