Is Toque a Real Word?
By Chelsea Mark
“Where are you headed, and how long?”
“Pullman, Washington, a week.”
“Pullman?” The customs agent looked at me confused.
“Yes, Pullman, it’s right on the border of Idaho—“
“I know where it is. Why?”
Anyone who knew anything about Pullman had reacted in the same way when I told them my travel plans. Apparently my vacay destinay wasn’t the exciting, bustling location of many peoples’ holiday dreams. But despite the lackluster destination, I was unbelievably excited about this trip; I would be visiting my friends as some of them graduated from university and prepared to move onto the next stage in their lives. This would be the last time they all lived together in the same apartment, possibly the last time they all lived in the same town. As for me, I was getting out of a relationship—still living with the guy—and had decided it was time to do something a little out of character, a little risky. Most of my friends here at home didn’t understand. Why would I travel to meet these people? They were just online buddies, right?
But these were people I had interacted with every day for months, and, in some cases, years. We were friends, I’d even argue best friends, and yet I didn’t know how tall any of them were, what they smelled like, or if they were real people and not internet murderers.
And perhaps it was the thrill of the unknown, or the possibility of finding a group out there that I might finally belong to, that intrigued me. Whatever the case, after weeks of deliberation, and despite the fact that real-life interactions are not something I excel at, I purchased the plane ticket.
The airport in Pullman was tiny, smaller than my school cafeteria. I immediately recognized Maxx scanning the crowd, and John holding a personalized Captain America shield with “WELCOME TO AMERICA” written across the front. I had made it.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I met my friends online, or when we crossed the line from followers, to mutuals, to muffins (which is how Maxx and I refer to each other). I had met Noelle on Tumblr, and that opened the door to meeting her boyfriend, Carrigan, and the rest of the group: John, Trenton, and Maxx.
Maxx forced himself into my life last winter when he realized he was the only one left in his collection of friends who wasn’t speaking to the online Canadian girl. He was also the deciding factor in taking this trip of a lifetime. Though he was the last of the bunch that I met, he quickly became one of my closest friends.
An online blogging site is a curious way to make friends; you get to know them in a very backwards fashion. At first there is no face to put to the sometimes-very-personal posts, so I got to know their minds and souls well before I learned how deep their voices were, or who was the third tallest of the bunch (John). We began to rely on 10-second snapchats to share the weather, our accents, and our best selfie days. Maxx and I would stay up late into the night, Facebook messaging about anything and everything. About how much he loved Billy Talent, but nobody else in America seemed to care, about depression and the similar ways in which we coped with it. But the conversations always seemed to boil down to how we couldn’t believe we had found each other across the vastness of the world and the internet.
And now here we were together.
Allow me to confirm that Pullman is indeed as boring as suggested. And hot. Don’t get me wrong, I was not anticipating some party place where I could binge drink for a week and go home with no recollection of anything. In fact, it was comforting to drive through for the first time and not see a lot going on. It’s a university town, and a nice one at that. Maxx and John spent a day touring me around campus, which is a lot different than the pleasantly small one I’m used to, Vancouver Island University, infamous for its staircases and bunny population. The buildings are enormous, mostly red brick, and the dorms cover entire streets. On the way to visting where the two of them produce their college radio show, I also got to see where they took classes, hearing horror stories of bad teachers, bad tests, bad semesters.
Back at their apartment, Canadianisms became a thing. Maxx held a piece of headwear up. “What do you call this?” he asked.
“That’s a toque,” I said casually from the couch, where John and I were watching anime.
“NO. IT’S A DAMN BEANIE,” Carrigan shouted, stomping out of the kitchen.
“Canadians call them toques,” I countered. “A beanie sounds like those weird round, rainbow hats with the spinner on top.” I had known this topic would come up eventually. Carrigan disliked a lot of things, but he loved to argue. Never ask him about pineapple on pizza.
“Canadians need to stop holding doors and making up words,” he pronounced, leaving the rest of us in a fit of giggles as he marched back into the kitchen to finish making coffee.
The possibilities for pitting Canada and America against each other were endless. “What do you mean ‘What’s a garburator,’ what do you call a waste disposal unit? A waste disposal unit? That’s dumb.” And they constantly asked about similarities between “Trailer Park Boys” and real life. At one point I had to promise them I was not lying about how irrelevant Rob Ford was to the grand scheme of Canadian politics. (“Of course he’s not the Prime Minister, we don’t ALL do crack.”)
They also converted me to PlayStation over Xbox, and introduced me to competitive Smash Bros. (They go to tournaments.) Not that I wasn’t motivated. The boys watched in horror as Noelle and I did a marathon play-through of one of our favourite RPGs, Dragon Age: Inquisition, over 24 hours. “Chelsea, you’ve played this game SEVEN TIMES. PLEASE DON’T,” Maxx pleaded, to no avail.
Noelle is a writer as well, and we’ve bonded over the fact that we both want to write for the gaming world and change people’s lives the way other peoples’ writing changed ours. Meeting her face to face for the first time after three years of following each other’s timelines online was a very powerful moment. Drunkenly steering our elven inquisitor through Dragon Age, chasing nugs and singing about it, was even more powerful.
For those wondering if we did anything major while I was there: Not so much. If you can’t quite grasp why someone would travel so far just to spend a week sitting on a couch playing video games and watching movies, consider this: It would be at least another six months before I could see any of these guys even briefly again. I don’t have many friends at home that I can just sit and veg out with. After years of yearning for “do-nothing” friends, I’d finally found them, even if they did live one border and a 10-hour drive away. People take true connections for granted.
On one of our nightly drives around town, Maxx and I spoke about how we had both experienced and lost one of those invaluable friendships—the kind of connection where you feel like you share a brain with the other person. I realized that, by coming to Pullman, I had developed that feeling with an entire collection of souls. I had fit in so easily with these beautiful nerds from the second I stepped off the plane. They had welcomed me into their home, and made me one of them.
I cried as my plane home took off. It was one of the first times in a long time that I’d cried because I was happy. Sure, I was leaving the most important people I had met in a long time, so maybe there were some unhappy tears, too, but that week showed me that there are people out there that I belong with, and that taking risks will always be worth it. Maxx and I have promised each other that upon graduation we will move somewhere together. Who knows, maybe we can rope the rest of the group into taking the plunge with us.