It is 1990. I am in eighth grade. The VCR is having a moment with corner video stores popping up in the shopping centers in our town, promising fun for the whole family in the front displays of new releases, and teasing with promises of debauchery behind curtains in the back.
The movie is When Harry Met Sally. My dad, younger then than my husband is now, sunken into the depths of the couch, his leg keeping up the constant bounce it always had. I am next to him. I always am. My mom is on the other side, and my brother wanders in and out, drawn in by the contagion of our laughter, but he’s in eleventh grade. That seems to be all we need to know. My sister is OUT.
The orgasm scene. My dad shifts uncomfortably. He talks loudly over sexual references, so many in When Harry Met Sally. We focus instead on the parts like, “Waiter, there is too much pepper in my paprikash.” He sends me to the kitchen to retrieve popcorn when Harry finally shows up at Sally’s apartment and their kiss fades to sepia nudity. By the time I get back, the scene has been seen. His leg resumes its nervous bounce. We move on. We hit New Year’s Eve when Harry runs through the New York winter to arrive at Sally, and tell her he loves her imperfections. “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Ninth grade. When Harry Met Sally is in a box by the television in a room upstairs. It’s the room above the garage. The ceilings are too low to stand, but it’s a room, and it for us. Liz’s parents keep out and we spend the year watching movies: When Harry Met Sally, Aladdin, Clue, The Princess Bride. I am in love with my best friend’s brother.
He’s older than me by two years, and older than that in his mind. He wears argyle socks and loafers to school and has the first car phone I’ve ever seen. He has thick black hair and a dark complexion, what he calls “olive oil skin and guinea charm.” He and Liz quote movies as their primary form of communication. It’s a private language learned only by putting in the necessary hours in learning the lines to the right films. He works in a video store where he wears a suit, every day.
My house is spotless, but feels messy. My dad moved out again, after another loud fight that can’t be drowned out by Mariah Carey on my CD player. They smile when I walk into Liz’s house. There’s a chair for me now, always, at dinner. Her floor becomes my second bedroom. I learn their language.
“What I’m saying is - and this is not a come-on in anyway, shape, or form - is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
We discuss that all the time. It feels heady to be talking about sex since none of us are having any, but this is my way in with John. He takes Harry’s part, and always, I am Sally. “That’s not true,” I tell him. “I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”
It feels sophisticated to say that. Sophisticated to imagine that I have friends that could be considered men.
“No you don’t,” he says.
It’s tenth grade. He kisses my friend Darcy at a sweet sixteen party. I sulk in his sister’s bedroom. I await his apology. It doesn’t come.
Twelfth grade. Prom season. I make myself available. I drop notes on his bed. I tell him, “I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich.”
He kisses my friend Amy in the next room.
I hate Amy.
“Is someone supposed to be a dog in this scenario?” he asks me.
“You are the dog,” I tell him as Liz and I head off to college. Liz and I are roommates in a fancy pants private college in Connecticut. I lay out the money for our dorm room rug, she brings the VCR and our movie. We go to class, meet people, but we mourn the girls we were and try to become adults in ugly fits and starts. We make a number of men friends and there is no sex involved. The tiny fissures of resentment that have been building since eighth grade take hold. We fight. She tells me her brother thinks I’m annoying. My When Harry Met Sally poster rips when I take it from the wall. It doesn’t come with me when I leave school, Liz, and her brother behind.
It is 1996. Rachel swishes into the bank where I work with a wink and a grin. She adopts me into her humungous family. Her brothers and sisters become mine. Her bedroom floor my other home. Her brothers are all sweet. I kiss one, once.
Rachel accents her conversation with casual movie references. She sets me up with her friend. “All I'm saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don't get him first, somebody else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband,” she tells me.
The set-up doesn’t take.
It is 1998. We have a new Year’s Eve party to welcome in 1999. It’s a Breakfast at Tiffany’s party, which gives us an excuse to wear feather boas and fine jewelry. We call the men “Dahling,” and imagine ourselves to be Audrey Hepburn.
Marc walks in. He’s wearing a suit. He doesn’t say, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and the thing is, I love you.” But he kisses me. Did I mention the suit?
It is 2012. Nora Ephron has passed.
Thank you for everything.