The game was called “the astronauts”. We would pull all the encyclopedias in my study down to the floor and build a spaceship, in which we would then sit, pushing make-believe buttons until we would finally emerge for a walk on the moon, followed by a jaunt to the kitchen for a snack. At 8, proud children of the sixties and of the first moon landing, we wanted to become astronauts. Neither of us did but, today, it makes us feel good to have aimed that high.
When I heard her voice, after a 30 year hiatus, it was deeper than I remembered. She smokes, I thought. The navigator was telling me I was approaching my destination and Paola said she would be right down. I turned into a short street on North Miami Beach, the house white and shaded by palm trees just the way it looked on Google Earth – the shrills of children playing in the schoolyard next door. Miami uncharacteristically chilly and windswept on this March afternoon. The moment will probably stay frozen in my memory banks forever: the chill in the air, the children at play and my friend’s slim frame and dark blonde hair appearing from behind the gate – suddenly I abandon the car haphazardly on a curve and we embrace tightly. “I can’t believe it” she murmurs “Would you have recognized me if I passed you by in the street?”
“Of course, you look the same” I laugh. We actually don’t but I have no doubt I would have recognized her face anywhere, even after 30 years of living in my memory and faded old school photos.
During our last Skype meeting, sofagirl said “You are brave” and I had to admit that my impulsive decision of meeting my best friend from elementary school, with whom I reconnected only a couple of weeks before via e-mail, maybe was just that: an impulsive and hasty decision that could spell disaster. What if Paola had become an utter stranger? What if she was racist or homophobic? Or boring? I let all the worst case scenarios play in my head during the flight from Los Angeles, scarcely comforted by my track record of impulsive decisions always turning out for the best. From the brief e-mail exchanges, before suggesting I visit while she is vacationing in Miami with some friends, I couldn’t quite tell who she had become.
It turns out that, even at 6, I was a good judge of character. We kid ourselves into thinking that time, life, hardship and paths taken and not taken change who we are. Here was the proof, in front of me, that who we are, fundamentally, does not change.
Paola’s wicked sense of humour, the same one that egged my shy self on to daring adventures, has not changed a bit. She displays the same warmth in embracing life and people that was her mother’s trademark. She is as accepting and easy-going and beautiful as she was then. Just grown up.
Over four fun-filled days of little sleep and much laughter, we discovered we both have a penchant for chocolate and polished an entire bag of them in under 30 minutes. We both have an annoying habit for keeping everything clean and orderly and hoovered, washed and dusted much to everyone else’s amusement. We both can’t help voicing our opinion even when not called for, without pausing to consider the consequences. We both travelled extensively. We both obsess over our aging bodies but would not consider surgery. Above all, we both remember in great details playing astronauts, a claim I cannot share with anybody else under the sun.
It wasn’t as if time hadn’t passed. It did and it’s all over the lines on our faces, in the artfully covered gray in our hair, in the heartaches and joys we finally shared. It’s as if our friendship was put on ice for a long stretch and then resumed, intact. We filled in the pieces of the puzzles, talking with the intimacy and openness that only friendship can afford.
“If only they had told us then life could be so hard” she muses
We were lucky we were shielded from reality then, and were left to aim for the stars. We didn’t get there in a spaceship but get there we did.