The Wild One
“It has always fascinated me that we’re prepared to end a romantic relationship that is no longer working but are generally reluctant to do the same with friendships. Not all friendships are meant to last for life. People evolve, and friendships evolve with them.”
—Sarah Morgan, Family for Beginners
Occasionally, you meet someone that was meant to be in your life for a reason, but not forever.
Thus far in my sheltered existence, I hadn’t yet had a friend who pushed me outside my comfort zone. Then, I met Carolina (*name changed). Now, there was someone who challenged me to try new, previously self-forbidden experiences. All the years I knew her, I felt like she was escorting me to the front seat of a roller coaster, and, as a point of reference, to this day I’ve never set foot on a roller coaster.
When Laurie and I were juniors in high school, we began dating boys from Seattle. We had a good friend, a guy, who’d transferred to a private school there and he introduced us to several of his buddies. We began to go to dances – our weekend activity in those days – with those Seattle boys.
At one of the dances we met Carolina. She was friendly and striking. Most of the private school girls weren’t particularly friendly to Laurie and me, not being happy their boy zone was being invaded by outsiders. Carolina, though, also attending a public school in the area, was always welcoming, and for the next couple of years the three of us often talked, comparing school experiences or boyfriend status. The three of us then became part of a coagulated group that spent most of the halcyon days before leaving for college at a summer home belonging to my boyfriend’s family. We had that last summer of our youth reveling in the ripeness of the time and the seemingly endless possibilities for our future.
While Laurie and I, middling students, went to a state university, Carolina, very bright, headed to UCLA. She began writing me letters, which one did in those days. I remember sitting in a small room in the sorority with Laurie, opening an envelope from Carolina that contained a single balloon but no letter.
“She sent a balloon?” said Laurie. “What are you supposed to do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I said, peering closely at the thing. Then I saw ink marks on the surface. “Maybe blow it up?”
I did so, and, once I tied off the balloon, found a letter Carolina had written on its surface. She’d gone to the trouble of blowing the thing up, tying it off, writing a letter on its surface, then letting the air out. I thought that was about the most brilliant thing I’d ever seen. Remember, I was the middling student.
After I returned from France, I transferred to the University of Washington, and Carolina transferred north from UCLA. We rented the top floor of a house together, and there began a friendship markedly different than those I’d had before.
Carolina was not only extremely bright, but she was, and I mean this in the best possible way, a little bit crazy. Remember Katie, the Can Can girl from Chapter Two? Carolina was the grownup version. Plus… more.
Laurie and I were good girls, and nice girls. Carolina was also, but she had a wildness to her, an openness to new experiences and the changes in the current culture that were an anathema to my mindset. I wanted to be open to behaviors emblematic of the times like marching against the Vietnam war or even experimenting with drugs, but that wasn’t how I’d been coached my whole life. Neither had Carolina, but that did not stop her.
By now, most of us, even I, smoked weed – we called it dope at that time – on a regular basis. Carolina could do this nightly, carry a class load of eighteen hours, and get straight A’s. I tried to follow her lead, but instead struggled, dropping courses, and, with the exception of English, barely passed most of my classes. I aspired to be as academically talented as she was, but I simply didn’t have the goods. While Carolina could study efficiently for two hours for her heavy class load and be successful, my inferior academic prowess, paired with the idea that studying a half hour a night would be sufficient, doomed me to full mediocre status.
Carolina didn’t care that I couldn’t match her report card success. What she really wanted was for me to loosen up on all fronts. That included joining her in trying other drugs besides weed, specifically acid and mescaline. I was adamant I would never try anything stronger than marijuana, but she continued to try to persuade me to open the door to consciousness via chemicals. This was, by the way, the same girl who always ridiculed me for having the mindset of an eighty-year-old in the body of a twenty-year-old.
One night, around three in the morning, I woke up to find Carolina sitting on the floor of my bedroom.
“Rom,” she whispered. “You just have to try mescaline. It will change your life – I promise. Try it now.” She spent an hour arguing her case, explaining in minute detail what she was seeing in my dark bedroom that, apparently for her, was filled with colorful, live-action-wonders, then fell asleep on the floor next to my bed.
I never veered from my resolve, but Carolina’s descriptions of her occasional dips into more serious indulgences informed me about what many college students our age were trying, believing, and experimenting with, resulting in a dramatic infusion of change in the culture of the country. It was like having a travel guide into a whole new world, except I didn’t have to get on the airplane. (By now, you can imagine I hate flying.) I could see things through Carolina’s eyes. Her descriptions and tales of a craziness far exceeding my universe intrigued, but also terrified me.
