Not long ago I had lunch with an old high school friend. I consider him old in that we met sometime between my first real bra and his first tongue kiss with an eleventh grader. We are but early twenties babies, but yet this old, old friend and I reminisced over sandwiches the good old days: Saved By The Bell, getting your metal retainer stuck in compromising positions, Senior egg fights, the many, many dudes I dated who went on to date dudes, the creep of a teacher who doubled as a suspected serial killer, and the many ways we forced ourselves to sip hot cans of beer for the sake of looking grown. The good old days. Yes. The good old days of 2005.
He gave a stirring account of the time I swung the ropes into the Harpeth River only to lose my yellow, polka-dot bikini bottoms and hike the rugged shore full-moon glowing in the moonshine. “Who the hell was I?,” I joked, seriously. “Oh, you were popular. You were a total bitch to boys who loved you, but you were pretty enough to make up for it. And then you were this burping, farting dude, too. Oh. And the keg stands. You took gymnastics and, you know, it helped”. I shook my head, entertained but ultimately unsure that he hadn’t thought he was meeting someone else for lunch or that I wasn’t an alien using a cheerleader’s corpse as host or that this was even real life.
The waitress flopped the two checks onto the table. No. This is most certainly real. He is the 16-year-old boy without the social graces to pay for a lady’s lunch. And, well, I am feeling suddenly old enough to call myself a lady… until I belch. “There it is,” he laughs. I tell the girl to keep my change just as he announces he’d like his change exact. She smiles to hide an eye roll, returning minutes later with his fifty-three cents. “What?,” he notices my skeptical face because it looks quite blatantly skeptical. “Well, it’s not a lot but it’s something,” he remarks, scooting coins into his palm. “That’s what she said,” I retort, and like that the old me doesn’t seem so distant.
Today is my birthday. I am twenty-five. Twenty-five pennies, one quarter, or- if I still listened to rap music- two fine dime pieces and a nickel. But I don’t listen to rap music anymore, just as I’ve forgotten how to swing on ropes into the river or break a boy’s heart or suck beer through a hose while performing acrobatics. I would be sad for this, all the not doing, if it weren’t for what I am doing. I look at myself today and cannot tell you who I used to be only that I am not who I was. In this little life, these couple of coins in a whopping piggy bank of time, I have crawled only to give it up for walking. I ran,then, and left walking behind. Playdates evolved into first dates and first dates into love. That love brought me a lovechild, and in one week my son will watch as this baby mama becomes a wife. With a four-sentence summary of my evolution I realize it is a glorious thing to be exactly not who I used to be. Those creeping growth spurts, those tiny steps I didn’t know I was taking brought me to this place. It doesn’t seem right that all that good can fit into the days, and yet it does. It overflows into months and seasons and years. And then today occurs, and all I can think is “Who the hell am I? Who the hell am I to deserve this life?”.
He shoves fifty-three cents into his jeans pocket, and I cannot, I cannot contain myself. I can’t stop laughing, and I need to know just why he couldn’t do without it. “Shut up! You just go around handing people money? Ha! You always were nice. I bet you do, don’t you? You just leave a pile of cash for total strangers. The Mother Teresa of Cracker Barrel,” he is deflecting, but he’s funny. I let him get away with it, not pressing the point of the matter which would be, in short, that he’s cheaper than sin. “Whatever. You always end up needing change, ok? You go into a gas station and you’re like ‘Crap, if only I had that damn nickel I donated to the one-eyed, sassy waitress. Now I gotta break a damn twenty.’ You always need change.”
Two fine dime pieces and a nickel. Twenty-five pennies. One quarter of a life. I’m keeping the change.