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Friendship as Play

In college and beyond

Just before college graduation, we decided to bury the history of our shared senior year. The two of us and our other five housemates borrowed a neighbor’s shovel and held our secret ceremony in the darkness of a midsummer’s night, sealing into a giant Tupperware container once filled with grandma-baked cookies 200 pages documenting our friendship. We’d been searching for a way to mark the end of this era, and a ritual seemed called for. Recording the ceremony with a video camera one parent had presciently sent as a graduation gift, we interred our inadvertent time capsule.

Recording our relationships had been a signature group activity, begun in our very first hours as college seniors, when the seven of us were having a heated meeting with men who’d sublet our house, partied too much, and left the place a mess. One of us spontaneously took notes through the whole confrontation, and after the heat was off, the rest of us were thrilled to see that we had a full transcript of the session, complete with nauseating details of the pounds of spoiled liver they’d left in our freezer and editorial comments in colored marker. After the meeting, someone grabbed a strip of tape and posted the minutes, “for the record,” on the kitchen cabinets.

A historic moment, for those cabinet doors soon became the site of a running journal, the diary of events that held us together in that mercurial year. The two of us, occasionally aided and abetted by the others, began transcribing (in colored pens and trusty Crayolas) funny happenings, stories, quotes— literally, that day’s events—meeting in a bedroom late at night to decide what had happened that was worth retelling. Tara was the scribe, Rachel the public reader who’d call out the quotes to the others. The medium was part of the message: we wrote on whatever was handy—construction paper, newsprint, stray napkins, candy wrappers, which we posted like wallpaper in our kitchen, despite occasional moments of morning-after chagrin.

In no time, the cabinets were covered with brightly colored pages of dialogue, updates of current relationships, commentary on campus goings-on, and fragments of lecture notes from favorite professors. When we threw parties at our house, a guest might find a witty observation posted on our kitchen cabinet just minutes after she or he uttered it.

As for literary style: sometimes, to put some distance between us and any particularly outrageous behavior, we’d take notes in the passive mood. Statements such as “events took place,” “ex-boyfriends were visited with bottles of wine,” “overnight bags were packed,” seemed less incriminating when the agent of the action was obscured.

And sometimes writing and reading aloud our stories became as compelling as the primary experiences themselves. The two of us, who had been away junior year on the same campus in Israel, discovered that we shared a uniquely quirky take on house happenings. Many mornings we would catch one another creeping into the kitchen with coffee mugs in hand, laughing out loud, each reading the other’s rendition of something that had happened eight hours earlier. Who else would have recorded the mash note that an admirer attached to box of shmurah matzah??!! Would anyone else find our favorite stories even moderately amusing? Did it matter?

When every cabinet surface was covered with postings, we carefully removed some of the old ones, stashing them behind the water-packed tuna, low-cal fake mayonnaise and rice cakes, our grocery staples.

With the scary milestone of graduation nearing, we two decided that the written record was too precious to be discarded with our old sneakers and curtain rods. Who would be the keeper of this collective journal? Should we act on one housemate’s suggestion to burn the evidence? We decided to make copies for each woman, and we gave the others a two-hour window to compose their final salvoes.

We hadn’t planned for one last pre-graduation hurdle: finding a copy center that could turn the job around in 24 hours while printing last-minute senior theses. When we walked in with our sheaves of scrap paper we were derided, stared down with revulsion, asked to leave the premises. Fortunately, we’d brought along the video camera to record our travail. Finally we found a store willing to copy and then bind (with spiral spines) seven copies of those 200 pages.

The absurdity of that adventure has become part of our personal history. To our housemates, Tara said, “I’m going to tell you this entire story in just three sentences. Some of them will be run-ons.” So that comment (uttered after the originals had already gone to the copy center, of course) had to be incorporated into what we suspected would be the next generation of “Week-in-Review.”

Meanwhile, hilarity aside, we were left with the painful decision of what would become of the originals, some stained with spatters from failed cooking experiments and fabulous group dinners, others showing scars of having been ripped down in haste as new dates were ringing the doorbell. Once we admitted that the log of our year together was precious, the Tupperware burial casket was called into service.

Recently, while we were both living in New York City (in separate apartments) we realized that each of us had kept her copy of the Week in Review close by, even through the multiple moves that characterized our first years after college. (The others, we suspected, weren’t as attached to that memoir as we were, perhaps because we’d been the ones to pass judgement on what comments of theirs were witty enough to be included.) The habit of recording what amused us both had become fully ingrained in our relationship (fully turns out to be a recurring word in these documents). We’d even take notes in the middle of a cab ride or jam-packed subway car. One weekend morning over brunch, after a particularly animated discussion about a man we’d just met at a party in Alphabet City, pens and paper flew out of our bags as we hastened to capture some of the story itself, coupled with pieces of our own dialogue. After laughing at our inability to break an old (but beloved) habit, we decided to revive the Week-in-Review officially.

Our current version is an enormous binder. There are still personal quotes on napkin fragments, but now we’ve added Internet Instant Messages, a raggedly torn-out Maureen Dowd column on cosmetic surgery, New Yorker cartoons, and news clippings that enraged or delighted one (and usually both) of us.

One evening, meeting for dinner in Union Square, our practice was almost found out. The binder was open on the table between us. Writing down our New Year’s resolutions for Rosh Hashanah, we were surprised by a college acquaintance standing over us, saying hello and peering quizzically down on a tome as thick as a Ph.D. dissertation. The speed with which we raced to obscure his vision was nearly Olympic; we needed to distract him from observing what was clearly, to us, a clandestine activity. The Week-in-Review had become not only a record of our journeys (real and metaphorical) and a kind of grown-up fun, but also a private, shared talisman. It’s different from those public postings on the kitchen wall; knowing that our only audience is the other lets us create the long-playing document of our still-evolving friendship.

Tara Fisher is an attorney in New York City; Rachel M. Schneider is a social worker in Toronto.