Sunday, July 31, 2011

the map

This weekend I was out in the barn sorting through the two dozen large boxes that had not been touched in over half a decade. They have remained, like a very personal, very short-term, time capsule in storage across four states, since they were originally packed up and moved from the apartment Jazz and Annie and I shared in Tennessee. Some of the items have not been held, smelled, or seen since I graduated from college in 2005. One in particular sliced into me.

I found the Map.

The Map is exactly that, a little piece of oddly-specific, emotional cartography. I painted it during my senior year of design school. It is not a pretty painting, nor would it mean anything to any other person who looked at it, but at one time in my life, it meant everything to me.

I took a large canvas—about four feet long and two feet high—and painted a map on white gesso in black ink. It was not to scale. (I abhor details.) It showed my college campus at Kutztown, the buildings, the field, the farm behind my dorm where I rode horses, the town, the graveyards, the train tracks, and a very special hill in the middle of nowhere.

The only color on the black and white map is a splattering of dots. Each close friend had a color, and when something happened I wanted to remember I painted their color on the map where it happened. By graduation the entire thing was smattered with four years of nostalgia. Friday morning when I opened the brown paper, and uncovered the map, I cried for a very long time. And I cried because of the three dots painted along hillside on the far edge of the map.

One night my best friend and I drove out into the countryside and the stars were astoundingly beautiful. He told me to pull over, and park my red Jetta on the side of the road. We hiked a half mile up a large, rolling green hill. At the top was two copses of trees, and when we reached them, we sat down and took in the whole world, heaving. I'm not sure how long we sat there, on this vista that looked more like a Microsoft screen saver than reality, and just stared at the void. It could have been twenty minutes, or it could have been hours. We ate a light snack of good chocolate, a cold water. I remember feeling safe, and lucky, and how grateful I was that he was in my life.

A few weeks later I convinced another friend to go there with me. I wanted him to experience what I had felt, what me and this other person had shared. We drove out there on warm night, and even made it a third of the way up the hill. But he stopped and turned around. He didn't want to be up on that hill alone with me, and made up some excuse about the police taking his car from the side of the road. The drive back to our college town was heavy and awkward.

As if this all happened yesterday, I am flush with the smell of wet, dark grass and heaving up a hillside in the dark. My eyes dart all over the map and I realize out of all those colors I only talk to one person now, and rarely. Maybe this is just growing up, this growing apart, but it pained me to see a wall of fading memories. The people I hiked up to that hill with were the most influential and deeply-loved people in my life. Neither of them talk to me anymore. Both accounts are my fault.

Some things can not be helped.

I kept the map, and stored it in the attic. But piles of old issues of HOW, Communication Arts, ID, and Readymade were tossed out. Long-ruined art supplies and musty clothes molded and trashed. I saved all the antiques, gifts, and family items of import but all the paperwork, old college assignments, resumes, and design stuff were useless. In the bin went one lifetime to make room for another. This quieter, dirtier, life on a mountain in New York. It is just six years and five hours away from the last but I might as well be in a crater on Jupiter for how familiar it no longer feels. When you are tossing away your old portfolios to make room for your winter hay and a pig, life has changed.

I moved the Map outside, and went back about the business of sorting antiques and possessions. When I went to open the door of a 1960's Westinghouse cabinet, inside was a photograph of that hill. It was water damaged and beyond help. I closed the door and left it there. Some things were so real to you, the actual proof that they exist makes them feel contrived.

Seeing that map, or that photo, did not make me feel like my life here was a mistake. The tears were tears of lost friends and lost time, but not of regret. I can't imagine living the lives of so many of my old peers, in cities or traveling around the world. It is not what I want, or what I envy, but it doesn't change the fact that I miss them. I wish that everyone on that map was coming up here for Thanksgiving. I wish Kevin and Josh, Erin and Rikki, Raven and Nisaa, and and so many more were going to show up at the farm with hot dishes and warm smiles and tell me all about the big wide world, and how it all works from 30,000 feet in the air or an ocean away. I want to sit on the floor of my living room, Gibson at my side and hand-knit hat on my head and listen to stories of dinners in Tuscany and slamming on breaks down the Autobahn. I can see them all here, happy, smiling, all having learned and seen things far beyond my own slight wisdoms. Some have children now, some have been divorced, others have been mugged in Spain. Life has done a little two-step for us all.

I want to hear all this, sip some hard cider, and see everyone from Typography II again. This can not happen, but for what it's worth guys, the invite is always open.

Maybe I'll start a new map, with new colors. I have new people in my life, some very important. I'd like to think I now know who does and doesn't belong on the Hill. I know who I would take by the hand, and share chocolate and the sky with and who I would not.

I think that is progress.

23 Comments:

Blogger Becky said...

Time has a way of changing our companions on this journey called life. I loved your story of old friendships and special moments shared. I agree it's time for a new map... but I don't believe I would get rid of the first either. It's quite special in it's own right even with NOT knowing "the story".

July 31, 2011 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Tami SouthStreetShabby.blogspot.com said...

