By Madison Jones
Mid-September, freshman year, dinnertime. I am sitting with a group of faceless, nameless people, eating a dish I don’t remember, talking about a topic I have no recollection of. The first few months of freshman year were filled with dinners like this one: with random people I stopped talking to by the end of the semester and with food that is as unmemorable as the people I was eating with. This one sticks out, however, because of one thing–or, two things, rather: cheesecake, and Alissa.
Literally nothing else of that dinner stands out to me–just Alissa’s placement at the table (two or three chairs to my left), and how when I remarked on how I wanted some cheesecake, but was too full to eat any, Alissa offered to split a piece.
So we did.
The cheesecake itself was fairly underwhelming: it was a chocolate marble of some sort, but the dark brown crust was a little soggy and the piece itself was a little too gooey from being out in the cafeteria for so long. But the connection I found in that half slice of cheesecake was unfathomable, unequivocal, and irreplaceable.
From there, Alissa and I became fast friends, which resulted in many shared meals together (as friendships often do). But there was something different about ours, something unique. Maybe it was the way a 30-minute plan for brunch could quickly turn into one hour, or two. Maybe it was because our meals always resulted in me crying because of the words of love and healing and wisdom she would pour into me. Maybe it was because of the way that we could go for weeks or months, even, without talking in depth at all, but as soon as we met up for dinner, it was if no time had passed. Maybe it was the way we stayed til the caf closed, every time, because the conversation was just too good to end.
Over countless plates of dry cafeteria chicken and mixed veggies, I poured my heart out to her. We indulged in rice and stir fry and each other’s company and never expected or asked anything of each other. We dined on soft, chewy pasta and soggy salads comprised of leftover lettuce, simply sitting in each other’s presence. We shared turkey and cheese paninis and garden salads; we cried over breakfast burrito bowls and tacos; we laughed way into the night over English breakfast tea with honey and London Fogs. We watched terrible Netflix movies with our steaming cups of pumpkin chai and our Chick-fil-a nuggets; we watercolored and snacked on Havarti cheese and crackers.
Of all the people in my life, she was the most constant, the most dependable; she was the most reliable and the best listener. Even as our schedules shifted and we got busier, I knew no time was lost and no feelings were hurt when we couldn’t see each other as often as we used to. And when we decided to start having weekly dinners every Wednesday, they became one of the highlights of my week. We would catch each other up on our weeks, our crazy families, our struggles, our insecurities; laughing until we cried and crying until we were laughing all over again.
Food is such a funny thing in the way it forms community, and Alissa is one of the greatest examples of how this became apparent to me. It’s so unique in the way that it may start as just a meal, but it becomes a memory. It’s such an anchoring part of all relationships–breakfasts and lunches and brunches and dinners, midnight runs to Taco Bell, afternoon teas, sunrise coffee–it’s the stock of what builds relationships. It’s so easy to bond over dinner after work and brunch on the weekends, in fact, it can be THE way you bond–asking someone you don’t know to coffee and sharing your lives and opinions over lattes and muffins could be the catalyst of a lifetime friendship. Sharing a meal, or a snack, or food or beverage of any kind is one of few things that unite us all. It’s magical in the way that food is vital, as are relationships, for a healthy life. And it’s amazing that something so simple can bring people together in such a powerful way.
While she has since graduated and time and distance doesn’t permit us to be as close as we used to, I know Alissa is someone who will be in my life for a long time. And sometimes, I treat myself to a slice of cheesecake for her.