I have made most of my friends over lunch.
First, it was celery sticks, Ritz crackers, and American cheese at a picnic table. Then, cold cans of Chef Boyardee in a middle school cafeteria; steak sandwiches and curly fries with ketchup between AP classes; and during my early weeks at Columbia, HamDel heroes in a TV lounge. Dinner was reserved for prospective girlfriends and already established male friendships. But I could get a lunchtime plate of eggs or a milkshake with any Joe, or, if I was unlucky, with a girl who had settled on something platonic. As a thoroughbred Aristotelian, I had a hard time accepting female friendship with no strings or pesky sexual attractions attached. That is, I avoided the much contested “friend zone” until I deterritorialized my gendered assumptions of social intercourse. Read: until I studied too much and overstuffed my head with alternating wads of post-structuralist and humanist insulation.
To take a staycation from all the Marx and sardine sandwiches, I will flee, with relative frequency, for an outer borough. Last weekend, I went exploring with one of my best friends. We went to an African restaurant in the Bronx. For lunch, we ate peanut butter soup with emotuo (fluffy rice dumplings, like glutinous matzoh balls) and a slimy goat stew. Sunday slipped away on Fordham Road, where we took shelter from a cloudburst and studied until dinner. At a Puerto Rican restaurant, we had thick slices of blood sausage.
Afterwards—and there is really no other way of writing this, no more sophisticated, yet honest phraseology: I felt sad. I am a senior. In melodramatic terms, my days are numbered. There will be a final reckoning, however anticlimactic and disproportionate, and then it will be over. Friendships do not suddenly terminate. But we will spin off our shared orbits like rogue planets. We will disperse and “stay in touch” without any real contact, and what we all had, here, in this particular moment of intense youth, will disappear as quickly as a Sunday afternoon.
The pain of knowing the promise of loss is a reality of being human. It is the sense of a coming-to-an-ending, the certainty that an entire and minute universe is approaching its conclusion. In effect, it is the premonition, always premature, of permanent departure from the material world. Née death.
I do not want to imply that the feeling is anything other than banal. To recognize the departure of friends from our lives is to experience a profound wounding of nothing but everyday life. The puncturing of habit—P37 at Panino, please; everything bagels and crap coffee; $5 burgers Monday nights—deflates the meaningfulness of our pretty damn solitary existences. Fortunately, we are spared the perspective necessary to witness the future forfeiture of friendship, at least until the very last possible instant. There is a time for witnessing the ends to come, an appropriate moment for such foresights. I think—no, must believe, must have faith—that the recognition of yet-to-be endings is meant to enforce presentness. Otherwise, it is merely a cruelty and a heartsickness without cause.
You have felt my pain of future loss, three times a day, every day since your little suction cup of a mouth popped off your mother’s nipple. Eating is the most immediate example of this pain, because we can see our pleasure evaporating in discrete increments. Every instant of consumption implies one less to come.
Human experience is a merciless accounting of future happiness. In our ineluctable progress forward, out of innocence and into maturity, we are faced with a giant bowl of soup. Be careful with each spoonful. Savor its oily smack—peanuts, chili, beans, fatty beef, emotuo—made all the more beautiful because it cannot last forever.
Jason Bell is a Columbia College senior majoring in English. In Defense of Delicious runs alternate Fridays.