A childhood friendship... December 18, 2020
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
I met her in Mrs. Williamson's kindergarten class at the North Street School in Greenwich, CT. I remember being in awe of Megan from an early age. She had a confidence about her and she knew things I didn't know. She was silly and smart. She would play spy games with me, climb trees and play Barbies too. She told me things my sisters never had the guts to say to me. We were inseparable from the beginning and was the sister I always needed. She was the first person to tell me what sex was, when I was seven years old, way before anyone in my house had even uttered the word to me. We stuck together from the beginning, matching pink polka dot rompers on bikes with purple streamers dangling from the handle bars, racing through the neighborhood, side by side.
I was the athlete between the two of us, so while she taught me dirty jokes and words my parents preferred I learned ten years down the road, I showed her how to be free in other ways. I was the daredevil. I encouraged her to bike down steep hills on the backside of the golf course, climb tall pine trees at the church by my house and roller blade down the steepest hills in our neighbhorhood. As the years went by, climbing trees and riding bikes began to feel childish, and instead a pre-teen rebelliousness began to blossom and take over.
Around fifth grade, Megan decided it would be a good idea to try and climb onto the golf course maintenance shed one afternoon after school. We moved some pieces of wood, found some old barrels and created a little system that allowed us to hop up the five or six feet high, slanted roof that gave us a bird's eye view of the road and passing cars. We realized this was vastly against the rules of the country club (where I was a member, not her, mind you.) It immediately felt wrong. Dangerous. But at the same time, it felt right. And we loved it. This became our secret club house, where we would discuss our latest crushes (and argue over liking the same boy!) Talk about friendships, kids at school and whatever else kids that age discussed. And when cars would drive down the winding, prestigious country club lane, we would quickly duck down behind the slanted roof, and lay flat on our bellies so the cars couldn't see us, giggling with innocent, childhood delight. We began to meet there every afternoon, throwing pebbles at passing cars, jumping on our bikes and speeding off down the lane.
Close to the end of fifth grade, Megan would try to stay on the roof later and later, sometimes close to dark. My mother always wanted me home on my bike before the sun set, so this was pushing it for me and I knew it. Megan said she wanted to just wait for dusk. She liked the darkness. And she liked to wait for the coyotes to come out. This always frightened me but I could never admit it to Megan. Back then, she had a bravery unlike no one I knew. I remember sitting beside her, as the sun was cresting over the slanted roof, setting on the immaculate, emerald green grass in the distance. And Megan would say calmly staring into the woods before us, "Do you see the red eyes, they are coming."
We continued much of the same that year and the summer after fifth grade, playing in our innocent world, pretty much unscathed. But then we entered middle school and things changed. We met new friends from other surrounding elementary schools, and we talked less during the school day hours, moving through different cliques and circles. Megan instantly became part of the cool crowd. Me, the shy tomboy, moved in the smaller, more socially awkward circles and we didn't talk much at school. But most afternoons when school was over, we would always meet up at the golf shack roof, like nothing had changed. But, things were different. Megan began to change.
I realize I couldn't be left behind. I needed to fit in too. I begged me mom to buy me overalls, baby t-shirts from Gap, a Knicks Starter jacket and I started to gel my bangs. I tried to impress, tried to conform, just like any middle school girl. I wanted to be seen. But, instead of tossing pebbles, Megan one day climbed up to the roof and found five foot long fluorescent light bulbs that she had found discarded behind the maintenance shed. She showed me how to do it first - take the light in both hands, close your eyes and smash it down on the massive rock beneath your feet as hard as you could. I laughed at what I figured was just pubescent angst. But perhaps I knew there was more to it, deep down in both of us. I was always nervous of the treacherous act, hated the shattering sound the glass made, and closed my eyes as tightly as I could to block the glass from getting in my eyes. I lived in fear of the red and blue police lights, whipping around the corner and dragging me off to my fated doom. Yet at the same time, I always went back to our roof and took pride in discovering the graveyard of shattered glass beneath it.
I remember a sleepover from early middle school with Megan and a group of girls. This was a night that I will never forget. I remember feeling excited to be included in the night. But by the time the evening really got going and the board games, movies and popcorn were happening, I was exhausted and ready for bed. But I was terrified of falling asleep first for fear of what would happen to me if I did. I didn't know many of the girls, and Megan was my one true friend there. I was scared of Megan's friends, and at the same time, Megan didn't seem to be acting like herself. I vividly remember the smell of the wine cellar, the dark cedar wood, and the deep burgundy liquid sloshing around the bottle as I watched in awe as the girls brought the dusty bottles to their lips. I remember Megan kept disappearing behind that wine cellar door, emerging, lips red, giggling and silly. I remember just wanting to go to sleep. Wanting all of it to stop. I knew what they were doing, and I knew it was wrong. We were so young. Too young.
