(1) the act of blurring what is not yours and what is (ex. black sesame milk tea; tonkotsu ramen; cafeteria chicken noodle soup)
Lately, I’ve found myself missing my high school cafeteria. Not that the food served was any good—in fact, it was decidedly subpar, bland, dry, and almost inedible. Rather, I missed something about the experience of consuming it. Rushing to the lunch line after class to beat the crowd, debating whether it’s worth it to wait longer for the daily special—ravioli with an unidentifiable cream sauce—and then deciding to go for the express line. Splitting a soup and salad with a friend, each paying for one and eating half the other’s meal. Bringing the food back to an empty classroom, sitting on top of a table, and passing the steaming cardboard bowl of soup and the plastic salad container back and forth, sharing one spoon and one fork because, in our rush to get out of the lunch line, we forgot to grab two.
But of course it’s not about the cafeteria at all. I just miss people, and I miss moments where I didn’t have to tell them that. I miss being able to reach over and steal a spoonful of mediocre soup that tastes mostly like salt and laugh at a joke that isn’t really funny to anyone but a group of sleep-deprived high schoolers.
This overwhelming sense of closeness lives in other places, too; in the order something different so we can try each other’s, and the related here, have a sip. The way everything just tastes better when it’s someone else’s, and the next time I order the same drink alone I think of the person who introduced me to it.
If I go out to eat with friends, I always suggest sharing meals. It’s practical, sure—why would you limit yourself to making one choice?—but it’s more than that. It’s what makes eating out worth it. The intimacy of sitting close, passing a spoon back and forth. Even if it’s just one bite or one sip—we’re here, together, it says.
(2) enthusiastically swallowing spoonfuls of words (ex. rocket motors; Nietzche)
I don’t have a lot of STEM friends—generally, we tend to move in different circles. But one of my high school friends is the exception. I generally care very little about engineering or physics (the one physics class I took in high school was, by a long shot, my least favorite class I’ve ever taken, save only for PE), but I can listen to him talk about rocketry or robotics, the classes he’s taking or the projects he’s working on, for hours. His passion is contagious. He’s always willing to explain concepts and make them approachable. But really, it’s not the way he explains technical terms, it’s him. I may not care about the intricacies of calculus, but he does, and so of course I will too.
He’s one of my few friends interested in STEM, but he’s one of many friends with incredible, contagious passion. I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about most things in the world. But I’m always grateful to be allowed to lurk in the background of conversations, to be a listener, to be talked to. I love sitting in on 4 a.m. conversations, half-empty mugs of tea left to grow cold on the table, forgotten amid philosophy and history debates. It’s a contagious sort of care.
(3) caring enough to ask (ex. what hides out in the night)
Text me when you get home and let me walk you—little signs of caring, of wanting to protect someone in an uncertain world. Perhaps it is wrong to appreciate signs of love grown out of the dangers of the world, I don’t know. But I value it anyway, the friends who wait an extra moment to make sure I get home okay, who go out of their way to walk with me at night. Who stay an extra two hours in the library, or leave early with me when the AC is exacerbating my perpetual coldness, so I don’t have to make the ten-minute midnight trek home alone. Who stay on the phone with me while I walk through the night, making jokes so I forget my fear.
(4) the act of blurring what is not yours and what is, part II (ex. Betty Boop sweatshirt; ankle-length skirt)
The day before a friend left for college, we met one last time to get coffee and say goodbye for the next four months. Sitting at an outdoor table sipping our drinks, they told me to close my eyes—they had a surprise for me. I obliged, and they passed me a green leather skirt they’d thrifted earlier in the summer. It’ll suit you, they said.
A month later, I put the skirt on for the first time. Feeling the soft leather brush against my shins reminded me of them. I paired it with a black mesh shirt with roses on it, stolen from another friend when she decided she didn’t want it anymore.
Wearing someone else’s clothing always makes me think of them, even if it’s just a coat I borrowed because I didn’t have one to match my outfit. It feels like I’m carrying a piece of them with me.
(5) the act of blurring the lines between what is not you and what is (ex. words; notes; the underlines in your copy of Perks of Being a Wallflower)
I don’t have favorite genres—I will read or watch or listen to anything if it’s recommended to me. I love the insight I get from reading something someone else loves. My favorite genre, then, is the art that people I care about love—whether that’s medieval poetry or a brain candy TV show.
There is tenderness, too, in recommending media to someone else—in saying, hey, I read this (or watched it, or heard it) and thought about you. A certain way of seeing someone, their reflection in words or worlds. I lend books often and perhaps too insistently—telling people to read them rather than asking if they want to.
This is the way I read Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time, how I ended up sobbing over Station Eleven—a post-apocalyptic novel about a theater troupe after a pandemic obliterates humanity—during the second month of COVID isolation. The way I first listened to Bruno Major, who swiftly became one of my favorite artists. The reason I give a friend every single book I enjoy. You should read this. Code for this feels like you.
(6) saying yes to the blurring, an acknowledgement, a reciprocal performance (ex. mugs full of tea; slightly-burnt toast; talk to me, please, if you need)
I often offer people things—cups of tea, a meal-swipe lunch, editing an essay. Seeing someone stressed out, I don’t always know what to say, but I want to try, if I can, to do something small to make their lives easier. I’d do anything for you, I want to say, just tell me what you need. I want to be helpful, even though I know I can’t always be.
There is kindness, then, in saying yes—in the people who take the cups of tea, even though they don’t really want them. I joke, sometimes, that my friends are manufacturing conditions for me to feel useful, but I think it’s often true. It may make my offers slightly pointless, but in some ways, it’s the symbolism of the exchange that matters—the offer a gesture of care, the acceptance an acknowledgement of that care. The recognition: maybe there’s nothing I can do or say, but I’m here. I’ll be here.
(7) the act of crossing space, with intention; really just another border blurred; where is it again that we stop and others begin (ex. just let me know you’re there; it means a lot that you’re there; I’m here, just so you know)
Presence means a lot to me, in whatever way it’s shown. I tend to be uncomfortable with physical touch from strangers, but I become very cuddly around people I care about. Someone leaning against me, or holding my hand, or giving me a hug, feels endlessly reassuring. I still remember the last time I hugged my friends before COVID sent us home—the last time I hugged anyone for over a year. It’s one thing I’ve never taken for granted, having people who are willing to be physically present. Reaching for people I care about almost reflexively, wanting to shrink the distance between us.
(8) everything (ex. everything)
Handwritten notes scribbled on post-its; remembering your favorite dessert; a good luck text before a test; a photo of a sunset; this made me think of you; cooking for you, even just ramen; eating ramen in your kitchen at 4 a.m.; the sound of your laughter; mentioning a new friend’s name; how can you not see it; it’s everywhere, everywhere.