young gh

Then…..and Now.

1. For a couple of years in primary school we were best friends, a tight foursome. Lucy had thick auburn hair, piercing green eyes and giggled a lot. Holly was cute and blonde and had two appealingly protective older brothers. Jasmine had crater-like dimples and played the violin. Despite being vastly more popular than me, we had some things in common.

Her parents were hippies, divorced like mine, and spent weekends down south at a place called Illusion Farm. If anyone could relate to the appetisers of chopped raw garlic my mum routinely served up (she called them ‘garlic tablets’), it was Jasmine. She had an older sister the same age as my older sister, and spent half the week with each parent. I was envious of the elaborate pita wraps her father made her for school lunches.

2. On school dress-up days I always went as a gypsy. I had pale skin, black hair, dark circles under my eyes and a fondness for fringed scarves. My friends said I looked like a witch. I was half-flattered and half-annoyed, though wasn’t above pretending I was 100% aggrieved when it suited me. Witches were interesting, at least. Who could forget Anjelica Huston ordering her minions to remove their wigs, before peeling off her mask to reveal a face that made Freddy Krueger look attractive. Forget The Grifters, everyone knows the Grand High Witch was her best role.

3. One day Jasmine and I set out to unmask Mrs Tyrrell. Unwig her, actually. There was a ball involved, and some optimistic assumptions. But it turns out balls, when thrown at heads, rarely whisk off hairpieces. Instead of finding a hideous scaly scalp, we found ourselves spending an afternoon in the principal’s office.

4. Now, with an arts degree under my belt, I know that witches are a manifestation of the historical unease regarding unmarried women. Their cultural presence owes more to a traditional queasiness about these women’s sexuality than any black magic. Back then, I had the feeling of being marked out. But it wasn’t forever. After all, I could be whatever I wanted to be. ‘The world is your oyster,’ as my mum said. She often intoned this while chopping organic vegies. We always ate well, but late. 10pm was about average.

5. At sleepovers we watched The Witches to stay awake, and Now and Then when we wanted to dream. It was a movie about four friends and the summer that changed their lives. Teeny, Krissy, Roberta and Samantha rode bikes with handlebar streamers while having picturesque adventures in a sepia-toned version of small-town America. Later I came to understand that this world only existed in the minds of baby boomers and the songs of John Mellencamp. Back then its sharply defined characters offered us a shortcut through the long and difficult process of acquiring an identity. Roberta was the rebellious tomboy who taped her breasts. Teeny was the precocious girly-girl, Krissy the sheltered innocent, and Samantha the weird one who was into séances. We tried séances too. The only person who contacted us was Lucy’s recently departed grandmother, until Jasmine admitted to moving the letters.

6. We longed for something significant to happen – a summer that would change our lives – but in Hobart, most summers were pretty much the same. The next best thing was acting out the climactic moment of Now and Then. After all, if we couldn’t generate our own important moments, we could borrow them from the movies. Immediately the jockeying began. There was a brief tussle for the role of Teeny, the alpha female played by Thora Birch. In the end Lucy won out over Jasmine, a brunette. Holly cheerfully became Krissy, who was played by Ashleigh Aston Moore. (Asked if she’s ever been French-kissed, she replies ‘Are you kidding? I don’t want to get pregnant!’). Krissy was chubby and prudish, but she was indisputably part of the group. With Samantha, there was always a question. Her outsider status was cemented by the antics of her recently divorced mother. Even the name of the actress who played her in real life – Gaby Hoffmann – was disagreeable, suggesting aloofness and braces.

7. It was three against one. Jasmine, they said, was the right person to play spunky Roberta. ‘Why do I have to be Samantha?’ I protested. ‘She’s weird.’ She was also the least pretty, but I didn’t mention that. ‘I’m part Italian,’ I argued. ‘I should be Roberta!’ (Roberta was played by Christina Ricci). It was no use. I had to be Samantha. Not for the last time I blamed my mother. She drove an attention-seeking red FJ Holden and didn’t shave her underarms.

8. In the movie they have an attic, cross-hatched with sunbeams. We made do with Lucy’s bedroom. Everything else, though, had to be perfect. It was a crucial scene. ‘Let’s say we make a pact,’ suggests a tearful Krissy. ‘When we need a friend, we’re here for each other. Whatever happens in life.’ Holly was given a few moments to practise the lines. There were no cameras, just Lucy’s brother watching from the hall. Then it was time for action. ‘Lucy!’ I shrieked. ‘You’re doing it out of order!’ I bossily directed proceedings, just like Samantha would. ‘You’re supposed to put your hand in after me, and that’s when we say we’ll always be there for each other.’ Nearly twenty years on, I’ve often imagined what would happen if I called on them to honour the pact. Probably they don’t even remember it. We didn’t stay in touch. Or, I didn’t stay in touch with them. Life imitates art, apparently, or it would if Now and Then was a better film. Maybe it wasn’t being Samantha that was the problem. Thinking back, maybe what I was really scared of was turning into Demi Moore.

9. Twenty years after the summer that changed their lives, the four friends reconvene for the impending birth of Krissy’s daughter. We learn Krissy has morphed into Rita Wilson and married the school nerd. Roberta has turned into Rosie O’Donnell, a straight-talking nurse. Teeny is a breast-enhanced film star played by Melanie Griffith, and Samantha became Demi Moore. She is a writer, and also a Troubled Woman. This is expressed simply, in terms everyone can understand. Grown-up Samantha is single, childless, wears black and is prone to answering questions like ‘are you happy?’ with a long, significant pause. She smokes, presumably to cope with her writing-induced neurosis and unconfirmed happiness status. I eat Doritos to cope with mine, therefore I am not thin like Demi Moore, but all the rest applies. Sometimes I wonder if my life would be different if I had insisted on being Teeny, or campaigned just a little bit harder for the role of Roberta.

10. Complaining that movies aren’t realistic is like railing against Santa Claus for only showing up one night a year. At the time, Now and Then seemed unfeasibly neat. Destiny was all-important, but the characters’ ability to shape it ended at the onset of puberty. As adults, they were simply bigger versions of who they were at twelve. Not extended versions, just older. Family was fate, and early experience wasn’t just form, it was function as well. I still had my dreams, though, and wasn’t about to give up so easily on being Teeny. It’s comforting to think we can change things. Whole industries depend on it.

11. Ashleigh Aston Moore died of a drug overdose in 2007, but Holly is still very much alive. Like the adult Krissy, she is so far the only one of us to have married, and again like Krissy, has remained in her home-town. Jasmine has a baby and studies Buddhism, which is what her parents were practising all those years ago at Illusion Farm. Lucy isn’t a film star, but she does have impressive hair. Thora Birch, far from being a frothy blonde pin-up, has fallen off the Hollywood radar. In a recent ‘where-are-they-now’ type article, she claimed the industry blacklisted her because of her reluctance to ‘wear the frilly bows’. But the child star, like the weird one or the popular girl, has their own specific trajectory. Curious, I google Gaby Hoffmann. She quit acting to study literature before returning to indie films, and most recently made news for eating her placenta. She doesn’t shave her underarms. Even though I don’t particularly believe in fate or predeterminism, I can’t help thinking: yeah, that was always going to happen.