Monday, October 10, 2016

We Write Our Own Stories


The only thing that terrified me more than walking into a new school in the 6th grade was gym.  Born athletically challenged, I hated that my GPA could be compromised by my ability to keep a volleyball in play.  I had long since resigned myself to being the last to be picked for anything competitive, which was fine because I didn’t want to potentially not live up to my team’s expectations.  So as I sat in the gym at Hillsdale Middle School, in a sea of new faces, I tried to will myself to be invisible.  Despite my efforts, Zoe Fishman saw me and introduced herself.  I could tell right away that we were kindred spirits.   
 
We grew up in a community that often defined people by the church they attended.  Zoe, whose family is Jewish, always felt out of place.  While I coveted her perfectly tanned skin, Zoe wanted nothing more than to be blond haired and blue eyed. 

We saw ourselves as the chubby girls when compared to the long, lean pubescent bodies of our friends.  We were both counting the days until our baby fat miraculously melted away.  Zoe and I would stand in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom as we took turns examining our bodies. We were already painfully aware that our bodies didn't fit into what was considered the norm.

Zoe’s parents were both professors and held high standards for academic achievement.  Zoe excelled and was allowed to skip a grade in elementary school.  But she never thought of herself as the smart kid.  “I really loved the process of studying,” she explained.  I knew that if I passed a note in class it would return with all of my misspelled words corrected in red ink.  She made being smart cool; Zoe was smart and funny while I was only trying to be smart and funny.

Middle school wouldn’t be middle school without angst and regret.  The eighth grade was tough and I turned weird.  I couldn’t seem to navigate the changing social structures:  boyfriends, parties, and experiments with drinking.  So instead, I pushed people away.  We ended up at different high schools and somehow her friendship got lost in the transition. She went on to college as Boston University then moved to New York to work in publishing.  Despite living in the same city for almost 10 years, we ran in different circles and never reconnected.

It was our writing that brought us back together. 

We have always been storytellers, even when we were young.  I grew up to write plays and Zoe, after spending years working in publishing and as a book agent, started to focus on her own writing.  When her book tour came to town, I made sure I was there for the book signing.  There were friends and family and fans, which meant little time to talk.  But it opened the door. 

We meet in Ria’s Bluebird in Atlanta where Zoe now lives with her husband and two boys.  Her hair is in a closely cropped pixie cut which I covet.  When I tell her that as my red hair turns gray I feel like I’m losing my superpower, she assures me that I’ll simply grow another.


We eat lunch and reflect on how our adult selves remember our middle school selves.  The baby fat she carried has melted away, leaving behind a woman who is lean and effortlessly stylish.  There is also a calm about her, even though she still possesses the same infectious laugh and quick wit.  It’s an energy that makes you want to seek her council as if she is instinctively wise and objective.

Since my mom died I always find comfort in hearing people share stories that I never knew or have long forgotten.  My mom was one of Zoe’s biggest fans.  Zoe tells me, “Your house was the only house I remember visiting that had books.”

Our writing and finding the balance between work and family gives us plenty to talk about.  We discuss how we each carve out time to write, a process that is much more piecemeal than either of us would like.  Zoe teaches at the Decatur Writers Studio and Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, while juggling her own writing.  But miraculously the stories get told, even if they happen in the early hours of the morning or in the moments stolen during nap time.  Clearly, the process is working.  She is now preparing for the release of her fourth novel.

We get caught up in memories and I forget to say thank you for being my friend that day in 6th grade gym.  When we think about how friendships begin it usually involves two people who find themselves thrown together for one reason or another.  Then one person reaches out and says hello. Zoe did that and then invited me into the fold, introducing me to others who would become supporting characters in the story of my adolescence.  

https://www.amazon.com/Inheriting-Edith-Novel-Zoe-Fishman/dp/0062378740/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476113114&sr=8-1&keywords=inheriting+edith


10 comments:

  1. This is my first time visiting - I love how real your writing is :) it's so authentic. I feel like everyone goes through a time like this whether it's middle school or high school or even college. Great post!

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to read my work. I appreciate the kind words.

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  2. How amazing to have a friendship that spans so long! A real treasure.

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  3. Great post! Your style of writing is clear and easy to read. This is my first time visiting, too. The experiences caused me to reflect on my own memories.

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    1. Thank you! I hope the project will inspire others to reconnect with people who have come in and out of their lives.

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    1. Thanks so much! I really appreciate it!

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  5. Middle school was the worst! Great writing, easy to read. It really gets you reflecting on those early friendships developed out of mutual angst and what happened to them years later. Now I'm going to call my old friend, lol.

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    1. Middle school is like boot camp for the rest of your life. THanks for reading!

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