The Pie Was a Final Draft: Holding Up the Mirror

By Michaella Thornton

At the end of May, I traveled to Hermann, Missouri to hang out with three of my closest girlfriends, women I’ve known since I was a teenager. Somehow I’ve kept these friends for almost 30 years. One of us lives near Portland, Maine. The rest of us reside in or near Kansas City or St. Louis. Two of us were born in Missouri. The other two were born in Wisconsin or Texas.

If you can imagine a Midwestern version of Wine Country, the 2019 film that followed lifelong friends who take an off-kilter trip to Napa Valley, then my annual friend trip is somewhat like that ⸺ characters who know each others’ strengths and flaws and lives almost as well as we know our own, if not better. Hermann is an idyllic, some say haunted, little town the Germans settled because the rolling green hills reminded the Europeans of the lush Rhineland. In many ways, our get-together is something I imagine Christopher Guest would have a great time making a mock-umentary out of: middle-aged mothers letting loose without children or partners or fucks to give.

Spending time with friends who have witnessed our collective growth and evolution is one of the greatest gifts a writer (and human being) can have. We know when we’ve sometimes been unreliable narrators in our lives. We know when we’ve messed up and somehow survived, or faltered and then healed and grew stronger, wilder, and more resilient.

We have seen each other in all manner of compromising situations, to throwing a constricting bridesmaid bra out of my grandparents’ borrowed conversion van in Fredricksburg, Virginia to traveling to London together at age 19 to seeing one another through marriage, divorce, heartbreak, hedonistic joy, birth, and the death of parents, grandparents, and loved ones. And yes, one of us on this trip, I won’t say who, spent most of Saturday watching Hacks high.

Throughout our lives, we love each other all the same, probably more so, if I’m being honest.

The greatest loves in my life are, without hesitation, my daughter and my friends. I’ve been in romantic love, too, and while I still believe in and hope to experience that type of love again in my lifetime, the love that has sustained me, anchored me in my life, is the love I hold for and receive from my friends.

As writer and Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg reminds us, “This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait.”

My friends are also the ones who chant “don’t wait.” They have listened to my weird stories long before I ever called myself a writer. They knew me before I entered journalism school, before I won fellowships or awards for my writing, before I told them stories that made them double up in laughter, cry, and/or almost piss their pants. They’ve read more shitty first drafts than is humanly possible, encouraging me, egging me on when my ideas were not yet fully formed.

Friends, like good readers, are irreplaceable. They hold up the proverbial mirror James Baldwin discussed in his gorgeous 20,000-word essay, “Nothing Personal”:

“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love — whether we call it friendship or family or romance — is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light.”

This reflection is also the responsibility of artists. To mirror and magnify not just our collective light but also our darkness, our loss, our raw, deeply felt desires and needs and vices and hopes. To shed a light on what makes us all so very human and deserving of love (yes, love).

So, when I write, I often imagine women like my friends as the readers. I imagine the soft, comfortable darkness of the four of us gathered in the three-season room with the door open and fresh air rolling through the screen door as it rains and rains and rains. I imagine my friends going on their morning walks by the Missouri River and listening to the dialogue between characters I’m struggling to breathe authenticity and humor into. I imagine them ferrying their respective loved ones to and fro and stealing pages of another world in between tasks and duties and non-stop I-want, I-need, can-you-do?, will-you-do? chants. I imagine these tough, hilarious, beautiful souls spending a moment in a world I’ve built or a place I once knew but can no longer return to except for in words and scenes in my own personal haunting.

I imagine my friends staying with me here, in this invented place, not because they have to but because they want to, and isn’t that, after all, what love really is? 

Read more of Kella’s work at Reckon here.

Michaella Thornton
Michaella Thornton

Michaella Thornton learned how to bake at the hips of her mother and her grandmother Anna Lee. A lifetime ago, she baked professionally before realizing baker’s hours require early mornings. Kella’s prose has been featured in Brevity, Essay Daily, Fractured Lit, Hobart After Dark, Reckon Review, New South, Southeast Review, among others, and her writing has been nominated for a James Beard award and Best of the Net. Many moons ago, Kella received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her daughter.