“Time was, when we wrote love letters in the sand, and lingered over the record stand, dreaming the time away…”
So we sang often, in more voices than the Lettermen, when we were young and innocent and high on life.
Time was, when a group of us guys and girls spent as much time as we could with one another, sharing corny jokes and laughter, burning phone lines, and singing our lungs out in perfect harmony. We hung out in each other’s homes, got to know each other’s families, and drove or took the bus to Baguio and La Union on a whim.
It started in Baguio where we went to perform in a folk concert, and the guys were on holiday after college graduation. What followed was two years of what felt like an endless summer, even when we went back to school and the guys took on their first jobs in the bigger world.
Oh, several pairs went steady, one pair got married, and we did have crushes on one or the other. But what was more important even then was the friendships we built.
When we met, my life changed. I suspect, so did everyone else’s. This was a time when guys and girls went to separate schools and the mystique of the opposite sex hung over relationships. Many of us grew up thinking it was impossible to be friends with a boy without the boy-girl tensions coming up. It wasn’t called sexual tension then. We didn’t even know the term existed, much less what it meant.
As Simon and Garfunkel wrote, it was, “a time of innocence, a time of confidences.”
We became fast friends, an instant family. They quickly elevated us to “Cho,” which was what they called one another, bringing us into their circle of trust and solidarity. My convent-school upbringing wouldn’t have allowed that if they hadn’t been so safe and warm and comfortable to be with. So instead of feeling slighted, I felt liberated.
On lazy afternoons, they shared with us stories about their foibles and misadventures with other girls, those they dated and had crushes on. Their openness was refreshing.
We, too, felt free to share our stories, which at the time was not something that came naturally when one was dealing with the opposite sex. But we were “Cho” to each other, and friendship was the great leveler.
However, when we heard them talk about their unreachable crushes, the girls they adored and would give an arm and a leg just to get close to, we had to bite our tongues. What about us, who were so comfortable to be with, so appreciative of their jokes and so sensitive to their issues, and already half in love with them? But they were absolutely clueless.
The joy of our friendship seemed endless. Then life happened.
In the present
“They say that all good things must end someday, autumn leaves must fall…”
We graduated from college, took on jobs, some went abroad to study, and we met and married partners, most of whom were not part of the group.
We had our careers, interests, new friends, children. We all had so much in our hands—making money, building careers, trying to make our relationships work—that we barely had time to think back to those crazy salad days when we went on long drives to Baguio where we sipped brandy-laced coffee and harmonized around a fireplace until morning, and then to La Union where we were either on the beach admiring the sunset, building a bonfire and singing to our hearts’ content, waiting for the sunrise, or in a darkroom learning how to print photographs.
We were now in the present with all its responsibilities and aggravations. This was real life. That two-year endless summer was part of an innocent past that was gone forever.
But occasionally, the lines of a song by Chad and Jeremy would nudge my soul and bring me back to a sweet place in the distant past, “Sweet sleepy warmth of summer nights, gazing at the distant lights in the starry skies…”
We heard occasional stories about one or the other having a bad marriage, to which I responded dismissively: “If he had just paid me attention then, he wouldn’t be in this situation today.” Another was playing around, one passed away, one got widowed.
Life wasn’t kind to most of us, but that was part of the choices we made.
Then one day there was a phone call. One of the guys wanted to be in touch. He was alone again and was seeking old friends. Let’s get together and sing our old songs, was the come-on. One singing party led to another, and the group came together, one wounded member at a time.
We shared our war stories and wept on each other’s shoulders. And we sang our folk songs and the pop songs of our youth. Although we tended to forget some words, we found that we still blended perfectly together, like we did in a time long past.
In a way, we all came home to that safe place where we were happiest, most comfortable and most accepted. At first, we couldn’t get enough of one other, getting together furiously and often, but now that we are more secure in each other’s hearts, we need to see each other maybe just once or twice a year.
Now retired, most have found joy in new partners, new careers and interests. But when anyone of us is in need, we come together to help. And when a call comes for a party, we drop everything and come over, with a dish for the potluck, and guitars and songbooks in hand.
And everything is just “like the first time, only better,” as Peter, Paul and Mary sang in their “Reunion” album.
At our age and after everything we’ve been through individually, there are no more tensions, secret crushes, insecurities and private demons that once prevented us from expressing our affection for one another.
There is only deep, unabashed, loving friendship. As the song goes, “we’re a song that must be sung together.”
Like the first time
After all is said and done we need each other
For a million reasons we can’t even name
All our roads still lead to one another
And for all we’ve been apart we’re still the same.
Like the first time, only better,
We’re a song that must be sung together!
Like the first time, only this time
Could it be forever?
Wondering if we’re lost in an illusion
Are we starting now, did we never end?
Our different dreams have reached the same conclusion