An Acquired Taste

Personal Essay

I drove home from a date on the cusp of tears. I wanted to cry, but the interior flood gates remained shut. It seemed like a perfect moment to cry with the dreary scent of perfume and hairspray saturating the driver and passenger seats. The darkness weighed in and around me. An obnoxious amount of time passed since another car flicked by. I felt like the road kept existing for me. I began to wonder how far my gas tank would take me. Ohio? Illinois? Maybe I want to go east. New York? Pennsylvania? My father always told me that, if I ever really desired it, I could drive all the way to Miami for a long weekend. He made sure I knew which highways ran north and south and which ones ran east and west. He hasn’t travelled much but, if he wanted it bad enough, I think he could. 

My hands gripped the steering wheel. In a final attempt to cry, I tried thinking of something really sad like my mother dying or working a job I hate. I also tried thinking about the fourth grade boy who returned to school after being treated for leukemia. That had made my mom cry. We watched it on the local news. The boy walked through a channel of classmates clapping and cheering for his healthy return. I saw my mom’s cheeks grow red like a vodka reaction. Then her eyes swelled and I rubbed her back until the feeling subsided. Nothing was sad or happy enough in this moment for me to cry. I felt myself surrendering to the absence of emotion, the place I fear most where no hope or creativity resides. 

The date was a pile of ash. It was like sifting through debris and rubble, trying to make it sound less toxic. When I asked for a glass of the house red, the waiter, with bleached hair and a broad chest, told me that they don’t really have a house red. I told him to bring me any red they had. He asked which blend I preferred. Lighter or darker. Smokier or smoother. I remembered my step father describing a red wine as light at my birthday dinner the week before. It was a lovely pairing with my entree of lamb chops and creamy risotto and crunchy green beans. A light red would be great, I said.

As I sipped my glass of wine, leaving cherry lip stamps on the rim, I tried to let my body sink into the leather booth. I wanted to release my weight and feel permanent. In a few more gulps of wine I would be right there. He drank water from a short, cylinder glass. The ice cubes knocked into each other like chilly bones. He drank cup after cup of water. Our waiter was quick and happy to refill. He carried the water pitcher to our table with a long smirk pulled across his face. He walked with one arm folded along his back like an English butler. I sort of expected him to have an accent. 

There is nothing more deadening inside than scrounging your mind for light-hearted, substantial questions to ask on a date. Part of me relied on the slim chance that our conversations  would be natural and cut smoothly like a crisp apple. But I realized, rather quickly, that instead of effortless transitions and unencumbered questions, I would be picturing a map of the United States as he listed all of the places he’s been. In a flirtatious manner, I told him that it might be easier for him to list the states he hasn’t been to because that would be a shorter list. He might have laughed, but I didn’t hear anything. He carried on with the list and I sipped my wine. 

At some point during the meal we talked about shoes. What are your favorite pair of shoes and why, I asked. This was a question a short, bubbly girl had asked me at my old college. I remember being impressed with the question’s surprisingly personable nature. He finished chewing a piece of grilled Greek chicken and told me that white Nike’s are his favorite. He said he likes how a white shoe looks polished and I agreed. We also agreed that, although they are hard to keep clean, it is still worth buying a pair of white shoes. I put a ripe slice of avocado in my mouth and smiled. Then I decided to share my incredible dislike for black sneakers. They aren’t stylish. It’s not a good look. I can’t stand them. He shifted in the booth and I noticed a pink haze develop on his cheeks. Well that’s good to know, he said. I looked under the booth. His black sneakers were doubled knotted and staring up at me like two offended school girls. He laughed at my passionate hatred toward his shoes but I still felt bad. I apologized and ate a forkful of butternut squash covered in sprouts.

When the check came, I reached for my purse right away. It didn’t feel right to have him pay for the whole meal. I suggested that we each pay half. Actually, my exact words were, “Why don’t we go dutch?” I put my credit card on top of his fifty dollar bill and told the waiter to split the check evenly. Later, when I told my best friend about going dutch, she said he still should have paid. But I was the one who had a glass of wine and insulted his shoes, I told her. Still, she said, it was a date. 

