A Memory from Winter Break

cracked earth photo

Memory and mood, the sun’s shut-eye, a heavy overcast. I’m sitting in a cubicle at the library, staring at the wood. I feel the need to write.

Having lunch with J. today. It started raining around 11 A.M., after my shower—I was yanked from sleep by the sounds of morning bustle, K. killing time by tapping a few measures of a familiar piece on the piano while the kitchen fan droned on and on forever, I remember bits of my parents’ conversation, of the usual sort: Where are you going? When are you coming back?, something along those lines…

I see an expansive Pebble Beach umbrella with a coffee-lid-sized insignia of a tree silhouette, captioned with the year “1919.” The elderly ladies sitting under it stand up and graze the tops of their heads against the fabric—they gasp, pat their obsessively made coiffures, chuckle. Oops.

Got lunch with J. at LC. There’s a bar now—he pointed that out. How things change. He’s just as tall, voice less coarse and more mellifluous, still deep and monotonous. I like J., but he’s inscrutable. Were those conversational lilts, the silences during which it was his turn to initiate, even just to bounce back my own questions—were those organic? Did he pick up on them? Have things changed? Of course they have. It’s been…what, the last time I saw him in person was at R.’s house during spring break of my freshman year, after he’d gotten into college and was all set, basically. He was still so keen, then, bright-eyed and innocent; he asked me and R. for advice and nodded at our warnings and reassurances with the heedful enthusiasm you feel on receiving wisdom from someone you respect. And then now, still grave and pale, with that quaint eclectic style (the fedora with…what, I can’t recall: a slim hoodie? jeans? chinos?). Was the respect still there today, as we munched on the Mexican food he’d been so craving, the reason we were at LC? “There’s no good Mexican food in B—,” he said. “There’s this taqueria on campus, ‘Anna’s’—with two ‘n’s,’ so you already know it’s bad.” Later, when we dropped into LB to see Mr. L., J. said that we had just eaten at LC, and Mr. L. said the same thing, “Yeah, ‘cause there’s no good Mexican food in B—,” with that knowing, affectionately sardonic smirk.

“They appointed me secretary,” J. said, chewing thoughtfully. “Congrats,” I said. He nodded in thanks, looking seriously down at his Super Burrito. “It’s quite an important position,” he said, “because you have to please lots of different people. The school, which can revoke your power at any time, the fraternity members, the…” I no longer remember what he said. It hardly matters anymore.

It’d stopped raining by the time we left LC. It was a quiet kind of day. Quiet conversation. No awkwardness or rush to his being. “Should we go?” I said, perhaps too hastily putting down my napkin (among so many crumpled ones—what, seven perhaps, for only a quesadilla) and gulping down the remaining water in my cup. The lemon flavor was prominent. He’d checked the time on his phone. “It’s 12:27,” he said. “No rush. Take your time.” I was done, and so was he, but still we chatted leisurely. He was so chill. (“Chilled out,” the British-English version of the slang, more aptly applies, in my opinion, to situations where the chillness is a moment rather than a characteristic.) “Should we bus these, or…” I remembered, from eating here long ago, that it was O.K. to leave without busing, but for some reason I pretended not to remember. He put on his fedora and we left.

“It was good seeing you,” J. said quietly, when we’d reached the street corner at which he’d turn left to go home and I’d turn right to go to the library. “Yeah,” I said, somewhere else. We nodded and shook hands, exchanged some last words, went our own ways.


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