The Last Supper

by Paige Parker

The folks at Mamalode were kind enough to publish my essay, but their site has gone down, so I am posting it here. Happy New Year!

Two days before the birth of our son, my husband and I went to dinner at a place called the Screen Door with seven of our closest friends. We assumed the baby would keep us housebound and curb our social life for awhile. Everyone at the table called the dinner our Last Supper.

I store that meal in a pantry of sorts. Not the piles of piles of fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, shrimp gumbo, grits and cornbread. Not the massive dessert—the pecan banana cream extravaganza, drizzled in caramel, dusted with powdered sugar.

No. I store the moment itself.

I loved everyone at that table. We’d met because we all worked at a newspaper, and it felt like we would always work there, and as though I would be seeing their faces at candlelit tables for years to come. We shared an affinity for the news, an affinity for bitching about the news and an affinity for bitching about newspapers themselves. We could all hold our liquor and tell vicious one-liners. But more than that, the friends at that table had propped us up a year earlier when I’d lost another pregnancy, and they knew how much this baby meant to us.

We closed down the restaurant. At the end of the night, we posed for a picture, all nine of us, giddy and grateful by the red neon sign. We’d do it again soon, we agreed.

Back then, we spent three or four nights a week with friends. Our life was crowded with friends, busy with their parties, awash in their dramas, and our days sparkled and hummed with the pleasure of their company.

It seemed like everyone I knew I had met in my 20s. Do you remember making friends in your 20s? Do you remember being 24-years-old and leaving work with three or four co-workers, and settling into a bar stool at 6 p.m. and emerging at 2 a.m. for bad pancakes and bacon with your new friends?

I do.

I remember asking a woman who worked on my college newspaper if she wanted to go for a drive, and how we hunted all over for Systeme Biolage shampoo and sang along with Patsy Cline on the tape deck because we had not another single thing to do that day but make a new friend.

Three years later at my first real job, I remember taking the woman who sat in the next cubicle on a bizarre lunchtime sock-buying errand, confiding to her over the shelves of discount department store hosiery that I’d fallen out of love with my first husband, and returning to work with another new friend.

I remember being 25, newly divorced and with no plans for my birthday, until an editor and her husband rounded up half a dozen others, and we landed at a bar called the White Eagle, and there I turned 26, holding a glass of red wine and dancing off-tempo, with my friends.

Here is the thing: Our supper really was a Last Supper; at least, the Last Supper From Which We Wouldn’t Rush to Relieve a Babysitter.

We knew having a child would make us a family. We didn’t know being in a family would make of us such bad friends. And we are. We’re the bad friends, the ones who become parents, take the baby shower loot and the home-cooked meals and the best wishes and stop inviting you over, and only show up at your house on special occasions, because now our primary function is to orchestrate playdates for our children, who have an uproariously good time while we clean up their messes and resolve their petty disputes.

As our son grew we saw less and less of our friends. That’s partly because many of us began to peel away from the newspaper as the economy tanked. Of the nine of us at the Last Supper in 2008, none of us are with our former employer. We stopped bumping into each other in the halls and meeting for after work drinks at the bar across the street.

And then, in 2011, we moved to a new town. We had two built-in friends here, one of them a woman I’d grown up with.  We’d make more friends, we knew, as soon as I had our second child, as soon as my husband settled into his new job, as soon as I settled into my new job, as soon as we were getting more sleep.

Here we are, nearly two years later. We have the same two friends we started with, and thank God for them. One of them took me out to celebrate my birthday a month after it had passed, because breaking away for three hours on a Saturday required entering into delicate negotiations with our respective spouses. We ate sushi and got pedicures. It is the second time I have seen her without our kids since we moved here. We agree that the time we went to Costco together doesn’t count as a social outing.

A friend a few years older than me, a mother of teenagers, said not to worry about making friends in the new town.

“You’ll sign the kids up for soccer, and you’ll be standing on the sidelines with the other moms, and boom, you’ll find a friend,” she said.

My son is in soccer. I stand on the sidelines with the other moms, and we size each other up, but we don’t talk. I chase my toddler, and they juggle their babies. At the end of the games we smile and nod and dash to our cars.

Maybe I need a one-sheet questionnaire to pass out when these women rush by:

“I’m curious about you,” it would say at the top.

“I like your boots. I noticed a novel peeking out of the top of your bag. You handled it well when your baby vomited down your shirt earlier. I wanted to tell you that, in person, but I figured one of our kids would fall face first out of a chair/spill their raisins/launch into a nonsensical story about fire trucks and interrupt. Does soccer bore you as much as it bores me? Can you believe we have, like, 14 to 16 more years of this ahead of us?

“Do you mind answering a few questions and returning this form next Friday?”

And then the questions could be things like:

1. Have you ever thrown yourself at a man just because he owned Red Headed Stranger on vinyl?

2. Have you ever found yourself imagining which would be worse, if your daughter grew up to be a slut or grew up to be a vegan?

3. Does your car smell bad?

4. If you go to a diner and you see mud pie on the menu, how many slices do you order?

5. If your ex sent you an email riddled with misspellings, would you respond immediately or forward it to the woman who encouraged you to dump him in the first place?

6. When you were a girl, was your house so trashy or your parents so weird that you refused to invite anyone over?

And we could go from there.

Is this greedy and vain? To want that moment where another human decides we are worth one another’s time? To have them look past my filthy mouth and my dirty house and my too-loud laugh and my rotten attitude and decide there’s something more; that, at minimum, I will make them laugh and be honest with them if their chin ever gets too hairy and needs to be waxed?

I am within one coffee date of cementing this kind of friendship with three or four women. I should call one of them. I really should.

I advise a college newspaper now. My students spend all of their time together, on the job and after hours, the way my friends and I did when we worked on our college newspaper. I envy them their inside jokes, the way they disappear to get lunch and return, two hours later, in a cloud of cigarette smoke, laughing.

One of my students is a young woman who looks eerily like the woman who bought shampoo with me in 1998. On her 23rd birthday, this student told me she thought she’d better save the celebrating for the weekend.Tomorrow was a school day. She wanted to be fresh for it.

I might have been too firm with her, but I really couldn’t let her blow it like that.

Go out tonight, I told her. Go out this weekend, too.

Go. Stay out late, drink too much, laugh too much, share a secret with someone new. Go.

It is a screen door, after all, and I can see through it. I stand just on the other side.