Before we left the restaurant I used the restroom. I walked down a flight of stairs, passed a hallway of oblong mirrors, and entered the bathroom. On my way out, I stopped in front of one of the mirrors. I looked at myself dead in the eye, trying to see if anyone was in there. Brown and white and black with swirls of hazel and tints of the slightest, most lenient green. Then I looked at my nose and mouth. My lips were stained red from the Dior lipstick I had put on in the car two hours ago. When a woman walked out of the bathroom I jogged back up the stairs. 

Outside, the temperature was perfect, a mild January evening. I wanted to stay downtown and walk around or maybe grab a coffee, but I knew the only way to regain my solitude would be to let him walk me back to my car and say goodbye first. We walked side by side, passing bars and restaurants bustling with college students. Our conversation was recycled commentary on his unfamiliarity with the area and his desire to change that. At each corner, I pointed before we turned. His body jolted every time, proving his foreignness. When we reached the parking garage, I told him that my car was on the fourth level, thinking this would separate us but he walked up all four flights of stairs with me. I started counting cigarette butts and bobby pins and colorful splotches of gum smashed by a foot. I smelt the remnants of smoke. When we reached the fourth level, he made a joke about not having to exercise tomorrow after that climb. At my car, I initiated the hug. He pressed his torso into mine like a cold, firm handshake between men. I had a great time, he said. My eyes flickered in the foggy lighting. My words stumbled. We turned away from each other and walked our separate ways. 

I sat in the running car for a while with the heat up and flipping through channels on the radio. I tried calling my best friend but she didn’t answer. She was probably watching a movie with her mom or cleaning or packing up her clothes to move back to college. I stared at the concrete wall in front of me. The solidity and permanence of it. My eyes relaxed, vision fading. I took in the balmy scent of my Jimmy Choo perfume. It is how I imagine an eccentric French grandmother’s cluttered closet to smell, with her vintage jackets and thin, sheer dresses and a tattered jewelry box filled with gold pendants and turquoise. I love how scents make me think up scenes, linking it back to where it was born.

My desire for a cup of coffee had faded. I wanted to be home, peeling the tights off my legs and collapsing into bed. I drove like a slow parade float out of the parking garage, waiting for the radio to acquire a signal. A drowning female voice cut in and out of the stereo in sorrowful fragments. I took a right out of the parking garage and started east toward the highway. On the corner, a black man, wearing a thick wool coat and leather gloves, played his saxophone. A young woman walked by and dropped a dollar into his hat. The man smiled at her and I smiled to myself. 

As I merged onto the highway, the voice of Mina Fossati, an Italian artist, filled my car. Her voice flowed out of the speakers slowly, flattening onto the car floor. As the song continued, the impact of her voice began to rise, reaching the seat belts, the center console, the glove compartment. The sounds purged me. I started to feel heavy and permanent just as I had desired at dinner. Mina’s voice reminds me of what I expected Thursday nights to feel like as a young woman. Lonely and sorrowful, but sexy nonetheless. I stared at the road in front of me. Mina’s voice pulled me under. I let my body yearn and ache with her. The darkness weighed in and around me. My eyes were on the cusp of tears. There is a lot of gambling involved in the early stages of womanhood. Gambling that inflicts sorrow and loneliness I do not know how to bare. I began to think of all the ways in which I belong to myself. It was a quiet dialogue at first, muffled and insecure. Then, I watched it all come together once again just as it had months ago. The answer lies in Sue Monk Kidd’s book titled Traveling with Pomegranates. The passage reads, “Every woman needs to become self-mothering… To learn to take care of herself, to love herself.” The words hung in front of me as if I was driving solely to reach them. I thought I learned this months ago. I thought I had found the mother inside of me. Feeling a little happier, I drove on. Mina and I. We sang our way to the driveway of my home. 

Self-mothering. It is a blanket I will always have to refold. It is scripture I will always reread. It is a taste I need to acquire.

Journal Entry: Eight

Journal

January 20th, 2019

Today I woke up at 9:30. I made coffee with my new french press and then I read in bed for a while. I did my first load of laundry today. The washing machine is puny. Around 12:15 I ate yogurt and granola. The woman from Italy Excel emailed me back and said she wants to meet at her office. I hope the internship goes through.