...and so it goes...this journey, this life is full of ins and outs. People come into your life for a purpose and leave when their job is complete. Only few are destined to be with you always. It's a matter of learning and growing from those who are supposed to be there when it is necessary. It's not a matter of loss...be thankful they were there to teach you the lessons that were necessary. You will always love them, whether they are still with you or not...but it is them, that made you who you are...for that...always be grateful...Growing apart is part of growing...it is as necessary as the air we breathe...but never sad...
**Tami

July 31, 2011 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

Yup! It's progress. It takes time to find your true tribe, but you are moving toward them and they toward you inexorably. Live your dream...and the right people will appear, the people who treasure you, respect you and enjoy you for who you are. I have had some friends for decades, but none of them from school. There will be more Maps, and each one will take you to new adventures.

July 31, 2011 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Your map looks so similar to the map I drew in 2005 when we moved into an old fixer upper on nearly a half acre in Medford, Oregon. We planned out the little backyard farm that was to sustain us, body and soul. We planted fruit trees, built raised beds, and we had a good size chicken area and coop as well.

Then my husband’s employer downsized with the economy, and there were no jobs to be had in that lovely little town we had enjoyed living in for nearly two decades. His new job required a move to another state where we have a much smaller yard, a little patch of vegetables, and a few hens. While we still miss the loss of what we had, we are grateful for what we enjoy here and now, as you do. Your gratitude shines so clearly through your writing.

I wish I had thought to keep my map.

July 31, 2011 at 10:39 PM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...

sigh, well said; and it will happen again, so keep this new map handy so that in 20 years you can look at it.
never regret the things that made you who you are today.

July 31, 2011 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger Loco Lindy said...

Beautiful post, so filled with nostalgia. I think that the college years were especially formative for me as well, and I'll never forget some of the amazing friends I made then that are still influencing and inspiring me today (30 years later!). Keep that map...

July 31, 2011 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger damnyankee said...

Great post Jenna. The ebb & flow of life. People move in, people move out.

July 31, 2011 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger redbird said...

In agreement with everyone—it’s a fantastic journey. Especially like your who belongs on the Hill/progress analogy. Great post.

August 1, 2011 at 12:24 AM  
Blogger Charlene said...

jenna...

August 1, 2011 at 1:26 AM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...

Great to see Writing Fridays working well for you, Jenna, our compliments.

Interesting how the late twenties treat us... School days seem so long ago, and those memories of then fond but growing distant!

Cheers, from British Columbia (Canada)!

August 1, 2011 at 1:46 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I think I agree with the adage thast people come in to your life for a reason and sometimes they leave for a reason, too - to make room for new and wonderful things to happen but those old friends do leave an impression on your soul and help form the new you that is emerging. I relate to this post so much as I don't keep up with anyone from my high school or college days except for my husband and his brothers. Nostalgia is wonderful as long as it comes with perspective and no regret. Beautiful post. I thank you for sharing so much of yourself with your readers.

August 1, 2011 at 4:48 AM  
OpenID Tami said...

Maps during their use show us where to go...afterwards, where we have been...and much later, how far we have come.

August 1, 2011 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I know this post wasn't farm related, but sometimes I just really find writing about things helps me sort through them. I'm a fairly open book, so I thought I would share. Thanks for understanding.

August 1, 2011 at 6:35 AM  
Blogger steak and eggs said...

Lovely post...sometimes we have to climb that hill just because it's there. It's not always the big things in life we remember, but the important things. Climbing that hill was important to you, and I see you as a hill climber. Never stop...you inspire a lot of people.

August 1, 2011 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Oh, but it is farm related. Some of the friends who have fallen away have left your life because you are now a farm girl, with diferent priorities and interests. And some of the new people who have become your friends are there because they share your farm dreams.

August 1, 2011 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger KirstenJL said...

It happens, and it did to me as life took me away from where I started. I was told by those I respected to accept it and I mostly did, but I still have an ache for those old friends. And then I went to my 20th high school reunion and re-bonded with some friends from elementary school. And one lives just 20 miles away from me now. And there's Facebook. It's not the same, but it's something, and it's more than I had for years.

August 1, 2011 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Jeff_in_Pawlet said...

Great post. And timely. Just this saturday I drove back to western NY to camp, party and reminisce until 5am with friends I hadn't seen in 10 years. But I belong in VT now.

August 1, 2011 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

I sometimes visit the places I spent previous years, and as I walk those streets, I feel once again the emotion I felt then. I remember how i felt then almost more than I remember actual occurrences. I ask myselt why I am doing it, for sometimes, it may be better not to remember, rather to enjoy and appreciate what you have now.

August 1, 2011 at 3:40 PM  
OpenID chickadeeworkshop said...

I am more than twice your age and if I had old maps like yours, I'd have had several by now. We change, we grow, people come and people go and it is all good. Knowing who to climb the hill with is a very wise thing that you had to grow into. Congrats.

August 1, 2011 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger karen said...

Jenna, there isn't anything I can add to this thread so I will just say-love your writing girl-thanks for sharing all that you do. Karen from CT

August 1, 2011 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger Adam Lazar said...

Jenna, you are so lucky to have created that map, to solidify those memories.

August 1, 2011 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Victoria Strauser said...

This post is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

August 2, 2011 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger SAW said...

That map reminds me of this: "Around 25 or 26 you will decide to really feel the rain on your skin. It may hurt. By this time, you have already made the big move from your parents’ nest. You’ll look around, survey your life and decide what to carry with you. Who to carry with you. This is the first time you let go of living life by reaction." From here: http://thehairpin.com/2011/08/what-we-have-going-for-us

August 5, 2011 at 12:59 PM  

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