December 27, 2020
A little note I wrote for her birthday. I'll revisit this one later.
Once upon a time, on December 27, 1997, a star named Justine Xi was born (before the rest of us in the Chibi Maruko Chan cult, so she is undoubtedly wiser). A California native, Justine is a coffee—and by extension, tiramisu—enthusiast, three things I was not very familiar with until we met (California, coffee, tiramisu). When we lived together, some days she would offer to prepare me a cup of coffee in anticipation of my all-nighter, and I think about that sort of domestic love from time to time. It sat in the fridge, waiting for me when I woke up.
There’s something to be said about the mundanities of everyday life accumulated over the course of four years. Going grocery shopping, sharing a meal, exchanging details about the day. If she were out her chunky black shoes would be gone from the rack. Or the red-and-black sneakers. Sometimes if she left the apartment in haste there’d be food in the wok, some scattered plates, and an apologetic text saying that she’d clean it later. Between the two of us, though, Justine is more conscientious, maternal. She’d pick out the meats and vegetables (I’d pick out the snacks). She’d prepare dinner (I’d clean up afterwards). By the time I woke up, she was likely on the way home. So in the quiet interval between my wake and her return, I’d wash the dishes as an ounce of reciprocation. You could tell whether Justine was back based on the stomping up the stairs; it was the heavy shoes. Then there would be the turning of the keys, followed by the push of the shitty old door. From the kitchen I’d call, “Welcome back!” to which she would respond with a slightly winded hey. How many times have we had this exchange, I wonder? How has its accumulation contextualized our friendship?
We did a lot of things together the first year, to the point that I think Gabby (our third roommate from that year) once remarked we were “like a married couple.” If a friend bumped into Justine, chances were I was there too—I don’t think you could separate Justine from Sylvia at that time; we were a collective. We routinely grabbed dinner together after classes, sat in a BD booth with fancy college food we liked to get from behind the sliding glass. If there were midnight crepes at the dining hall, we’d agree to trek over and wait the hour for creamy strawberry-banana goodness. In general, if Justine were going somewhere—the library, the bookstore, the BD (for late-night tater tots)—she often invited me along. We didn’t share any classes but did stay in the art school until seven in the evening on Mondays and Wednesdays, from which we would walk back together. She also had psych in the afternoon, but some days she would join me in the morning section (which in retrospect, funnily enough, was the first and last class we both took). We shared that overpriced textbook whose terms I still occasionally recite.
On Fridays, we would take the MetroBus to some restaurant we found on Yelp—each week it was a different one—and sometimes make an additional stop to Jeni’s in the Central West End to sample the new ice cream flavors. There was one time, even, that we had done a lot of grocery shopping beforehand, so we carried all those plastic bags into Jeni’s. When I recount this all now, knowing how much our first year of undergrad experience was experienced together—including, most notably, the magic we felt, all starry-eyed upon discovering an Asian supermarket in bumblefuck St. Louis—it’s no wonder we ended up living together for the next three. I think we were fairly similar, personality-wise, background-wise, complementary in our living styles to begin with, but compound that with meeting during impressionable, vulnerable adolescence and you get a committed, steadfast, and reciprocal friendship. While we were never quite as physically close as that first year, branching out into different social circles and pursuing our respective studies, I think about the freshman codependency as a security blanket, a grounding point, its innocence as a precursor, a foundation for where we went next. In sophomore year when we moved from the dorms to an apartment, and the years that followed, we’d go about our separate days but always, eventually, recongregate at the dining table, under dim lights.
When you live with someone, grow with someone for four years, how much of them becomes a part of you? Sometimes Justine would pick up one of my silly phrases, or she would share an artist with me whose work I would come to recognize or like, or she would tell me about her classmates during our dinner table talks that I would become invested in them too, sort of like keeping up with a TV show. How much have we exchanged during our coexistence, in the BD booths, the line for midnight crepes, the Kingsbury dining table, the car-shares, the bus rides, the restaurants, the Chicago Airbnbs? I suppose that may be why now, having moved out of the apartment earlier this year, when I go some days without talking to Justine, I become slightly weepy (granted, I am also sentimental as a person). Perhaps it’s the absence of the everyday, trivial interactions that I have grown accustomed to—or rather, the end of a four-year coexistence, living in that old apartment as college roommates wondering what the future will look like. What I am left with, however, is the fruit of those four years, which continues to grow. If I am not being too corny, perhaps this is just the beginning.
I look at tiramisu a little differently now (watch for the lady fingers, she told me). I hope Justine has some today.