I went to Coop today and bought carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, and brown sugar for coffee. It makes the coffee taste sweet and good. I just relaxed all day. Classes start tomorrow. At 5:30 I went to La Chiesa di Santa Maria in Trastevere. I bought a pair of leather boots on my way home from mass because the ones I’m wearing give me blisters.

For dinner I made the following: two-three mushrooms, one garlic clove, 1 oz spaghetti noodles, extra virgin olive oil, red wine, and a salad. Now am drinking a glass of red wine and eating chocolate in my room. Meg and Anna are talking about taking a trip this weekend but is sounds nice to be on my own.

Journal Entry: Three

Journal

January 15th, 2019

I woke up at 4 a.m. and looked photo albums Denise left on the desk beside my bed. At 6:30, I heard Denise fumbling with the cappuccino machine in the kitchen. I ate a croissant with my coffee just like she said. At 8:00, Denise’s driver, a man of roughly forty named Antonio, picked us up and drove us to the university. Antonio and Denise talked for the entire car ride. I tried to listen for words I recognized.

Move in went smoothly. I am in my apartment now, unpacked and settled. The black, rain-proof boots my mom bought me really hurt. I’ll have to buy a new pair soon.

I just ate lunch with Deirdre in the dining hall.

Everything is so beautiful but I feel a little homesick. My other roommates haven’t arrived yet. I think I live with Meghan Fors. The name tag on the door only says Meghan, no last name.

I’m going to rest now.

It is 10:36 p.m. and Meg is here. It is Meghan Fors and we just said hello. After my nap today, I went to the grocery store called Coop across the Tiber River. I bought yogurt, granola, honey, and tangerines. Then I met up with Anna and we strolled for a bit.

Excerpt from “I’m A Virgin, Not A Hero”

Short Story

“…I don’t drink pop unless I’m at a college party hosted by college boys. I’ve found that girls offer more options when they host. At least they provide a white wine or two. I took small, methodological sips of the Sprite and Malibu mixture. I had taken off my jean jacket and slunk it over my arm. A black spandex tank top, tucked into black jeans was what I decided to wear that night. I read an article once on how to convince a man that you’re irresistible. It offered a lot of interesting tips on seduction. To be effortless, it read, wear your sexiest lingerie as everyday undergarments. That way, whenever he undresses you, you are already prepared. It also said that exposing your shoulders and lower back is much more intriguing than cleavage. It was an article out of Vogue written by a Parisian woman named Séverine so I took the words as scripture…”

When Goodness Crumbles

Personal Essay

I don’t remember how often I’d cry. Maybe two or three times a week. Tears swelled behind my eyes like a sudden pregnancy of grief. Then, equally as fast, they were gone, drained from my system as if I had felt nothing at all. 

I didn’t know how sad I was until I left. Thinking back to the campus, it’s silky concrete and ashy buildings, there was always an arrow of sorrow piercing my palm. 

The only place I found comfort was during my shifts in the library. I never used the elevator. Even when I had to re-shelf a book on the third floor, I climbed the stairs, feeling the muscles in my thighs and butt pull me upward. I liked stamping the interior cover of books with the due date. The stamp made a soft, satisfying noise like kissing a baby on the forehead. I liked closing the cover and handing it to the patron with a full lipped grin.  

I guess the dining hall provided comfort as well. On Friday afternoons, after Italian class, I’d drop my coat and backpack into a booth and head toward the dessert counter for a chocolate brownie. I stood the brownie on its side to cut it in half with a butter knife like two pieces of bread. I spread peanut butter onto one slice before closing it into sandwich. A cold, tall glass of chocolate milk paired excellently with it. On the walk back to my dorm, I felt stupid for spoiling the opportunity to go for a run. A run, I thought, would have been productive, would have made me feel a different kind of good. I felt like I was constantly debating which type of goodness I needed. It felt like I always picked the wrong one. Sometimes, during a run, I would think that maybe taking a hot shower would have been right. 

Weekends were the worst. No one needed me but myself and something about Friday through Sunday made this feeling apparent. One Sunday in particular I remember hauling my heavy back pack down the avenue, across the highway, and onto the large campus next door. By the time I arrived at the study lounge, my armpits and forehead were plump with sweat. My feet ached. I couldn’t take my sweater off because I wasn’t wearing an undershirt. I tried to ignore how uncomfortable I felt. I wanted to go back. I wanted to pack my folders and pencil case and laptop into the backpack and head right back to my dorm room and collapse onto my bed shirtless. 

