Sue pointed to the corner where we used to meet. She wore a pair of navy trousers, a short sleeved, buttoned blouse. I wore my usual cropped trousers with a boxy top, an image of funky irreverence. “The mailbox is gone,” she said. We were cruising in her black Lexus sedan, two women in our early seventies, going back to the New Jersey neighborhood where we’d grown up. I’d known Sue since I was twelve, the new kid in town, taking a seat in Mrs. Murphy’s geography class. Sue collected friends like charms on a bracelet. I was happy she’d scooped me up. We lived in similar houses, small capes with one car garages on postage stamp lots, and on that day in May, the houses looked remarkably the same. No McMansions. Yet, I hardly recognized that corner where we used to meet every morning before walking to junior high school, then to high school. I did recognize town, the corner buildings that housed the drug stores, the banks, now selling clothing or smoothies. Someone had turned my father’s camera store into a boutique wine shop and wine bar. Main Street, USA was long gone.
In many ways, Millburn was an idyllic place to grow up, neighborhood streets I roamed at will, the drug store where after school, Sue and I bought ice cream cones, single or double dip, the record store where Saturday mornings, we listened to 45’s before making our selections. Later, when Sue got her Nash Metropolitan, we cruised the streets we used to walk, looking for friends, then crossed what in that town was a northern Mason-Dixon line, Jews south, WASPS north, looking for my boyfriend’s car. He had friends who lived north. I felt that division, but I didn’t ponder it, not then. I won’t now. What interests me is the way that place held onto my adolescence, giving me back my teenage self, an image of a pony tailed teenager holding her books to her chest, meeting Sue at the mailbox that wasn’t there. This was the place of my deepest yearnings, my unbridled passions. My dreams of escape. After college, I didn’t return, marriage my ticket out.
Sue stayed. I think she knew she would. She married a chemist, a demanding man who died young. But not before Sue nursed him through heart surgery, diabetes, amputation, kidney failure and dialysis. Sue confused love with obedience. I never did.
I may have left New Jersey, but I didn’t leave Sue. That same adolescent connection that brought me back to the old neighborhood tied me to Sue. She was the friend who knew me when I was fifteen, full of myself and bubbling with life. Over the years, Sue has helped me move backwards through my life, unraveling threads and trying to understand how I, a middle class Jewish kid from Millburn, New Jersey, became a writer, a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a friend and dog lover, living on the rocky coast of Maine instead of on a postage stamp lot in Millburn, New Jersey. Driving with Sue, saw an essence of my younger self, that same essence I see, these days, in my three granddaughters, all visiting and going to summer drama camp, coming home, singing and dancing in my kitchen, in my living room, then later, after dinner, swimming naked in the pool, unencumbered, new, forming and formed.