Top Ramen

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It seems as though Top Ramen has always been a part of my life. Or at least since I was twelve years old. When I was that age I was friends with the most popular girl in school. This did not make me the second most popular girl. Or the third. Or even the fourth. Let’s just cut to the chase. It did not mean that I was also a popular girl. It simply made me a lucky girl. Because everyone loved Nikki. She always had a smile. For everyone. And she had a mom who let her have an infinite amount of friends over to spend the night. So many of us from different social levels all gathered together to have this common ground.

Nikki.

I truly believe Nikki was the reason our school had no social structure. Everybody accepted everybody. In a class of over seven hundred, this was no small feat. But there was not a social class system in our school like I have viewed in movies and through the experience of my own children. With Nikki, you could be a fellow cheerleader or a nerd and you would have the same smile granted to you and the same feeling of specialness in the inevitable following hug.

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One night when we were sleeping over, her mother made all of us girls dinner. It was chicken flavored top ramen. I had been spending the night at Nikki’s house since I was eight years old, but this was the first time I had been served this meal. It was. The. Best. Thing. I. Ever. Had. I remember having seconds. And thirds. Never had I tasted such flavors. I told my mother about this intriguing new dish the next day and she just smiled. Top Ramen was never something we carried in our home.

But at Nikki’ house, we could have it whenever we wanted.

And we did. It was special. I did not view it then nor do I view it now as the cheap dish it is portrayed to be.

To this day I still love Top Ramen.

I still love Nikki.

We stayed friends throughout high school.

On May 6th. Of our junior year. Two days before her seventeenth birthday. Her boyfriend shot and killed her.

She was head cheerleader. Class Treasurer. The girl who had a smile for everyone.

It was devastating.

Is devastating.

I think of Nikki often. There will be a time when I will write more of her. But today is not that day. Her memory deserves more than a Top Ramen post. Writing about her breaks my heart. However, I could not help but share her today as I sit and eat such a simple meal. A treat associated with cheapness. With sacrifice. And simplicity.

I feel sorry for people who think of Top Ramen that way.

For every time.

Every single time I eat it, I am transported back to a kitchen. Of a surprise meal. A sweet smile. An angelic friend. Black hair. Brown eyes. Laughter. Tears.

Top Ramen might be simple to most.

But to me, it will always be rich in memories.

36 thoughts on “Top Ramen

  1. What a beautiful legacy your friend left behind… I imagine she lives on in the hearts of many others. And indeed, what a beautiful memory to hold onto. Isn’t it strangely wonderful how certain memories stick with us with such vivid clarity, that it seems as if we could close our eyes and be fully transported right back into the scene in which they transpired?

  2. I didn’t want my memory of Ramen noodles to sully my previous response, or the way in which your story touched me this morning. So this time, you get two comments out of me! đŸ˜‰
    For just over a decade now, I have fallen squarely into a particular social class…single mom of a special needs child. And while those two definers make themselves known in big and small ways on a regular basis, for the most part I tend to forget that our situation is anything but average. For all that memory can be cruel and painful, I have found that it is also kind and generous… It’s smoothes away some of the uglier bits as time passes, so that I’m left with a more general picture then those specific difficulties we struggled through. But to this day, the sight of all those plastic wrapped cubes of freeze dried noodles on the grocer’s shelf makes me shudder a bit and hasten past.
    Because.
    Because I spent over a year eating these for lunch and dinner…with only half the flavoring packet as I found it so salty.
    Because I could only afford to put food on the table for my son.
    Because I could not let him down.
    Because therapy and medicine and his special needs daycare left me bankrupt.
    Because I could eat my ramen quickly and head straight back to work.
    Because for one year and seven months…a scary five years ago…the only thing I could do was anything and everything to make sure my son never knew of our poverty or my desperation.

    Never, ever, ever will I eat those noodles again.

    • What a long way you have come. I read your comment this morning and cried so hard I went back to sleep in a wretched mess. I am so sorry that you had to go through that. And all on your own. It also makes me so incredibly furious that Autism therapies are not recognized by medical insurance. Statistics don’t lie. More children are getting autism every year. The medical bills should not be an added stress on the families. Your story is one that needs to be shared. Thank you for sharing it with me. You are an amazing woman and mother.

      Have a gorgeous weekend!

      Jenni

      • Oh goodness-I hate the idea that sharing my past made you cry. Please know that we are doing so much better these days, and I truly believe in the ‘makes you stronger’ philosophy.
        But having said that, thank you for your sensitivity.
        I think having a child with any sort of disability is at once both utterly overwhelming and the spark of creativity. And it’s horrifying to read the statistics of families that split up after a diagnosis. My marriage exploded before the diagnosis ever came… And there’s been times where I consider myself lucky because I never learned to lean on my ex, only to have that support ripped away.
        But goodness, to imagine, even if for only a moment that the therapy my son needed cost less?!? Oh, the life we could lead then!

      • Your story touches me. And you are a beautiful writer.

        The statistics are overwhelming. I like your outlook on life. Marriage is so hard. I agree that it would be devastating to have a supporting figure leave.

        I see your creativity on Instagram and it makes me smile. That stop motion you made for your son?! It was amazing!

        I hope soon all insurance plans are required to cover autism treatments in every state. I might be wrong, but I think it is only thirty something that have that law now. That is ridiculous.

        I cannot wait to see your pictures tomorrow. I love that you walk the cat. What a great cat to do that!

        Sweet dreams!