Shortly after the majority of the girls had taken several trips to the wine cellar, I remember feeling irritated. Bored. And then I found a matchbook. I hadn't gone to the wine cellar yet, and I was scared the girls would call me out on that fact. So I grabbed the matches. Megan had showed me once how to light one, and so with a swish of the wrist, I held the match out for them to see. "Hey guys, look at me," I said waving the fire over my head. I remember the faces breaking into a fit of laughter in front of me and I will never forget that feeling. I had arrived. I was cool.
But then suddenly, there was a piercing alarm that broke the revelry. The smoke detector above my head starting flashing and beeping, and the girls all started screaming. I don't quite remember what happened next. I think someone blew out the match, and the next thing I remember is Karen's mom downstairs calling all the parents. The sleepover ended early, and the parents all came to get us immediately. My parents never figured out that the girls were drinking that night. If they had known, maybe they would have been more in tune with the experiences I would endure down the road. Maybe not.
A few months later, Megan and I decided to toilet paper the women's locker room at the country club pool in the off season one October, when the pool was shut down. We snuck in using a clothes hanger and destroyed the entire place. We strung toilet paper across the lockers and benches, squeezed soap all over the carpet and bathroom stalls, and upended furniture. Perhaps this was one step too far. We weren't just breaking some discarded light bulbs that had been forgotten about for months on end. We broke inside the locker room to a place I had been going every summer with my family since before I could remember. The pool was a scared space. And I knew we had crossed a line.
That night, I went home to my mother and cried. The guilt was too much. I told her what we had done and I can still remember the disappointment that sunk across her face. The next morning, my mother bought me back to the club to clean up my mess. I snuck in the back door, using the same hanger I used with Megan the afternoon before, while my mother waited in the car in the back parking lot, probably dying from anxiety of being caught herself. My mother had told me I needed to take a break from hanging out with Megan. She was disappointed and horrified by my behavior, as was I. So I did. Our friendship was put on hold. And that day, we stopped going to the roof together.
As the days went by, Megan and I stopped talking to each other. By eight grade, she had found an entirely new group of friends that thought I was lame anyway, and I didn't care for them either. I wasn't worth her time. I couldn't roll with her, and she was part of the cool group. She had a boyfriend, she dressed differently, had a new hairstyle, and she went the distance to distance herself from me. Then, one day, that group of girls dropped her as quickly as they had swooped her up. She was alone.
But then one day, she came back to me. I remember riding bikes around the club one afternoon, shortly after her friendship breakup with those mean girls. I took her back, because how could I not? She was different. I was different. But I forgave her. Shortly after, maybe only a few weeks later, a tragedy occurred. One of the "cool girls" from that group of friends that dropped Megan only a few weeks before had died very suddenly and tragically. She had been bitten by a bat and died within a week from rabies. The first case like this in the country in over a hundred years. This horrible death rocked not only our small town, but it destroyed Megan.
She was never the same.
Our eighth grade class moved on and to finish middle school. But Megan struggled and was left behind. She always felt guilty for never having repaired her friendship with Maria before she died. She never forgave herself.
Megan attended the local high school, where she faded into the background and went through the motions, being held back and stuck in middle school time, languishing and unable to process Maria's death. I transferred to the all girls school, Greenwich Academy and I on the other hand was able to move on and come into my own. I came out of my shell and flourished there, unlike my days in middle school. At GA, I learned that it was cool to be smart, cool to work hard in the classroom and very cool to be an athlete, and the latter was something I excelled in.
I forged some wonderful friendships - a few of whom I still keep in touch with today. I made the Varsity field hockey team and became the leading scorer two years in a row. I found a boyfriend and I discovered the confidence that I so lacked for most of middle school. I had run into Megan throughout high school, even though we were at different schools. She knew about my friends and the experience I was having, and I think she wanted to be a part of it all, as she never quite found her footing at GHS. Early on in high school she would let on to me that she liked the Brunswick boys, and on the weekends she would come to my house and find ways for us to run into them. She ended up dating some of my friends, floating in and out of my life, off and on.
At one point, sophomore year, she called me up from my friend Pete's house, telling me to come over. I felt territorial, wondering why she was hanging out with my friends, so I had my mom drop me off at the party. I was 14.
I showed up to find Megan alone with my four of my guy friends in the swimming pool. They were all drinking beer. This was my first ever experience with alcohol in a social situation in high school, and I will never forget it. I was 14 years old.
