Of course by 'us' and 'our,' I mean 'me' and 'my.'
Certain conversations can take you to a mental place unvisited in years, and nostalgia can be a powerful if peculiar experience. Last week, I spent over two hours on the phone with someone I haven't spoken with in over five years; the twelve of you who actually read my journal back then may remember the story, a sentimental memoir that got the attention of the Diarist Awards.
It's strange - conversing with a voice from the past so familiar and so alien all at once. We talk about everything and nothing, like the old days ... of things we've seen, people we've worked with, lives we've touched, things we regret. Everything ... except that one thing.
Her: "I don't know why I'm even telling you this - after I got married, I spent a day throwing out every gift guys have given me before I met my husband, but ended up keeping letters you wrote and that photo. You know the one I'm talking about?"
The photo. I haven't thought about that in years.
In the middle of the Muir campus at UCSD, there was a rock garden ten meters by ten meters, with dozens of boulders on the bed of pebbles. The rocks were heavy but can be moved with effort, and the day before her birthday, I went to the rock garden and moved the stones one after another, to spell out her Chinese name in six-meter tall script. I had a friend take a photo of me standing next to the rocks and sealed it in another envelope.
We shared an early-morning class at the HSS building just to side the rock garden; at the end of our lecture I handed her the card gave a series of cryptic commands 'walk out the door and take ten steps left. Turn right, take twenty steps. Turn right. Look down."
The second envelope with the photo was taped to the railing with her name on it - and the reaction was as I had hoped when here eyes drifted down to see her name in stone. Boom. An hour of time and three bandages on my hands was a small price to pay, all told.
It's funny, the things you remember, and the things that drop from conscious memory.
At one level, it was cathartic to talk about the past with some distance from the intensity of emotion that burned in those moments when our lives were at a tipping point and the future was a wide-open landscape of possibility.
It's flattering, I suppose, that my gift to her was the one thing she couldn't bear to throw away. But ultimately, it doesn't matter. We live our seperate lives - her in her world, me in mine.
And on my drive in the early morning mist, I find myself wondering:
Is there anyone left worth moving boulders for?