The Fountain of Youth exists. It spends most of its time in my sister’s basement. For 99 straight weeks, it stands there, collecting dust and spider webs, its tires slowly losing their air, the links of its chain getting stiff. Then we arrive for our bi-annual visit and on the first day, the fountain gets carried up into the sunlight and fixed up. I get on it and immediately sense how perfect the fit and feel are. I start to pedal. Muscle memory kicks in and I am 15 years old again. I’m mobile now. I can go anywhere. I’m free.
Meet “The Rejuvenator”:
I bought this bike with money earned at my first “real” job – as in one with an actual paycheck – at the age of 15. I stood in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and took walk-in or phoned in take-out orders. I passed those on to the cook, and when they were done, I packed them into little white cartons, added soy sauce and chopsticks, bagged them, stapled on the receipt and brought them to the front counter. That was it. At the end of the first month I had enough to buy a spiffy, wine red, Takara ten-speed – a boy’s bike with a cross bar – not the sissy girl’s model that can be ridden with a skirt on. Little did I suspect at the time that I would still be riding it 38 years later. Some things are built to last.
Over the next three years, the groups of friends I rode my bike with shifted around a lot. A succession of tenuous and temporary clique-like groups formed and dissolved around me. In my Freshman year, I found myself included in a new group of girls for a while – a real clique. They had all gone to a different Grade School and were wilder and more “experimental” than the girls I had befriended so far. Hanging with them for a few months was my first taste of living a double life. Every weekday during summer vacation, I would get up early and ride my Takara five miles to a Senior Citizen center, where I volunteered as a “Candy Striper” bringing food to and socializing with the old people there. I rode my Takara back home in the early afternoon and met up with my new friends. We would ride off to somewhere remote – a park, a pool, the zoo – and have “a picnic”. One of them would take the bottle or the little plastic baggie out of their backpack and share with the rest. In the evening, I rode home, avoided eye-contact with my mom, went to bed. The next morning the cycle repeated itself until I got seriously sick. Mononucleosis. I spent the next 8 weeks on my back watching old movies on TV. It was just long enough to kill off my new friendships which were of the kind that needed constant attention to survive. It was my old friends who called me during those weeks and who I met up with when I was finally strong enough to go out of the house again.
Last week I had a mini-reunion with one of those friends and a few days later with three more. Conversations bolted out of the gate as we all immediately recognized our inner 16 year olds. Topics darted back and forth between past and present as we caught up and regressed. Dealing with aging parents, who had the best party basement, getting kids through college, supercilious yearbook messages, what to do when your daughter falls in love with a foreigner, embarrassing teenage diary entries, where absent friends are now and where they fit in back then. By the end of the evening we were giggling in the park as we tried to take group selfies in the dark with the full blue moon.
None of these friendships have had the benefit of constant attention over the 35 years since our High School graduation. Some of them even went for a decade or more collecting dust and spider webs in the basement. But, clearly, they were all built to last.