But the best part of Carolina wasn’t the ongoing challenge of changing my basic personality. It was the laughing. Laurie and I laughed often, but it wasn’t because of our brilliance. Rather, it was the shared years and references, as it is with many friendships, that formed the basis of our mirth. But Carolina, with her quick wit, bawdy sense of humor and ability to somehow be simultaneously shocking and thrilling, delivered a brand of hilarity I’d never known.
She had a red convertible sports car, and one summer day she was smoking a joint while driving down the freeway, me in the passenger seat. I wasn’t happy she was combining those two activities, but somehow Carolina always got away with bad behavior in my presence, despite my resolve to not succumb to her influence. Suddenly, she dropped the joint in her lap.
“Quick,” she shrieked, “get it, GET it!” She lifted her rear end five inches from the seat, steering with one hand as I grappled for the slender, smoking item.
“I can’t reach it,” I yelled, wind in our ears, the speed of the car not assisting the rescue.
The peril of the moment, the car now weaving, Carolina’s body pretzeled backward, and the ridiculousness of the situation hit us both, and shrieks of laughter carried us down the freeway. I’d never felt such pure abandon. In that one instant I was released from my standard fear of – let’s face it – everything. That moment of succumbing into whatever was happening, whether my choice or not, was not how I lived in the world. But there I was, right where Carolina had placed me.
She finally made a quick exit and pulled over, retrieving the joint and taking a long toke once we controlled ourselves. I never would have smoked dope while driving, couldn’t afford nor had the style for a red convertible, and generally avoided any activity my mother wouldn’t have sanctioned. But my companion was a rebel – someone who didn’t so much think outside of the box as create a whole other way of perceiving what a box might be. Carolina exposed me to another, completely different kind of female; one who didn’t follow rules but could rule whatever she pleased, reveled in elevating situations to peak conditions, always pushing the envelope, while antithetically camouflaging a thoughtful, surprisingly sensitive soul. We luckily survived that foolish freeway drive, but I never permitted a repeat of such risky behavior with her at the wheel.
We ended up sharing a couple different living situations after college. By our late twenties, I’d married, with Carolina as my maid of honor. She remained single the rest of her life.
When I was a young mother, working full time with two children under four, Carolina, as had been our practice during our years of friendship, would call me, now two states away, for a long conversation. Those chats typically ran around an hour, as she always had stories to tell. She had no idea of the challenges I faced in sustaining a grown-up conversation. I was a mom; she was still dating. I had no free time; her time was her own. And, her favorite topic of conversation during those calls was always every sordid detail of her latest dating/sex disaster.
No one could tell a story like Carolina, but my children didn’t know that, or care. Those calls were my only source for her unique brand of humor every month, a distinctly different kind of entertainment than the antics of two darling children, and I was loath to give them up.
“Mommy will give you candy if you play with the things in the cupboard,” I would whisper to the four-year-old who only got candy on Halloween and Christmas. “Here,” I would say, offering the two-year-old a bowl of water and various cups while Carolina described the sexual predilections of the radio host she’d temporarily beguiled, “You can pour water anywhere you want on the floor.”
Despite those delicious and normally forbidden opportunities, my children ardently resented those conversations. “Her again?” my daughter would say, and though I felt guilty neglecting her and her brother during that hour, I couldn’t resist the calls.
The stories – oh, the stories – I would hear from Carolina about a single life in her thirties, then forties. They were deliciously wicked, irreverent, and unlike any other adventures I heard about from any other female. I didn’t want to live that life, didn’t envy it a bit, but listening to her was like being back on that freeway in that giddy, heady delight and surrender.
Carolina is now in the same clique as Deb and Gabby. We had, after over forty years of friendship, an unrepairable rift. I had to let her go, and I did so with no regrets. Yet, again, where I am in my life now, and wherever she is, it doesn’t stain the imprint she had on me. Because of her, I have been open to other wild spirits in my life. I’ve always learned from them and consistently laughed with them at a deeper and higher level than with other, more stable friends. The rule-obeying, ‘good girl’ still finds a distinct brand of giddiness and freedom in the company of those women. And, I can sight them a mile away. It’s always a treat to find such creatures and spend time in their company, but they are not a steady diet. Too rich; too unbalanced. Yet, I find a singular kind of joy in knowing them, thanks to Carolina.
There are moments when I’m driving that same stretch of highway Carolina and I covered that day in her red convertible when I recall our hysterical laughter, the unfamiliar abandon within me. I’ll shake my head and chuckle, remembering. The free spirit, the wild girl, the experimenter and bold explorer, loosened, in the years I knew her, the fabric of my tightly woven psyche, and, consequently, memorably expanded my universe.
New to the series? Start with ‘Ellie‘, the first chapter in “Female Formed.”
Art by Lisa Jensen.
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