My best friend P and I are standing on the corner of Rice Avenue and Allentown Road on this day in 1967, discussing despair and possible suicide—two of our common topics. A car careens around the corner, filled with the blonde heads of high-school boys who are the cause of our malaise in the first place – thick necked, feckless, their pink and white mouths always open with jeers, catcalls, and absolute power. We ignore their taunts and deftly sidestep their car’s path as we continue our conversation. For all our talk, dying isn’t really in our plans. It’s part of our song and dance routine; it’s a feature of our being best friends.
If I’d signaled otherwise, P might have followed me out into the road and to our doom. I’m the dominant one, not that we speak of such things. But I definitely run the show, this dance between us–so unlike the real ones we’d never be caught dead attending—the proms and homecomings and other sanctioned events.
Instead, that night we’re at the Rodeway Motor Lodge off Route 61, in bed with young men who my grandmother would call “dusky” after she got up from her faint on the floor.
I’ve talked P into coming here because my current boyfriend, the tyrannical Miles, said his friend was in town and needed a girl.
So P is with a long lanky youth named Langdon who she’s never met before and will surely never see again. We both have worn our maxi skirts, knee high boots and vinyl coats for this outing – we could be walk-ons in a budget version of Superfly if someone nearby were filming, if 1972 still weren’t still in the future. We think we look grand.
As I lie there staring at the ceiling, I hear a faint thump on the other side of the plywood wall, which must be P’s head against the bedframe –a kind of desperate communication.
What is she trying to convey with this rhythmic pounding? I close my eyes at the thought and slip back into the shallow center of myself.
I use P; we both know this–especially for her Pontiac Tempest, commodious as a sofa, which I need for illicit visits with Miles. I need her for fake slumber party locations, counterfeit mother’s signatures, to make calls for me in the middle of the night.
In turn, she is my apprentice in deception, pancake makeup, crash diets.
She is pink and petite with owl -like glasses that frequently fog. Each winter we drive to Florida long enough to burn our skins a deep maroon, then speed back in order to glean attention for our remarkable, temporary bronzeness. (This is my idea, as are all others.)
We are 16, 17, then 18; finally we can escape our hometown. P follows me to Columbus where I attend college, though she can’t afford classes herself.
We live together in a brick turn-of –the- century apartment, where roaches dance around the gas ring and fall from the ceiling into our hair.
I read Sartre, while P works in a Fotomat—a bathroomless booth in the middle of a parking lot. She brings home photos of other people’s vacations that we laugh over at night.
We visit Planned Parenthood and carry pink disks of birth control pills in our macramé bags. We can officially sleep with anyone now. After so many years, we are free.
A student who lives in an apartment above us finally snags my heart; he’s unlike any type we’ve known before. He skis and drives a sports car; there are country clubs in his background. He likes P, too, and we all go out together for fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and Marx Brothers’ double features. We are a threesome, though they each are separately mine
The wind shifts; we are 19. I learn about continental plates and how to spell Moliere; P works at Budget Meats and brings home half-priced liver.
One holiday weekend, I have to go home alone; leaving P and the boyfriend to their own devices.
When I walk into the apartment after my return, I know what happened; P runs water in the sink and won’t meet my eye.
I expect the boyfriend to deny it, but that P does is the clincher.
“You can’t lie to me,” I scream at her. “I’m the one who taught you how!”
This is how I lose my best friend.
I could say it was because of a man, but I can’t make myself believe it.
It was me, it was me. It was me, all along.
Lynn Lauber’s most recent book is Listen to Me, Writing Life into Meaning (WW Norton); her essay, “When One of Me Became Three,” was published in the NYT’s Modern Love.