Looking back, I know I was conflicted. I knew what my parents would have thought. I definitely knew that what I was doing was wrong. I was underage, there were no parents home at this house, my friend's older brother who was in high school was in charge of four middle school boys and Megan. This wasn't right. But I felt like I had no choice. Suddenly, I saw myself back on the roof at the golf course, throwing pebbles at cars, shattering fluorescent lights, waiting for the coyotes to arrive.
The memory lives so vividly in my mind, the turquoise pool lights bouncing off the trees in the yard, the music reverberating through the speakers, the steam rising off the surface of the water. I remember dangling my long, skinny pale legs over the side of the pool, the boys splashing water, yelling and jumping around me. A beer can was placed in my hands. A warm Bud Light I recall. I snapped it open, foam dripping over my fingers. Held back my hesitation, the shyness that always commanded my every move since as long I could remember. Determined to be bold and strong like Megan, I took a sip. The sapid, warm beer filled my mouth. It felt dangerous. And it felt right. Fade to black.
Over the high school years, these parties became more frequent, as Megan and I infiltrated each other's social circles more and more, and our drinking became seemingly more consistent on the weekends. I got to know some of her more 'hardcore' public school friends, and she continued to hang out with the preppy Brunswick boys as well as some of my wealthy GA friends at their pools and sprawling guest homes.
One afternoon after school, Megan introduced me to pot and got me stoned for the first time junior year. Still to this day, this may have been one of the weirdest, most intense highs of my life. I remember laying across from her on a couch at our old elementary school principal's house, with Megan and the principal's son, completely stoned out of my mind. (The irony in that has never gone unnoticed in my mind.) I remember telling her I couldn't hear or think, and that everything was delayed by five seconds. Then we proceeded to lay there and laugh for what felt like hours. She then dumped me on my front lawn well past dinnertime and my parents were furious with me. This was one of the first times that my parents would ground me.
At the beginning of senior year, my parents told me that Megan was really struggling at Greenwich High School. I knew that Megan was hanging with the wrong crowds, because I had hung out with them as well. I had seen first hand what she was up to and I had too had dabbled in some of the debauchery and rebellion. I, on the other hand, had field hockey to focus on and reign me back in. My studies at GA were difficult and I struggled immensely to maintain a B average. So I needed to focus in order to get into college when our senior year rolled around. My high school boyfriend reminded me of this, as his sights were set on Middlebury early decision. He told me I needed to find a school to apply early to and get my shit together.
But Megan was in a world of trouble again, and her parents reached out to my parents. Politics worked in their favor, and our parents worked together. They got her into GA for her senior year in the hopes of getting her into a good college and away from the kids at Greenwich High School that were pulling her into a downward spiral. So she came to GA and we were together, in school, seeing each other in the hallways, once again. I remember, we were both in the lowest level math class together and took solace in the fact that "we sucked at math." We laughed about how we were the "dumb" girls, compared to the "super smart," GA girls. We took comfort in the fact that we weren't GA "lifers" like most of the girls in our class of fifty students, that had been at the private school since kindergarten. Because we knew each other from way back when, and deep down we were hardcore public school girls. We knew about real life. We were tough. We were united again.
At the same time, I had field hockey that fall to keep me on the straight and narrow for the most part, which allowed me to focus on applying early to college. Amazingly, field hockey helped, but I got in early decision round one to Colby College. It was sort of a miracle, because my SATs were terrible and my grades were average at best. But field hockey and my athleticism paved the way for me, and coming from a prestigious school like Greenwich Academy absolutely helped. If I were another wallflower, lost soul at the public high school, I probably would have been lucky to even apply to college at all.
The year continued on, and I definitely became lazy knowing I had been accepted early into Colby. I partied hard that year, with my friends and boyfriend by my side. I was so in love with Jake and obsessed with my life that year. I had everything I ever wanted and I was so happy. Jake was accepted into Middlebury and we would make our relationship work long distance. Everything was working out as planned. In the background, my home life was falling apart. My mother was drinking herself into a coma, and my dad was moving in and out on a monthly basis. I pushed this to the back of my mind and focused on myself, because that is what teenagers do. I was selfish. I wasn't going to let my parents issues ruin everything.
Later my senior year, when things seemed to be going so perfectly well at school, nothing could halt my plans, Megan decided she would apply to Colby as well. She was accepted late spring of our senior year. And, she told me she would be heading to Maine alongside me.