        Jenni

  3. To my kids those are “Ponyo noodles” and we have made a faux-Ponyo dinner with ham/egg/ramen. They are a happy memory for me, though I don’t eat meat so have never tried them.

    What a lovely legacy of kindness your friend left behind. We can only wish that for each of our children. I am sorry to hear she was taken so young and in such a violent way.

    • Thank you Maggie. I like the name Ponyo noodles. My kids love that movie. I actually purchased these ramen bowls because of that movie. I wish I could really find bowls like they had. I love the top that closed over the bowl.

      And thank you about sweet Nicki. I like to wonder what she would be doing today.

      Have a lovely weekend!

      Jenni

  4. Oh my goodness, what happened to Nikki is heartbreaking! I can’t even imagine! So sorry. I’d love to read a post about her & what happened.

    ( I feel like saying I love ramen (but I drain the water & just have flavored noodles), & that my husband & daughter love it too shouldn’t even be talked about after your awful tragedy.)
    Have a good day though.
    -rebecca

    • Thank you Rebecca. I like ramen that way, too. : ). Is that cheating?

      Nikki had a wonderful sense of humor. She would have done great things in life.

      Have a beautiful weekend!

      Jenni

  5. Ugh – what a post. Terrible, sad story – she must have been a great girl.

    On a brighter note, I occasionally make ‘fancy ramen’ for my kids: adding peas and chicken/chicken nuggets & cracking an egg to cook in the broth. My kids have always loved it. It’s a special treat to them.

    • Thank you Jo. She was a great girl.

      Your ramen sounds great. I will have to try it that way. It sounds like the egg gets poached. That is the only way to do eggs.

      Have a sweet weekend!

      Jenni

    • Just came back to say… I had ramen for lunch. I thought about your friend. I thought about how terrible it is that a young woman had her life and her future stolen from her, and what a loss it is for her family and community. I thought about violence against women, mental health issues, why this is a tragedy that just seems to keep happening over and over again.

      I find all of your posts thought-provoking and moving, but this one really got to me. Thank you for writing.

      • Thank you Liana. It does seem to be happening again and again. It happened two days before Mother’s Day and her birthday. That has always stuck in my head. It was such a tragedy. I think about it often. I wonder how I could have changed the circumstances. It haunts me.

        Thank you for your kind words. I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

        Jenni

    • Thank you Lians. I feel badly for her father. I would sometimes go away with him and her when he had her for the weekend. The story is so sad for everyone involved. Even after all of these years.

      Have a happy weekend!

      Jenni

  6. Wow Jenni, so very sad. It sounds like she was a beautiful person. It’s heartening to see how one person can make an impact on so many.

    • Thank you Kindra. I remember her funeral was so packed that it was standing room only. There must have been four hundred people there. She was so loved.

      Sweet dreams!

      Jenni

  7. oh my gosh what a sad story. I was just loving reading about what a sweetheart Nikki is when I got to the part about her boyfriend taking her life. What a beautiful friend to have had, I am so sorry to hear this story but love that you had such a great person in your life as you were growing up!

    • Thank you Melodee. It was awful. I cannot think of a single person in that school who was more loved. And she had a good relationship with her parents, too. The whole thing is heartbreaking. She will be in my heart forever.

      I hope you enjoy a splendid weekend!

      Jenni

  8. Thank you for sharing a happy memory about your beautiful friend. Please tell us something else you treasure about her. Special friendships like that should be honored with beautiful memories and she sounds like an exceptionally special friend. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.

    • Thank you! Her grandparents lived on a lot of land. And her mother lived in one of the houses on the property when we were very young. It was ramshackled, but homey. Her bedroom was in this secret room of the house that was gotten to from many stairs to underground (these are my childhood memories speaking. It could have been normal stairs for all I know). This is odd for Southern California. Nobody has basements here. All of us girls loved going to Nikki’s. It was like going to camp. We had our own private hideaway, complete with a cat. We would sit down there and play board games for hours and hours. This was way before video games and such. We would traipse her property and make up stories. A lot of my childhood memories revolve around that place. I met Nikki when we were in second grade and she first moved to our school. She was always the nicest but also the most outgoing. She had me try out for cheerleading with her every year even though I am completely uncoordinated. She always believed I could make it (I never did). After falling off of her shoulders one day when we were practicing and getting the wind knocked out of me I finally convinced her that she was the only cheerleader out of the two of us. I could go on and on about her vitality and sweetness.

      Thank you for asking that. It was nice to relive the memories.

      Have a lovely weekend!

      Jenni

  9. You will have to write a story about that “warren” where you spent time together. That sounds like a cool room and it had a cat! I hope you have a happy weekend and can remember more happy times about your friend. What a loving friend to encourage and support you like that.

    • Thank you Lyn. It really is. I have lost people since then, but Nikki stuck with me. I think it was the way her death happened. It seemed so preventable and senseless.

      I hope your Sunday is happy!

      Jenni

  10. Dear Jenni, I was so sorry to read about your friend. I just didn’t quite know what to say, it’s such a senseless tragedy. When I read it, I just wished I could give you a hug. But still, maybe it’s a very good thing that you carry Nikki’s memory with you, and honour her in your own way every time you have Top Ramen. It’s strange, how a smell or a taste can evoke such clear memories. Thinking of you, hon. đŸ™‚

    • Thank you Gwen. I just wanted to share a bit of Nikki. She was so much more. But I think of her often. Thank you for the kind words and sweet thoughts.

      I hope your day is beautiful!

      Jenni

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