At these gatherings, we behaved, of course, like teenage girls, giggling and getting into things we shouldn't have. But whatever else we did, there was one ritual that had to be carried out, without which the sleepover didn't count at all: we had to make our own pizza.
Funnily, I have only vague memories of any other part of these slumber parties. Surely we must have talked about boys. I expect we watched TV or listened to the latest hits on the radio. What did we do while we were waiting for the pizza to bake? Again, I have no idea.
But the cooking, I remember in detail. It was our gathering ritual, as important as a church's processional hymn or a recovery meeting's review of the twelve steps. Susan's mom would buy a little pizza kit and graciously vacate the house, or at least hide herself somewhere. As soon as we'd dumped our sleeping bags in the TV room, we would tear open the kit and go to work.
The meaning of our shared cooking changed over the months. The first few times, we felt only the amateurish thrill of doing it ourselves. We would pore over the directions and try to make the movements of our hands, the measurements, and the spreading duplicate the words printed on the side of the box.
Scatter the cheese. What was scattering, exactly? Did you push it down, or leave it the way it fell? Was there some official way to deploy the sauce? Preheat, the box warned us: well, for how long?
As Ann and Susan and I gradually learned, cooking instructions are clearest to those who have already had the experience. The first time you try to get an onion "translucent," for example, you will not know what to look for. But after you have lived with onions in the pan, you know how they can crisp on the edges too quickly, how the larger pieces can look ready before they are, and how, yes, they do kind of relax in the heat so that they are no longer opaque. Then you understand what the line in the cookbook means.
At first we assumed that there was some external, scientific reality hidden behind the instructions, which we had to achieve. Later, we came to discover a more flexible, more narrative thing: making a meal happen. To that, the instructions were just signposts.
So our confidence grew. We would divide the labor and spread out the dough, shaking and scattering and topping our creations with abandon. Ann checked the temperature. Susan set the timer. Soon, our pizza came out of the oven and we divided it into pieces with a knife, since the kitchen lacked a rolling pizza cutter.
The slices never looked that pretty, and the pizza itself had often assumed some crazy shape. The crust usually came out too soft, a casualty of the necessarily low baking temperature. But much more important than these predictable glitches was the knowledge that we had made the pizza and along with it shaped our friendship and that now we were going to sit down and eat.
Of course, we could have had objectively better pizza by ordering in. But we didn't want objectively better pizza. We wanted the chance to cook together, rehearsing creation, rehearsing community, rehearsing our lives as women. Maybe I'm still rehearsing, because I never make a pizza without remembering it all.