We met at Stewart's, that bastion of upstate New York gasoline, dairy products, and convenience store fare, in response to a message that had popped up on my phone 20 minutes earlier. One of my best childhood friends and her husband had flown in from the farthest reaches of the country to visit her family. She happened to have a little time to spare after dinner that evening. So, without a care for whatever I was wearing, I dropped what I was doing and hopped in the car. Sitting at a sticky metal picnic table in a dark parking lot alongside a busy road, we caught up over melting ice cream cones, using the shorthand of shared history, before parting ways for what will likely be another couple of years.
As I drove home, I began thinking about the current "girl squad" trend and how it's really just a new, giggly-sounding name for a friendship construct that most women know well. In olden days, and even now in small towns, a group of girls around the same age might meet as children and stick together through the years, celebrating a lifetime of rites of passage alongside one another. School tests. First loves. Graduations. Break-ups. Jobs. Engagements. Marriages. Career progress. Children and their milestones. Illnesses. Passings.
Today, thanks to our more mobile society and less-assured progress through the moments that make up a life, women might have any number of "girl squads," often a couple at any one time. Our school friends give way to our college friends. We gather up new confidantes from job to job, move to move. Those who are single slip into fresh groups while married friends bond over their shifted identities. Women with children or grandchildren find common ground. And so do those who've lost their loves through death, divorce, or disillusionment.
Over time, these groups break apart, reform, strengthen, weaken. Altogether, they leave us with threads and strands of connection that might go back months or weave through decades. Our own legacy of lives shared, if only for a time. Our own strange collection of make-up choices and cancer scares, unexpected funerals and long-awaited births. Last-minute emergency room visits and babysitting calls. Well-planned travels and concerts. Shared remembrances of job stresses talked out over omelettes or coffee. You go girl support for (or oh, no, girl advice about) charming men who might have been crushes but could be loves.
No matter where we go, we carry those threads with us, as much as we do our current friendships. When I sit down to a monthly-if-we-can-make-it-happen dinner with one of my current squads, all joined by past career experience, my threads are all sewn into my fabric just as certainly as if all my friends were there at the table. It can be a melancholy feeling and at the same time, a reassuring one.
Ultimately, I think this "squad" thing comes down to relishing the moments of connection when they happen and then just as easily letting them thin and stretch as life goes on. We can still savor the opportunities to tie knots in the threads here and there when they cross.
Of course, that could be my 10 major lifetime moves (about 22 total), or five schools, or three colleges and a grad school, or four-and-counting jobs talking. It could also be the near-decade when my closest friends were all men and all musicians. That squad, you see, works exactly the same way.