For three intense years, I have been feverishly writing, speaking, blogging and preparing to publish my book Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor. Some weeks have been exhilarating, and some have been crushing. Last week was the most exhilarating of all, because my book was finally released.
Caryn, my dear friend of 40 years, advised, “Don’t forget to celebrate this accomplishment.”
“Right,” I replied quickly, already distracted by the next email on my list.
“I’m serious. This is a big deal. You have worked very hard on it, and you should savor the moment.”
“I know. You are right. I’m just so busy.”
“I will throw you a party. Let me do that for you.”
“Yes, I would love to.” COVID 19 has crushed party options for most of us, but Caryn would not be deterred. “We will have a Zoom party. Tell me who you want to invite.”
There will be future events for Flashback Girl. A local bookstore is co-hosting a large Zoom book release party, with an author Q & A, and press. I will host a backyard book signing soon. But this first event was extra special, so I thought awhile. I decided to invite. . . people who were in the book. Perhaps it was not an exact replica. There may be some living people in the book who were not at the party, and some people at the party who were not in the book. Nevertheless, a representative quorum was achieved.
At 5:00, I gazed at my screen, transfixed, as each dear face appeared. My heart thudded, seeing all my dear ones come together, at a party which never would have occurred, if it weren’t for Zoom.
Almost every best friend I ever had attended the call. To be clear:
My best friend from 1-4th grade, who lives in Los Angeles.
My best friend from 4th-8th grade, whom I haven’t seen in 20 years.
My best friend from 8th grade.
My best friends from 9th grade, whom I haven’t seen in 30 years.
My best friend from 10th grade.
My college roommate.
My other best friends from college, graduate school, my first job, and so on. 24 faces crowded onto my screen, laughing, toasting, and occasionally weeping.
Because of our friendship, many of these people had heard of each other. Because of my book, many of them now knew exactly who each other were. Some of these friends had their own memorable mini stories in Flashback Girl . Thus, my dear friend, Susan introduced herself, saying “I’m proud to be the cloth monkey” and everyone nodded.
Hilariously, my first-grade best friend, Michael, declared, “OK, I’m the Dream of Jeannie boy!” and we all erupted in laughter.
Voice cracking, I introduced Karen as the girl who slept on the floor next to me the night my brother, Marc, died. At one point, I did a reading from the book about the deep value of friendship. This reading focused on Cindy, my MIT friend who cared for me after Marc’s death. I wanted everyone to know who she was.
“Cindy, please wave!”
Cindy, whom I haven’t seen in 35 years, her long black hair now a shining silver, smiled her arresting smile and waved at the group.
This hour was one of the highlights of my life and I will never forget it. It was like attending my own funeral but obviously, a whole lot better. We talked about the book. My friends all met each other. They also shared with me things that I never knew.
You see, from my perspective, these friends saved me. Their kind hearts, devotion, and wisdom carried me through the desolation of my childhood injury, disfigurement, bullying, my family’s collapse, my parents’ neglect, and four suicides. My friends carried me. That is how I always perceived it.
To them, it turns out, I brought optimism, hope and grit. Because I was genuine, without pretense, they were also able to be genuine and without pretense. Because I was so attached to them, they experienced the comforting gravitational pull of attachment. Because I was grieving, they felt safe to grieve. Plus, you know, we had fun.
This was no ordinary group. Each one took a few minutes to say how they knew me and to share a memory or a wish. My friend Celeste prepared written remarks ahead of time, complete with a Joseph Campbell quote and mythological references. I imagined the others coming after her thinking, “Hmm, prepared remarks, I should up my game.” But, no worries. This group was comprised of physicians and attorneys, social workers and professors, editors and principals. A more impressive, articulate, heartfelt bunch would be hard to find.
After the call, I fell into my husband's arms, so overcome with emotion that I felt out of my body. I stayed there a long time. “What an amazing group of people!” said Doug.
“Well, what kind of people are going to befriend the disfigured, scarred burned girl? That attracts a certain kind of person, someone who has depth and substance. Someone who looks beyond the surface.”
Flashback Girl has many themes. I write about burns, disfigurement, and surgery. I write about family dysfunction and neglect. I write about depression and suicide. I write about hope, joy and fulfillment. I even write about monkeys, alligators, and musicals. And repeatedly, I write about friendship because I know that friendship, these friends, saved me.
Life can be brutal, yes. But also, we can save each other.