It was my favorite restaurant: The International House of Pancakes on Lancaster Avenue. It was where I discovered my fondness for the profound feeling of ease after eating the thin round layer of starch-based batter known as a pancake. It was where I have caught up with countless friends ever since I had gone to college, ever time ordering the same thing: the breakfast sampler with eggs over medium. It was where I have observed the progression of innumerable friendships throughout my two years of college.
But, within a few weeks, it will be transformed from IHOP to IHOb. It is not a permanent change. It is a marketing campaign. But I hate to confess that this change affected me more than I care to admit.
I reconnected with a friend who I haven’t seen for quite some time, mostly by choice. Awkward, yet uncomplicated, histories tend to propel individuals apart regardless of perceived intimacy. I asked her to IHOP, where I would ask anyone to catch up from my home town. I picked up the menu. The menu read IHOb. She ordered some eggs with turkey bacon. I didn’t order the breakfast sampler. She wore business casual because she had just gotten off from work. I wore Bermuda shorts and a distressed t-shirt. And there we were, talking about more-or-less the same things that we had when we were two vulnerable freshmen coming into the next chapter of our lives. Some parts of our lives have changed, as they should. Some parts haven’t.
My consciousness wandered to some parts of my mind that I have archived since the abrupt end to our friendship all those years ago. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the past of a chapter in my life I have long wanted to forget. It’s every love scene from The Room — a cringey moment unexpected the first time but seems to recycle itself throughout the rest of the movie.
I ask myself if I am a different person from the person I was two years ago, beyond the superficial aspects like the wrinkles on my forehead or the tattoo on my chest. I ask myself, beside the shedding of my skin and the turnover of my red blood cells, have I changed as a person? Because if I haven’t changed in a significant way, I wonder if I am questioning myself enough. I wonder if I am allowing myself to live with too much comfort. I wonder if all these past months of attempting to live with more intention is considered to be living at all. Because, without change, what does it even mean to grow?
Perhaps it’s a few slips of the tongue. A phrase so evocative it violently fractures the walls containing the sealed memories from another identity. A promise to keep things normalized, detached. Then a couple of intimate words shared. A memento of a long-forgotten dynamic. It’s a reminder of a reminder of a reminder to forget. A part of a long string of other occurrences that seem to lead up to series of blissful and morose moments I wish never happened. A flashback to a more emotionally immature version of myself, when I found solace in listening to Lana Del Rey and venting to high school friends who have since moved on in their lives.
I yearn to stop time, to keep my problems from becoming more and more complex. Because, even a mere year ago, I conceived of a brighter world. It was a place where problems had solutions, where questions had answers, where streaks of darkness had been considered an anomaly in life. It was a time when I had the power to help others before myself, when I could hold still hold onto the sense of safety high school afforded, when my problems could be generalized into some cheesy songs about unrequited love and ignored the greater privileges that I have afforded in life. It was a time when IHOP was still IHOP.
Such is the taste of IHOb’s classic bacon cheeseburger — some words left unsaid, some sentiments left unaddressed, and some messages left on read.