I felt deflated. This was not part of my plan. For so many years our lives had been so intertwined. Friendships, schools, crushes, all of those things - we did together, walking side by side, at times circling one another, discovering ourselves but never fully able to get there, because we were always connected by this invisible string that held us together. The string that held me back.
After talking through this with my parents, they convinced me that it was going to be okay. Ultimately, I was actually quite scared of leaving my safe home of Greenwich and my life there. I didn't want to leave my parents, who were at the time on the brink of divorce, and I barely realized it, or maybe I did. Which made it even harder to leave my childhood innocence behind. Regardless of the emotions I felt, my parents convinced me, and maybe themselves, that it would be nice to have a familiar face around.
Once we got to Colby, I was recruited to be on the field hockey team, and was pulled into that circle instantly. I had an immediate group of incredible friends from the get go, and upperclassmen that dragged me around from one party to the next. The story of Colby, again deserves many a chapter, but the part that includes Megan is brief. While I immersed myself in college life and found Colby to be the home I never knew I needed, Megan, on the other hand, was lost. I never really was able to learn how she felt there. Maybe it was foreign to her or maybe the opposite, maybe it was too similar to Greenwich and she craved change. Regardless, she struggled, and again, like my journey to GA, I took off again. I soared. Our Colby story ends with a Janplan chemistry class freshmen year. Our friendship was strained at this point, only five months into college. We were barely speaking. Barely seeing each other. Megan was struggling with her classes, rarely left her dorm room and was hanging out with a questionable slew of kids. I was the opposite: attending football games, field hockey events, off campus parties with all sorts of different groups and really soaking up the college life. I LOVED Colby!
One day in Chemistry, she called and asked for some help with a lab report. Chemistry was extremely hard for me and I went to after hours, office hours with the professor and everything I could so I didn't fail that class. It was the hardest I may have worked at any class at Colby. So when Megan called and asked for advice with the lab, I couldn't deny her my help. Our deep history and connection bonded us, and I loved her. I wanted her to succeed, despite the deep divide between us.
So that afternoon when I handed her my lab report, I never in my wildest dreams would have considered that she was going to copy it word for word and hand it in and claim it as her own. It was a long, dramatic event that concluded in meetings with the professor on both our parts. She confessed and I got off with a warning and was told not to share my work with anyone else ever again. She was caught plagiarizing and eventually left Colby for good. It was not the ending I wanted for her, and I was devastated. Sadly, Colby just was never the right place for her, and I think deep down she always knew that. She was destined to go elsewhere and forge her own path. Our ties would always bind us, but we needed to let each other go.
After Colby, we reconnected, years down the road. We ended up both attending Manhattanville, where she pursued her undergraduate degree and I earned my graduate degree in Education. Both of us became teachers. Ironic, that our winding paths brought us back together years later, as teachers nonetheless. I have happy memories of drinking Cabernet at the local wine bar on Saturday nights on Greenwich Ave., like such civilized adults, both back in school together. Reminiscing about the old days. These memories are fiery, yellow, blurry. Faded into the midnight hours of a Saturday night blackout, typical of my adult years, bought on my years of binge drinking in college.
Eventually, after graduate school, I moved away to Boston. I got married. I had kids. Our lives moved on. Each without the other. We managed to stay in touch via social media, and we watched each other from afar.
One day, maybe twelve years later, I picked up my phone and saw that Megan had posted an ominous, sad photo. She was suddenly in peril. Separated from her husband. And James, her son, where was he? "Oh my god, Megan hit rock bottom!" I said to my husband. She was living in California, I think she had gone to rehab. I was horrified and judged her life from thousands of miles away. I put my phone down and shook my head. "Poor, Meg."
I couldn't deal with her problems then, because I couldn't look myself in the mirror to deal with my own. Megan and I were still tied together. We were still connected. We were still so alike. So far apart, yet still so close. Within the past year or so, I would find myself randomly searching for Megan on instagram and looking into the vacant stares of her selfies and wondering how she was doing. Hoping she was okay. At the same time, deep down wondering if I was okay.
20 days ago, I woke up and decided I wasn't okay. I decided, like Megan may have decided herself at some point a few years ago, it was time to make a change.
Yesterday, I picked up my phone and for the first time in fifteen years, I reached out to Megan. To my best friend from kindergarten. The girl who scraped her knees climbing trees beside me. To the girl who whispered secrets to me as we lay on the roof staring at the clouds soaring above us. To the girl who always floated in and out of my life, who I judged for so long for being so different from me, but who was truly deep down, just like me. We are bonded, and we are connected so deeply by our past and our history.
As Megan said to me through our text exchange yesterday, "Time, distance and diverging journeys may have separated us, but I've always known that the friendship was there."