Charlotte drawing July 2021 Echo .jpg

Illustration by Charlotte Dijkgraaf.

The bell of my front door rings. Such a commonplace thing, yet it excites me. It’s not the daily ring of the mailwoman, alerting me that she has left a package. No, I expect a real visitor. Someone invited who will actually enter my home, drink a cup of tea, while we talk about things we used to talk about. That is, if we can remember our once-familiar ritual.

Knowing my friend is waiting for me outside is a strange, new feeling. I will be happy to see her, but at the same time I have some trepidation. I have been away for so long. Not as if I were traveling with my backpack through Europe. More like the kind of away as if I were a mole digging a hole deep underground.

The bell rings again. Oh, no, let’s hurry! She may think I forgot, or even worse, that I am not happy to see her. I hasten to the front door and fling it open.

For a few seconds, I am speechless. Yes, it is my friend. But at the same time, I wonder, is this really her?

She looks very good, vibrant, but something about her is different. What is it? Her hair looks so pretty. Thick and healthy. Has she gone to a different salon maybe?

Later, when I pour her a second cup of tea, it suddenly hits me. My friend has gone grey!

“Oh, yeah,” she confirms. “I used the quarantine to let my dyed hair grow out. It looked awful for months, but, hey, no one saw me anyway.”

Now that we slowly but certainly are leaving our cocoons — bedroom-turned-office or kitchen-turned-classroom — we have to reconnect with our friends. Or is it reinvent our friendships? All of us have changed so much. Not only are we a year older and, I hope, wiser, but we also look different. Some of us are in better shape, many quite the opposite. Some might have more wrinkles, because they stopped using fillers and Botox. Others have gone underground to have some “work” done.

My neighbor who always looks finished and just-so-stylish doesn’t bother about her appearance anymore. Her acrylic nails, her micro-bladed eyebrows, her eyelash extensions — they are all gone.

“I do not feel any need for that anymore,” she tells me. “It was so much work to keep it all up, not to mention all the money I spent on it. And guess what? I like myself better this way.”

I wonder about myself. What do people think when they see me?

“For sure you love your black jogging pants,” my son recently commented. He was right. It was my go-to outfit this year.

The next day, I prepare to go to the first party since March, 2020. I look at my dresses. I didn’t wear any of them. And my shoes. Did I really wear those heels? How uncomfortable. Even my jewelry has been untouched. I dust of my favorite earrings and put them on. Getting in the party mood, I decide to add some makeup. It is still there, hidden in my drawer, all those jars and pencils and lipstick. Most of it has dried out. I put on some mascara.

“You look different,” my son says before I leave. “This is not you, mom. Somehow.”

I think he’s right, even more than he realizes.

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.