I stepped outside and called my mom instead. My right leg felt unhinged as if it were floating outside of the socket. It hovered the grass in semicircles and then propelled back and forth. I dug my heel into the ground, trying to look nonchalant. Trying to look like a grown woman catching up with an old high school friend.

My cell phone, pressed against an oily cheek, contained warmth. I pictured my mother on the other end, sitting on the couch with a blanket and magazine in her lap.

You can come home, she told me.

I don’t think it’s that bad, I assured her.

Living at home is different. I make my bed every morning, I eat a full breakfast, I put on mascara before class. It’s easier to decipher my needs. Goodness, it seems, develops in front of me instead of going out to search for it. I don’t feel like I’m wandering or stumbling. I feel grounded. 

I like being close to my family. I like being able to drive twenty-five minutes to my brother’s college to drop off a pencil case he left at home. 

I like being close to my family, they make my life abundant. 

Airport Heaven

Poetry

I use to fall asleep mid prayer,

trusting that a guardian angel would conclude 

the list of things I am grateful for.

 

I use to fall asleep mid prayer,

otherwise, I could not sleep.

I was told to thank God for the things I do not want to wake up without.

 

Waking up with a mouthful of unfinished prayers was a characteristic of mine.

The first seconds of consciousness pushing Hail Mary’s from my lips.

 

Last night, I fell asleep praying to the God of adrenaline.

I thanked her for each muscle in my body. I listed each one, starting with my eyes.

I want to wake up with all of me, even if all means cramped and uncomfortable.

I want to wake up pushing poetry into existence, calling it my child.

I want to nurture my words, I want them to feel the safety of living

between walls that do not change as the week progresses.

Wednesday evenings will mean nothing to them.

They will stay put: bags unpacked, underwear folded in the drawer where it belongs.

I will teach them to pray.

I will teach them to sleep when they are tired.

Eat when they are hungry.

Run when they must.

 

They will learn that it doesn’t matter whether you wake up with prayers or poetry.

What matters is what you notice.

What you notice latches onto your freckles, your moles, it tans your skin.

 

And if that is the case then my skin is tinted from an evening at the airport,

when the sun was setting, throwing the color of lemons and tangerines at the passengers.

The children playing chess,

a man drinking coffee with his legs propped on a suitcase,

a woman sat cross legged in a chair with her thumb and first finger are pressed together, 

squeezing her fingertips, fusing them into one. 

The wire from her ear buds fell down her chest, her eyes shut.

She does not know of the angel she has become.

No one in this airport knows of the angel they have become.

 

I do my best to keep track of the details, I do my best to remember what I’ve noticed.

–a purse balanced on a suitcase, a foil pouch of chocolate almonds in my lap–

My brother sits beside me. Like the rest of us, he is also an angel, wearing the descending sun like a halo.

The Description of Details

Poetry

I think about all the melted chocolate, all the stained purses. 

I think about the intricacies of naming. Calling it something. 

Call it dark or white or milk. Call it almond and honey. Traces of coconut. 

Call it pinched in sea salt. 

I think about use.

I think about naive pillows, not knowing the weight of heads. 

I think about unlearning the alphabet just to start something over. 

Sound out the words again. Give attention where it is due.

I learned intentionality in the first grade, forgot it by sixth. 

I think about house plants, how loyal they are. How they would never unlearn the fundamentals of sunlight just for the sake of beginning again. 

I think about origins and Michigan.

I think about oval eyes and whipped cream lips. 

I think about distinct voices. How each is a flavor. 

I think about the night I sampled yours. A spoonful of rare, astringent honey. 

The blooming of frankincense trees in Israel. The Dead Sea in my throat. 

I think about the different varieties of love. How many can fit in one person? 

I think about sleeping without covers. 

I think about the music of simplifying worry into bed sheets that can be stripped away or tucked far beneath a mattress. 

I think about my scarred knees and how, if anyone asks, 

I’ll tell them a story that begins with a shattered snow globe.