It's that time of year: I make my annual trek to Somewhere in the Heartland -- the exact destination varies each year -- and I am greeted at an airport by the smiling faces of my four best friends from high school.
The five of us reunite each year, sans spouses, for the event we've come to call Chick Trip, and we put aside our normal lives for a weekend to reconnect with each other in ways that we tend not to when we're in a large group of families. In those settings, beautiful as they may be, it's too easy for one or more of us to get distracted, paying attention instead to a partner or a child -- especially as the kid count grows, and it currently numbers six and five-ninths.
So we devote a weekend each year to putting ourselves back in our high school mindset, unencumbered by familial obligations (for the most part), free to say what we want or need to about the blessings and challenges of love and relationships, absolutely unrestrained in the glee with which we reminisce about all those high school stories that no one on the planet finds as interesting or as hilarious as we do.
We've been doing this since 1996, and each year except one we've visited the major metropolises of the Midwest, as well as some of the smaller towns and cities that my friends call home during those years when something -- financial limitations or pregnancy or a newborn -- makes it difficult for one of us to travel. Only once have we strayed from the middle of the country, and that was in 1998, when a slightly reduced Chick Trip contingent descended on the greater Washington, D.C., area.
Since my four friends are straight and three of them are parents, and since they live in cities that range, by East Coast standards, from small to very small, there are many things about my life that stand out as markedly different from theirs.
But we focus very little on our differences when we're together, though. Instead, we're pretty focused on the things that make us similar -- the ways in which we agree, the values that we share, our mutual fervent belief that our parents were really lucky to have had such well-behaved kids. (We always note the exceptions: petty theft, in the form of stealing lawn ornaments for sport, and underage drinking, largely in the form of the 1980s-chic wine coolers.)
There are always some issues that come up and get right to the heart of the differences between us. This year I fielded questions about prospective sperm donors and what I'll tell my children about how babies are made and whether or not I think it's fair that my friends almost never get to see full frontal male nudity in movies whereas I can see cinematic representations of the kind of nudity I prefer all the time.
But the moments I remember more vividly are those that stress our commonalities, even at times when we splinter into groups, pointing to differences within the group but not leaving me (or anyone else) the odd one out.
At one point, Stephanie and I hid out in the bathroom while Chris, Sarah and Shalar talked in a little too much detail about pregnancy and childbirth. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to get pregnant and she paused -- a pregnant pause, you might say -- and said, "Yes, are you?" I responded, "Yes, but… no!" and we laughed in that blissfully ignorant, still-unenlightened-about-experiencing-the-miracle-of-life-firsthand kind of way.
The five of us have been talking for some time about getting a special trinket or piece of jewelry to symbolize our friendship, and this year Chris came up with the idea of a charm bracelet. My first reaction was a silent, internal gag -- hello! I don't wear dangly jewelry! -- but it was soon explained to me today's trendy charm bracelets are flat, like a watchband, and the "charms" are simply flat links with embossed, engraved or painted enamel designs on them.
When I confessed my qualms about spending a lot of money on a piece of femme jewelry that I'd never wear, Steph reassured me that she rarely even wears much make-up, let alone girly accessories.
It turns out that the charm bracelets are lovely and they're unisex enough to keep my subtle inner butch happy, so we placed an order on Saturday evening. Our bracelets, when they arrive, will have two charms on them: a tiny chick breaking out of an egg, and a pink flamingo (a nod to our days spent as lawless hooligans, a menace to the yards of the external-décor-minded citizens of our hometown).
The plan is to select a new charm to add each year, and to wear our bracelets as a symbol of the ways we're all linked to each other -- in the past and the present -- and the beauty and fun created when we are together.
I just made that up, but I feel certain that they would all approve of that characterization. Regardless, I'll wear my bracelet with pride and love, even if Sarah gets her way and we add a dangly charm in a future year.
Kristina Campbell has charming, wonderful friends who inspire her every day, and sometimes inspire entire columns devoted to them. Alphabet Soup appears biweekly in this magazine, and you can write to the author — or send a note to be forwarded on to her friends — at firstname.lastname@example.org.