“You guys saved my life,” she said, about halfway into the flight from Dallas to Bloomington. She was coming from New Mexico to our 40th class reunion in Illinois, and I was coming from Texas, but we didn’t realize we’d booked the same flight out of Dallas until I saw her sitting at the gate at the airport, a tumble of loose gray-brown curls falling on each side of her familiar face. She was talking to another classmate who would be on our flight.
Even with the weight of that statement, “You guys saved my life,” we kept on chattering. No detailed explanation was necessary, and I won’t attempt to tell her story. But I knew exactly what she meant.
“No,” I said, “You guys saved my life.”
For the rest of the trip, we corrected and corroborated memories, some that seemed too oddball and weird to be true. I was sure she made up “Monkey Island,” a long-gone feature of the local zoo. It was hard to believe anyone thought it was okay for 12-year-old girls to hang out in a head shop called Mother Murphy’s, but we did, and made a pilgrimage there all these decades later.
Some remembrances were transcendent, like the winter night we sat in awe under a streetlight that illuminated snow sifting down from above. We’d have missed it, probably, except we were in a friend’s vintage convertible with the roof permanently stuck open.
The Beauty of Early Friendship
When you are young, trying to figure things out as best you can, you don’t analyze friendship beyond thinking it is about fun, nonsense, belonging, maybe. As members of a loosely organized group of nine high school-age girls called The Bevy (yes, we gave ourselves a name), we formed tight connections that shifted and changed over time, but we ultimately remained entwined.
Most of us, essentially, had been set loose by our parents during this period of our lives. With a few exceptions, our parents were good people who were busy, inattentive, or distracted. In my case, my mother was schizophrenic and bi-polar, and my father was the parent holding things together, and they were completely overwhelmed and absorbed by trying unsuccessfully to manage her disorders and hospitalizations.
It wasn’t time yet for the great correction in parenting, for the hovering and over-programming and endless reading of parenting books (guilty). Our own parents had no clue about many of the things we did. And we left our home lives completely behind when we were together, not sharing about family unless it made for a good story or infringed on something we wanted to do. We were good girls who went to church camps and got jobs to help pay for things, and one of us was class president. But together we pushed everything to what seemed to us an acceptable limit.
Some of us would occasionally meet up in the middle of the night for bike rides that led to the outskirts of town, tossing rocks at screened windows to get a sleeping friend’s attention. As a group, we sped on 10-speed bicycles past buzzy, cicada-filled cornfields and dodged occasional traffic on lonely asphalt roads.
Then, it was time to toast ourselves with pancakes and whipped cream at Denny’s, before riding home in the steamy summer night, creaking garage doors open and shut, stowing bikes, and falling into bed, families fast asleep.
Near-Misses and No Agenda
On a Spring Break trip to Daytona Beach, a few girls not ready to return to the hotel hitched a ride home with someone creepy. At some point, they sensed a near-miss with a guy who could have reduced either or both of them to senior portrait photos broadcast in memory on the evening news.
Our place on the unspoken social scale that ruled our high school, situated in a homogenous (mostly white) Midwestern town filled with large homes and leafy neighborhoods, was mostly inconsequential. We were a group who could show up at cool-kid parties and not be ostracized. But we were somewhere in the shadows of the real movers and shakers, the also-rans to everyone but ourselves.
We drank beer, but usually not too much. There was a smoker, who mostly did so to look old enough at the liquor store counter. A couple of us tried a joint on graduation night, but it didn’t really take.
I don’t remember a single conversation about what we planned to do with our lives, except for the high school sweethearts who would, of course, get married.
And Then We Grew Up
One by one, it happened.
College, marriage, professional life, children.
Whole decades passed—life with its big successes and bigger losses—and we didn’t really keep up with who we’d become, with the exception of the girls whose lives unfolded in or near our hometown. For me, our connection for many years consisted of a few Christmas cards and notes exchanged here or there and brief reunions, formal or not. In our 50s, with the busiest years behind us, we began to get together every year or so.
At these gatherings, we shared snippets of post-Bevy existence. But mostly, it was about the stories, so many stories.
The Bevy had created a family, with its own memories, without knowing it.
This year, two years past the class reunion, we turned 60, and it seemed important to plan a trip together, something we had talked about but never managed to make happen.
A Bevy Beach Vacation in Florida began to take shape, the same year Amy Poehler’s girl trip movie, “Wine Country,” came out. The movie has some moments, to be sure. But the Bevy, whom I still think of as being girls, are way cuter and funnier.
No one gets through life unscathed by crisis. The deaths of siblings and parents, dreams deferred, diseases fought, and fractured families could cast a shadow on this gathering, but they won’t. Laughs win out every time.
There is something precious about friendships formed from the raw material of youth. The way essential parts of ourselves that may have gotten lost resurface in reconnection all these years later, inevitably making us stronger.
As it turns out, not only did we raise each other well, while our parents were looking the other way, we saved one another’s lives.
Saved them so that one day, we could get together, drink up or not, slather ourselves with sunscreen, and ride around in golf carts singing at the top of our lungs along with songs from the ‘70s. The occasion for this gathering may be entering our seventh decade together. But some part of us will always remain those girls. Always the Bevy.