By Emily Jia
This is the second in a series of blog posts where the author, an incoming freshman, tries to figure life, friendships and priorities the summer before college. You can find the first post here.
It’s my first time taking the Amtrak alone, and I climb aboard while clumsily balancing my two bags.
One of them contains a puffy bag of Chicago popcorn and a box of madeleines; the other, a change of clothes. I’m visiting my high school roommate in her hometown of Champaign, a place she affectionately calls “the ghetto.”
When I see her room for the first time, I immediately notice her window nook and move over to look outside. Cornfields ripple cheerfully in the wind, and electrical wires paint themselves onto a sky streaked with orange and purple.
I ask if she ever sits there, and she climbs in dramatically.
“All the time, you know? I just look outside and contemplate life.”
Then she laughs.
“Just kidding, it’s so boring outside.”
I try to imagine her childhood here, the series of events that created the girl who has grown to become my emotional anchor. But between the black minifan, the watercolors and paints scattered across her desk, and the research poster hanging on the mostly-empty wall, I can’t imagine how I’d find anyone like her again.
The prospect of a new college roommate scares me: how can I get better, once I’ve had the best? There’s a type of person who chooses Harvard, and I don’t think she is that type. But maybe that’s why I like her so much.
In the afternoon, she treats me to an impromptu kitchen lesson as we make mochi and bingsoo, two Asian desserts that form the center of my emotional universe. To make mochi, we mix Japanese rice flour with water, and then alternate microwaving and kneading the dough until it is tender. Because the mochi ball is very sticky, we coat everything in cocoa powder before handling the dough (which, at this point, has the texture of a very soft stomach!).
My roommate chops the mochi into small squares, and we roll the squares in cocoa before throwing them into the fridge. She then pulls out a chunk of frozen milk from the freezer. Bingsoo time!
I am delegated to the task of chopping walnuts and cherries while she prepares the milk for the blender. As I apply way too much force with the knife, dark red liquid oozes everywhere: from the cherries of course, not my hands.
Meanwhile, my roommate stabs the frozen milk menacingly with a knife, breaking it into blocks that will fit into the blender. We blend the milk until it is a fine, snow-like powder, and then apply liberal amounts of red bean paste, chopped fruit, nuts, and tiramisu ice cream to the mix. The end result is gorgeous!
We gorge and take an early afternoon nap, bellies full of cold and icy dessert. But instead of sleeping, I close my eyes and stay awake, listening to the train whistling by and smelling the salted fish her mom is cooking for dinner. In moments like this, I wonder why I have worked so hard in my high school years, when happiness is so simple and undemanding.
Night rolls around, and we wander out to the playground with my roommate’s childhood best friend, who happens to live around the corner. The three of us share stories about high school naps and first grade mishaps as fireflies flicker on and off in the grass. We swing and laugh, when the inevitable question comes up:
“What college are you going to, again?”
My roommate brags for me, and I cringe a little bit.
I would rather talk about the slug we painted, eating a strawberry in the sunset, or the ridiculous Flula videos we watched earlier that day. (I want to marry Flula.) Those are more Emily-like than Harvard can ever be.
Or so I tell myself.
I am terrified of becoming a sell-out, a prestige-chaser, a person who puts their dreams on the back burner for glory. Deep down, I sometimes suspect I’ve already become one.
But these thoughts do not stay long, as tonight we have “Conjuring-and-Face Masks” planned. The face masks are absorbent so it’s okay if I cry during the movie.
My roommate watches Korean dramas as I type away on the laptop. Popcorn thins and eccentric Lays chips and jokes about Buddymoon (an endearing Flula indie film about friendship) await, so I will live in the moment instead of trying to hold onto it through writing.
I’ll leave you with one last Flula quote:
“I will join you, and you will join me. We will be like a three-legged sack race, but with no sack. And it’s not a race, because we will take our time.”