When their daughters had been friends, long ago, in the period called adolescence, it was already challenging enough to find common ground. Twenty years on, running into one another at, of all places, the post office, they especially didn’t have much common ground other than, perhaps, the fact that they were both mailing items in the twenty-first century and that both of their daughters had long ago vanished into the ether called “outside of suburbia.”
Guy (pronounced in the French way because that was where he had been born–of course, no one in a place called Pebble Bay was going to be able to say it that way) had never much cared for Caroline’s best friend, Lauren. Thought she was somewhat crass, to say the least. In retrospect, Guy had to admit that he could tell she was a lesbian, and he didn’t really want that kind of influence around his daughter at such an impressionable age. Grant, the white-bred father figure without the monetary success to make him a threat to others, was the sort of man who drank beer in the middle of the day and still listened to The Grateful Dead. That’s probably, in part, why he had a massive gut that had only grown in magnitude since the last time Guy had seen him, decades ago now.
Somewhat tragically, it was Grant who recognized Guy first, which was telling in many ways of how much more important the friendship was to Lauren’s family than it was to Caroline’s. Veritably, it had been Caroline who had somewhat cruelly put a stop to the friendship within the first month of fleeing to college in Los Angeles, where she had long been seeking to unearth the freedom that was so lacking during her oppressive suburban years.
Back in the days before internet stalking was simply a way of life, Caroline thought it would be effortless to shake Lauren by simply waning off their communication via phone and, at that time, Hotmail. Caroline probably should have known better when taking into account Lauren’s forceful, almost masculine nature–characterized by a need to assert her authority and dominance in all things. When Caroline had first met her in junior high, this had been a highly desirable trait, she herself too shy to be able to make any friends without the sociable, outgoing presence of Lauren. As they advanced to high school, however, Lauren’s behavior began to grow tedious in its bombasticness, and was often more of an embarrassment in social situations as opposed to a “lubricant.”
It got to the point where Caroline felt as though all her boundaries were being invaded, for Lauren saw fit to come over after school every day, walking home with Caroline despite her insistence that she had quite a lot of studying to do. When Lauren was over, unfortunately, no such required level of concentration could occur, for she would inevitably turn the TV on to ascertain which video had made it to number one for the day on TRL. And if she wasn’t blaring the TV, then she was prattling on about some other pop culture-related conversation topic in that deep baritone of hers.
While Guy had often hinted to Caroline that maybe there was something “off” about Lauren (which, naturally, was suburban speak for “she’s a lesbian”), Caroline had always ignored any such indications until one night late in their high school career when a party grew particularly raucous and, with it, the associated presence of alcohol emboldened Lauren to try to kiss Caroline while they were sitting poolside (it’s true most suburban California homes have pools) together with their feet in the water. Caroline’s reaction was to shove Lauren into the water, hosing her down, in essence.
As was her repressed way, she chose never to speak about it to Lauren in the aftermath of sobriety–but it was this thing between them that wouldn’t go away, was always hovering above as though to manifest in some unpleasant or awkward way beyond mere overly emphatic glances or silences. Caroline never told either of her parents, of course, least of all Guy, who, with his staunch Catholic upbringing, likely would have insisted upon banning any further encounters with Lauren, which, to be honest, would have been a welcome relief for Caroline at this point. But a part of her was still sentimental about the friendship, which can be highly damaging to one’s potential for evolution (the polite word for: ditching those who have been loyal to you in favor of “growing” into the person you were always meant to become). So she continued to nourish it as best as she could until that college stage, when she had had, to use an understatement, her complete fill, severing the tie as brutally as she could by flat out stating in Hotmail: “I don’t like you anymore. And I don’t want to be friends.” It was harsh and to the point, sure, but sometimes people don’t even get the message then, seemingly latching onto the only superpower we were all equipped with at birth: denial.
Caroline was quick to forget all those “warm” adolescent memories as she navigated the perils and distractions of L.A. And while she would never make a friend quite as “attached at the hip” as Lauren again, she had enough acquaintances to sustain herself on. For one needs either two quality friends or a barrage of acquaintances to get through life without thinking too much about the utter loneliness of it all. It was only when her father would feed her random news of the town that she might hear about what Lauren was doing. Strangely, Guy became the person more interested in keeping tabs on her than Caroline. Maybe he still speculated that something “inappropriate” had happened between her and Lauren, therefore wanted to, at some point, corroborate that she was a lesbian by learning of her eventual relationship with a woman. But the only information that ever came was that Lauren had relocated to Santa Cruz, where she, in fact, operated one of the rides on the boardwalk. How that was enough money to live on, no one could say for sure. It was entirely possible Lauren slept on the beach. She was that type of person. “At one” with nature. Caroline wouldn’t have put it past her to do just that. Maybe operate some sort of drug-selling business on the side. But it was no matter to her anyway, it was all years ago now. And with the passing of the years comes the dissipation of memories, at first contorted and then erased altogether. So wrapped up are we all in our own little dramas du jour.
Even Guy had forgotten all about Lauren until seeing Grant before him that day at the post office. And after getting through the cumbersome hurdle of reacquainting himself, Grant flatly demanded, “So what’s Caroline up to now?”
Guy ran his hand through his hair. For it made him uncomfortable to tell people the truth about the person he was supposed to have raised well. She was a derelict at best, traveling throughout various countries and taking odd jobs where she could in exchange for a place to stay and enough food to subsist on. Instead of explaining this, Guy lied, going back several years in time to when Caroline was still on the straight and narrow. “She’s a top level executive at an ad agency in Dallas.”
“Dallas. Huh. You couldn’t pay me to live there,” Grant returned snarkily.
Guy bit his tongue, changing the subject to: “And what about Lauren?”
Grant smiled, as though he had been waiting all his life to be asked this particular question by this particular man. “She’s happily married with two kids. Lives up there in the mountains in Tahoe with her husband. He’s a firefighter. She’s been teaching art therapy the past couple years.”
Guy nodded and smiled, his theories about Lauren completely shattered. Or maybe he just didn’t understand that sometimes a friend wants so much to be like the female she spends all her time around that it manifests into uncontrollable amorous ardor. Sadly for Caroline, this would be the highest level of devotion she would ever receive in all her days, only to have thrown it away for the sake of not feeling stifled. Guy must not have informed her that stiflement is the name of the game, and the only way around it is to stamp out any form of permanence. Which was, Guy supposed, why Caroline had opted into her current existence. One that probably had all of its roots in Lauren’s over heroine-ification of his daughter.
And now, there they were: two fathers with zero daughters. Only their boastings of them. The bureaucrat behind the last partition sounded the ding of the bell announcing that she was ready for the next customer. With that, Guy sauntered off, his tail slightly between his legs.