Arguing With Friends

I met one of my oldest friends in Athens where we both attended a year-long college program. Together we studied the architecture of the Parthenon, flew to Cairo and rode camels, and spent endless hours deciding which Greek island we would sail to next. When the year came to an end, she departed for her home in Los Angeles a day before I left for mine in Massachusetts. Bereft in my Athens apartment with suitcases packed, I remember knocking on her door, knowing she was gone but hoping she might answer anyway and we could have dinner at a taverna one last time.

We completed our senior years in college – she at UCLA, I at Mount Holyoke. I landed a teaching job in Seoul, Korea and was shivering through my first winter there when she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to…Seoul, Korea! The fact that she hadn’t been sent to Brazil or any of the other warm places she’d requested didn’t bother me one bit.

Soon after she arrived, we rented a small Korean-style house and learned how to deal with the large charcoal bricks called “yonton” that slid on a small trolley under our floors and heated them. They were supposed to burn for 12 hours but they never lasted that long, which meant getting up in the middle of the night to change them. Letting the yonton burn out was something like letting the fire die back in pioneer days…a thing too terrible to think about.

When the alarm went off in the dead of night, my friend and I, faithful, caring, and sensitive at all other hours of the day, fought like cats. She always insisted it was my turn to brave the cold and change the yonton when I absolutely knew it was hers. We argued forcefully and creatively though we were both half asleep. We hissed. We resorted to pouting and the silent treatment. We pretended to be sound asleep. And always, always, always she won and I got up and changed the yonton. She will tell you a different story but don’t believe it for a minute.

Fortunately, I have forgiven her for making me change the yonton all those years ago in the little house where we lived in 1974 in Seoul, Korea. In fact, in an act of supreme magnanimity, I dedicated The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton to her.