Author’s Note: This piece was originally published in the May 2011 Issue of Ramen, a handwritten paper zine published by students of Columbia College Chicago.
When I was five, my Dad joined the ranks of legend when he and I made homemade maple syrup. I got to pretend that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder when my dad drilled a hole in our maple tree and let the thin, clear, sweet sap fall into an empty milk jug. Dad poured the sap into a saucepan on our stove and heated it slowly. When the sap got thick and dark, my Dad poured it off into mason jars. The entire house smelled like crystallizing sugar.
The day my family moved into the house on Pleasant Street was the day I met my best friend. I was in my new bedroom with my aunts, helping them organize my things. My mom called me to the staircase. When I poked my head over the railing, I saw an unfamiliar girl. She introduced herself as Liz, said she lived across the street and asked if I liked the movie Titanic. I said yes, because it was 1997 and Leonardo DiCaprio was all I could think about. In the simple way of nine-year-olds, we became best friends immediately.
One night, toward the end of freshman year, my roommate (my 9 year-old bff Liz, who grew up to become Elspeth) and I came home to find the TV was missing from the dorm. It wasn’t stolen–it was just taken by our other two roommates, the girls assigned to us by residence life. The cold war that had been brewing all year came to a boil, but we didn’t let it bother us. We spent the night playing rowdy summer camp games and watching movies on our laptops.
When I moved onto Wells Street, one of my roommates was an eight year-old sheepdog named Ellie. Her owner owned two other dogs, but our building had a two-dog minimum, so Ellie lived with us. Like many sheepdogs, she didn’t have a tail. That didn’t stop her from wagging her butt whenever she saw me. She was the sweetest, fattest dog I’ve ever encountered, and I loved her. She always met me at the front door–butt wiggling, ears perked up at the sound of my voice. It was the best mood lifter.
My roommate decided to make cupcakes. I wanted to make a dent in a bottle of whiskey. Together we learned that there are few things more enjoyable than tipsy baking. It’s easiest to use a boxed recipe (less margin for error). We drank, we frosted cupcakes, we found increasingly ridiculous things to put on top of them and we laughed about our teachers. I’d been in LA for three weeks, but this was the first time it felt like home.