When my college friends and I moved into our first off-campus house, we had no idea what was in store for us then - or for the years ahead. We had gone from our dorm rooms with roommates and RAs and dining halls to a house that was all ours. Anyone who has lived with five women in one house knows it’s an all-consuming and very wild ride. The friendships built, the memories (and messes) made, the bad meals, the high-drama breakups, the parties, all of it was part and parcel of our time together. Time flew. Then suddenly it was two years, and then came the time to move out and move on, and what an awful wrench that was.
Now, years later, we each have our own homes, some on the same continent but others further afield. We’ve had weddings, christenings, and birthdays throughout the years and we keep in touch as much as five busy women can.
Our group chat has been a lifeline.
It started as a way for us to communicate in our busy college lives.
“We’re out of milk!!”
“I’m on the way home and coming to the rescue! I’ll stop at Trader Joe’s. Almond?”
That group chat was the one-stop-shop for hot gossip, for “who stole my foundation brush??” interrogations, for post-exam meltdowns and daily updates on our latest crushes..
After we moved on to our grown-up lives, the chat that was a vessel for all that time spent together, continued...
The group chat, that will forever stand as a reminder of a particular home and time became the place where we caught up on one another’s lives and reminisced.
“Beth just knocked over an entire bag of flour in the kitchen and it reminded me of the Thanksgiving disaster!!”
“Oh my god, we were cleaning pumpkin purée out of the kitchen drawers for weeks!”
Every time an interaction like this happens, the kids always note mom’s sly smile. I think about the future that lies ahead of them, and hope that they, too, get to experience all that we did …. Oh, how I still miss that house on the hill, kept afloat by cheap wine and lots of laughs.
In many ways, our group chat lives on for each of us as another shared living room where we still all gather together, hang out and share our lives.
Often I’d catch myself scrolling through, giggling out loud, and keeping screenshots of the gems. When the pandemic happened, more than ever our group chat mattered. It calmed fears, kept us connected and sane in ways we could never have imagined. Our long-overdue reunion came and went, uncelebrated as did so much else. But as the holidays approached, I realized more than anything I wanted to give each of my girls a gift, one that encapsulated our extraordinary bond.
We often joke that aside from careers and kids, another major part of our growing up and growing together was that weirdly enough, each one of us had developed an all-consuming, somewhat obsessive love for interior design. While none of us had had the faintest shred of design finesse back in the day, we’ve since each developed quite a bit of flair and style. So that’s where I started - thinking about a gift that would be a very personal reflection of this shared interest. I considered making a book of photos of our group’s design achievements, to display on each of our coffee tables as evidence of our evolution, and I would title it “A Penchant for Living with Style ''.
However, the photobook that I initially thought to make just didn’t quite seem special enough, nor capture the essence of us.
I realized that as much as looking at a group of photos would be good, for the book to be a real treasure, there needed to be some deeper layer of meaning and context. Suddenly it dawned on me that since our group chat was such an essential part of our friendship, more than just photos, that chat also deserved it’s place of honor. and that’s what could provide a unique framework for this project.
Thankfully I discovered Keepster as a way to save all the messages on my phone onto my computer, and from there look back through the years and years of our group chat, the photos and texts, and zero in on particular episodes by filtering for dates or particular words.
To start I went back through the beginnings of our chat. I picked out some stand-out snaps from the legendary party house, then from there added in a whole bunch more memory-lane gems. Then, I went on to the photos that we’d shared of all our subsequent decorating triumphs (and failures), together with the ‘WOWWWW'’’s and occasional rolling eyeball emojis.
What struck me most was how much richer the memories became when the photos I included were accompanied by our words.
Using Keepster meant I had all the visuals of a photobook plus the messages that went alongside them. Sweet Lucy who shyly smiled in each group snap, was the most risqué person in our texts. Getting Amelia to crack a smile in a picture was no easy feat, which would surprise anyone who read her hilarious first-date play-by-plays. Jen and I were rarely in a photo together, but one read of our texts would tell you just how close we really were, and still are. And Clara, well if you just looked at a photobook, you’d never even know she existed. With all her extracurriculars and clubs she’d be long gone by the time someone pulled out a phone to grab a photo. But our group chat was the one place she kept us fully updated on her life, filling us in on the Drama Club scandals, and then the long hard climb to becoming a CEO, not to mention all the gorgeous Italian furniture she picked (pre-pandemic) for her jaw-dropping c-suite.
The book covers the vastly different chapters of our lives and brings back to life who each one of us was way back then, now, and in between. It captures what we were and are to each other, from the wild days till now, in a way that just photos could never have done. I decided to be selective and picked both major moments as well as small seemingly nothing little ones, but even in those I often heard all over again the pitch and tone of one of our voices, our shrieks and guffaws.
As for what it took to establish our careers, and then for some of us, motherhood - the biggest challenge of all, I have no idea how I would have done it without the girls at my back, propping me up with understanding, advice and snippets of gossip for much-needed distraction. And I know I’m not alone.
As for our decorating obsession, that’s in there too. The mid-century modern treasures that Amelia has regularly tormented us with, since she relocated to Palm Springs. Thanks to Lucy’s Moroccan adventures, there is quite a bit of exotica in there too, from all those drop-dead gorgeous antique rugs, plus all the juicy details of her on again off again romance with the French artist she met in Tangier. Many more eyeball rolling emojis included.
From the idea for a photobook, something larger emerged: a document and compendium of our friendship instilled with the craziness, the fun, laughs, even those moments of panic or despair that ultimately served to make the memories more visceral and tighten our bonds.
When the books arrived I was completely gobsmacked. They were as beautiful as they were resonant, jaw-dropping and tear-worthy all at the same time. I made the decision that instead of mailing them out for the holidays these books simply had to be given in person - and that in the interim a gift of my latest favorite decorating book would have to suffice.
It’s been really hard to stick to my decision to wait for them to give everyone their book. Plus, the app and printing service made my mission easy. I scrolled through our group chat, choosing the highlights to include in a one-of-a-kind book. I chose my font, cover design, and images - making sure to keep the most embarrassing ones in! I added a dedication at the beginning, to the four women who had made that house my favorite place, and my life so rich in countless ways. I had the books delivered to my house, and of course, got one of my own. The process was simple and clear-cut, and surprisingly quick - who knew encapsulating so many years could be done in moments? The customer service was another speedy facet, when I had some questions about delivery dates amidst the pandemic, the team got back to me with an answer right away.
It has not been an easy wait but as our lives are getting busy again, especially as we return to offices and bars and meetings I am getting super excited at the prospect of seeing their expressions when they realize what my gift to each one of them is. The chats about possible destinations for our in-person reunion are already in full swing, assuming that by the time the weather grows warmer things will be in a much better place.
In the meantime when I can grab a moment, I reach for my copy and travel back to that easier time, where our biggest problems were midterms and cleaning up after the latest party. And then I am reminded of what a life-defining blessing our bond is, and of the prospect of the gift that awaits each member of our magical queendom, and momentarily my impatience becomes calmed.
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