We had just moved in together. Only two weeks before he had given me an engagement ring. My first committed relationship. On the one hand, I was in heaven. On the other, he was guzzling garlic shots. I couldn’t let him down.
The stovetop hissed. A pot of water that I’d forgotten boiled over. Water sizzled over the surface. I had no idea how to control the temperature on these electric things. One minute, the stovetop was black and dark. The next, hot, orange circles detonated rotini, blackened omelets, turned rice to cement. I yearned for a gas stove where flames could be properly managed. As I mopped up the excess water with a towel, my muscles tightened. I’d never cooked for anyone before. Sure, there were a few dishes I could throw together here and there. But I never made a fuss for myself. Why bother baking a whole chicken just for me? What would be the point?
I thought of all the food my mother had cooked for me and her mother and her mother’s mother. They were excellent cooks. They made meatloaf with bacon. Ham and scalloped potatoes. Shepherd’s Pie. And they made it look easy. I never really cooked with my mom much. I’m not sure why. I was always too busy and I thought I had plenty of time to learn. I never examined her techniques: the way she mashed potatoes or what she used in the marinade or how she was able to keep all the dishes warm and serve them simultaneously. I wanted to pick up the phone to call her. I needed to ask how she knew when a greasy burger was medium well, how she got just enough black on the edges of the apple crisp, and, my immediate dilemma, how a pile of chopped vegetables be served to a sick man. But, I couldn’t call her. She was dead. There was no way to ever ask her.
On top of the refrigerator was her small brown recipe box. I climbed the step stool and with a few swipes of my flailing arm, I grabbed it. I rolled back its top. Magazine clippings and newspaper clippings and yellowed indexed cards with her very distinct handwriting popped out with such force that a few fell to the floor. I knelt to pick up a fallen card and rubbed my finger over her perfectly straight letter “l” and the swirl atop her letter “a.” I wished she’d appear in the kitchen. I wished I could have a smidgen of her cooking ability. I so much wanted to comfort the coughing man sprawled on the couch. I came up with concoctions for him over his sick days. Some steamed broccoli. A sushi roll. Hot cider.
My food wasn’t good enough, even though he insisted it was. But I knew it wasn’t because it wasn't as good as hers.
So, I grieved her and tears flowed again. I thought I had cried all the tears that a human could cry, but rivers are a breath away and overflow at unexpected times. It’s like that onion I chopped without one tear until the very end when my blade sliced through the last inner layer.
But this time the tears felt different. The tears were not sad or lonely. They were tears of longing held in love. The greater my desperation to nurture the man I loved, the more I felt waves of her essence around me. It hurt, but it was also a miracle. A grand miracle.
It is too grand for me to try cooking anything else in the kitchen, at least for now. But with time and in love, who knows what dishes shall come.