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.