Friday, October 16, 2015
My siblings and I have this joke that one of the hardest questions any of us has to answer is, "Where are you from?"
Take your pick: Native City, Dirty Town, Beautiful Town, Central City, the Goldlands, Mountain Town. The list goes on. On balance, however, and especially in light of my recent discovery that my ancestors lived in the region for upwards of three centuries, I have decided that Southern State is, if not quite where I'm from, then certainly the closest I have to being from, well, anywhere. It was where I learned to drive. It was where I had my first kiss. It was where I graduated from high school, went to college, came out of the closet, and made my closest and most enduring friends. It was where I first came to believe in myself. A week ago, as I drove over the mountains and into the glory of a Southern State autumn, I was reminded why I called it home. I swear the sun shone a little bit brighter there.
As I advanced further into the Goldlands, closer to the heart where Major University lay, the physical and cultural landscapes began to change; the leaves grew bolder, the roads wider, and the mountains and fields of the lands to the west were replaced by the silver and white glitter of urban prosperity rising from the cinnamon hills. An unbroken wave of white faces speaking lilting English gave way to the hues of the entire world, to tongues from all corners of the planet. I wrapped up my business early and swung by a Korean grocery store to buy myself some seaweed.
"Hey, man," I said as Filipino Guy's sleepy voice filtered through my phone. "Listen, I got here like two hours early and so I'm already done with everything. Do you want to get lunch now?"
"Sure," he replied. "I mean, I was sleeping while you were being productive, but let me get a quick shower and I'll be right over."
The Goldlands has long been a place where I've found renewal, resources, innovation, and the means to push back borders, and so it was fitting that this was the region I went to initiate what could be a radical shift in professional direction. I've not quit the day job yet, though, and will fill you in on this potential avenue as I learn more.
"I'm sure you did well," Filipino Guy said as we sat down at a local Korean restaurant not far from where we'd gone to university. "I took the test a few years back and passed, and you know way more about all the political and history stuff than I do."
I took a sip of my soda.
"Well, if you can do it..."
I shot him a mischievous grin and he laughed in response.
"Very true, sir."
Filipino Guy is an old college friend, two years my senior, whom I met my very first week at university. I was reminded of this when discussion turned to the other members of our extended friend group, who now live as far afield as Knoxville and Texas, Washington and New York, and to many of whom neither of us has spoken in years.
"That's how it is after college, though," he mused. "People lose touch, people have things going on. It's not personal. I think it's nice to be able to see people every few years and be okay with that."
"I think it's hysterical that we're still friends after all these years. And it was so random how we met."
"That comm. class," he said.
Our eyes met over steaming soup and fried chicken, and for a moment we both felt a sudden rush of sorrow; nine years ago in the waning summer of 2006, he was a boy of twenty and I one of eighteen. In the decade that's followed, we've both changed in terms of values and direction, have both endured dark periods that in his case consisted of mean-spirited atheism and in mine of a manic spiral to suicide. Both of us are happy with different aspects of our lives, and both of us have successfully weathered our storms. But in light of those storms, the summer of youth when we first met seemed so terribly far away.
"We're getting older," he said.
"I don't know," I countered. "I think we both look pretty damn good for pushing thirty."
"Yeah," he said, eyes gleaming. "And you're white. You should be totally falling apart by now."
I laughed and surveyed his vigorous frame and the smooth, handsome face that continues to attract appreciate stares from the young women of the Goldlands.
"You're doing about as well as one would expect for an Asian."
"I am," he agreed, with a sip of his drink. "But I see it in certain ways. My hair is starting to thin."
I waved him off.
"It's probably just how you're styling it."
"Yours, on the other hand," he said, taking a handful of the long blonde hair that, since it was recently cut to just below my shoulders, is now soft and absurdly thick. "Remains luxuriant. You always knew how to turn me on."
I slapped my (very straight) friend's hand away and assured him once more. "We both have nice hair. You're as irresistible as ever."
But when we paid our bill and walked to the parking lot to say goodbye, I looked up at him and saw in the sunlight what the dim bulbs inside had concealed; across the whole of his head, the tiniest patches of scalp were visible in between spikes of black hair. The loss was evenly spread and I wouldn't have noticed it had I not known him for so long, but he was right.
And then something really hit me: I am twenty-seven years old. Filipino Guy is twenty-nine. Somewhere along the way, the flow of time to which at eighteen and twenty we imagined ourselves immune kept on going, and then one day we woke up to see the difference that had accumulated while we weren't paying attention. We're young still--but not youths. He's earning a master's degree to move from his current engineering job to one that offers more prestige and pay. I'll be either teaching or doing more media-related work in a year's time and will at last be able to stand on my own two feet financially. Somehow we've started turning into honest-to-goodness adults.
There's a little sadness to that, but far more happiness on balance. I find myself wondering how our friendship, and my friendships with others, will evolve as still more years pass.