On Memories and Wooden Tables

The tables in D2 Building  are different from those in other buildings of my university – Hanoi University. They are not the industrial, mass manufactured tables that come out in the same shapes, in the same colors – bright cream yellow, polished  table tops, smooth surfaces and squared edges. They are the old type, handmade from blocks of dark wood, with uneven surfaces and natural grains. They are old, perhaps ten or twenty year-old. Their tabletops are full of scribbles and doodles. Heart shapes, names, chemical and math formulas, faces of boys and girls and cartoon characters, were drawn by ballpoint pens and pencils in blue and black, or by eraser pens in white – the marks of countless classes and with it, hundreds of young persons.

This reminds me of my school years, when tables in all classrooms are similar to this, and when I gazed at the black board, yawned, checked the clock and aimlessly drew my name on the wooden table. I remember faces of friends whose names I can no longer recall. On the elementary school yard, my little friends and I played the role-playing game and I was given the role of a mysterious princess of the forest. I left my long hair untied, adorned with a tiny hair clipper with shape of a green leaf. I was running and laughing on school yard, between trees like a real wild princess. I remember the cute boy I had a crush on in junior school and how frightened I was when our teacher caught us riding bicycle home together. I remember the little girl who was my best friend. We together formed a two-person solidary group called “below average school girls”. I remember the comic books we shared, the warm sweetened pop corns we ate together under the blanket at my house one winter afternoon when we skipped school, watching random sports games and listening to Blue – the boy band we both swooned over. I remember the pretty girls in high school with their naïve jealousy. I remember the rush of confused teenage emotions. I remember my first kiss.

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Whenever I look back to these years, I feel as if I was watching myself in another life. So distant. So different. So innocent. So raw. And the people that passed through my life seem surreal. I lost contacts with nearly all of them. My friends and I grow apart, we have different worlds, and they don’t touch.

I think of myself as that wooden table, full of letters handwritten by people whose paths crossed mine. I wonder if the wooden table is happy with what others left on their body. I choose to believe the answer is yes. People have left their marks. It can be something beautiful, can be something ugly, can be something the table wished for, can be something it regretted about. But it all doesn’t matter because the marks are here. And the marks are the loud proof that a life has been lived. They make each table unique, unlike hundreds of those lying on other building, massed manufactured, poised, and polished, and perfect, and all the same.

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That’s what time do to all of us. We write on each other, and will be written on, in the good hope that each word will be put down with kindness and tenderness. But even when they are not, with courage, we still open our arms and our naked bodies like raw wood to receive all that need to be written.

Whenever I look back to these years, memories still taste like warm sweetened popcorn…