A Map in My Heart

by J.D. Roth

I had dinner tonight with two of my favorite people.

Kris had been invited by the Willamette University Chemistry Club to participate in a panel discussion about careers in chemistry. I drove her to Salem and then joined my friends at The Great Wall, a Chinese buffet.

I love Asian food. If I could, I would eat Asian food for every meal: three meals a day, 365 days a year. I love it. A Chinese buffet is a dangerous place for me, especially when I’m on a diet. Earlier in the day, I had the following exchange with one of my friends:

F: We are big fans of Asian food too. It’s probably worth a trip to the Great Wall if you have never been. Their food isn’t the best Asian food we’ve ever had, but the spread is quite impressive.

J: Sounds excellent. I’ve had 500 calories today, so will have 1500 to spare for Chinese food!

F: You’ll need about 15,000! It is a very large buffet.

I should have heeded the warning. The Great Wall does, indeed, have quite and impressive spread. Row after row of steaming treats: General Tso chicken (of course), grilled salmon, bacon-wrapped crab, BBQ spareribs, black pepper chicken (my favorite), sweet and sour pork, spicy steak, fresh fruit, sushi, and that traditional Chinese dessert, tapioca pudding.

I didn’t eat 15,000 calories, but I certainly had more than 1500.

It felt great to spend time alone with these friends. I mostly see them in group situations now, and I miss the time we used to spend together, the four of us. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. For two years, Kris and I had been quite close to with them. Over dinner, we talked about our house and their house. We talked about pets. We talked about vacation plans. But we also talked about stuff closer to my heart.

We discussed how cultivating friendships is a lot like dating, but even more complicated in the case of couples. For one thing, all four people must get along well in order for the group to have a chance. In order for the group to thrive, every person must really like every other person. If the group can have fun together, can talk and laugh and play, then the friendship has a chance at real growth. We talked about how the addition of children adds another dynamic to the group, often makes a couple more inwardly focused. Our former intense friendship was never explicitly mentioned, but it felt like an implicit subtext to me, adding depth to the discussion.

It was a good meal. I’m glad we were able to get together.

“…every man has a map in his heart of his own country and … the heart will never allow [him] to forget this map.” — Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

After dinner, I returned to Willamette. I walked around a little, revisiting old familiar places on campus: the library, the botanical garden, the quad. As I entered the University Center, I stopped to inahled the old, familiar smell, and was swept away by a flood of nostalgia: a hundred different memories washed over me at once. Inside was worse. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of remembered faces, names, events.

Upstairs, in the Cat Cavern, I found a table against the back wall and waited for Kris to finish talking with students. I took out a piece of paper and began to write. But then I was no longer drowning in memories; I was living them.

In the back of the room, pen and paper in hand, writing, I might have been composing a paper for class. No — I am composing a paper for class. In a few minutes I will make my way to Eaton Hall for a study session with Heather James. I will spend an hour reviewing for the Psych final. Heather will just not get it, so I will play the role of the professor. She will sit three rows back. I will stand at the front of the lecture hall and scrawl psych terms and concepts on the board. She will be caught up in remembering every little detail about Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, and I will not be able to convince her that what is important is the Big Picture, understanding what it means. When we have finished, I will walk to Doney, or to York, where Andrew and Dane and I will spend two hours bickering about comic books and science fiction. And then, when I’ve had my fill of friends, I will find Kris and we will spend the night together, secreted in her room.

Pen to paper. It’s liberating. To hell with the computer — it’s been too long since I’ve written this way.

Updated: 17 April 2006

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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