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.

If you love her, I’ll see it

Personal Essay

Tonight, everyone in my family is having dinner with someone they haven’t seen in a long time. My dad and I. My mom and her best friend. My step-dad and his daughter. I don’t know my brother’s dinner plans for the night. His friends will probably order a pizza or maybe they’ll walk to the Mediterranean place down the street. My brother loves it there. I do too. The waiters are friendly and they hand out free samples of fresh fruit smoothies. I’ve been there twice with my brother. Both times he ordered the chicken shawarma.

My brother is coming home in the morning. My mom and I are going to pick him up. He brings a laundry basket full of dirty clothes with him every time. No matter what time it is or how early he went to bed, he always sleeps on the ride home. We are getting breakfast tomorrow. My mom and brother and I. My mom told him to invite friends; there are extra seats in her car. She’ll drop them off before we head home.

I met two of his friends about a month ago outside of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I spotted my brother in a wool lined denim jacket and dark washed jeans. He wore a hoodie beneath the jacket. And his white Adidas shoes. He was hunched over, shivering. Hands in pockets. Hood up. Knees knocking. His back was facing me as I approached. I could see his friends’ faces. The girl had auburn bangs. The boy had a mustache. I don’t remember their names or majors or how many layers they wore in the cold. But I remember the brides. I remember the photographer. He pointed to a rectangle of shade for the bridal party to stand in. Shade means good lighting. No harsh sun lines across the face. No shadows. There were so many shivering brides that day. Teeth chattering. Bouquets twitching. The groomsmen jumping. For the love of God, someone give her a jacket. 

We walked across the street to the library. Another bride in the stairwell, standing against a stained glass window. She had a white, fluffy shawl covering her shoulders like the fur of a Pomeranian. The photographer was squatting. He touched his fingertips to the floor for balance. A camera case sat beside him with chargers, lens caps, and reflectors protruding through the zippers.

From the top of the stairwell, I peered over the railing and watched the groom watch his bride. I watched him closely, waiting for some proof to cross his eyes or lips. If you love her, I thought. I’ll see it. His arms rested along his torso. He flicked dust from his left shoulder. He leaned closer to the photographer, trying to see the images as they flashed on the camera’s mini square screen. He started to sway. The photographer motioned for him to join his bride. He lowered his chin and skipped a little. I thought he might jog to her. His eagerness made her giggle like a stunted hiccup. If you love her, I’ll see it. With one hand on her stomach and the other on her back, he brought her closer. I saw his lips. He whispered to her through a full faced grin. Whatever he said made her quiet for a moment. Then she laughed and laughed and laughed, looking up at him, leaning into his body. I heard the camera shutter like a machine gun. This is great you two. That’s beautiful. Keep that up, keep that up, keep that up. 

 

to the first boy who didn’t love me, please forgive me

Personal Essay

This essay was originally written for a creative writing class in 2018. We were encouraged to play with the format. Enjoy.

It is a debilitating mindset: between how it should be and how it is. It should be easy like peanut butter sandwiches or peeling back the tin covering on a jar of cashews. It should be easy like describing the sound of your voice to my mother over the phone. Telling her how in love with life you are. It should be easy like retelling the story of how your parents met to my mother during the same phone call with traces of your enthusiasm in my own voice. We should have melted together slowly like a chocolate friendship, adding caramel and nuts with every passing year. We should have dove into friendship like a bag of unwrappable Dove chocolate. Mutual interest would have helped, might have allowed me to justify less. 

“How do you feel about it today?” my friend would ask in the dining hall as we forked oily eggplant into our mouths. 

“I mean it’s the same. I still feel the same way,” I would solemnly reply, swallowing a forkful of slimy vegetable and the foreign taste of heartache. 

“He has a girlfriend,” she would remind me, suggesting that technically my feelings are irrelevant, suggesting that technically I shouldn’t be hurting so much. 

Other things that are irrelevant:

  1. Our first conversation was in late August. He told me the story of how his parents met. How easy it was. How peanut butter it was. How dripping with caramel and nuts it was. I remember the details well: the elevator ride, the chili dinner, the phone call, the years in between, the lasting friendship, a flight to Mexico. But, I can remember a lot when I want to.
  2. Our second conversation was in early September. We talked about ice cream. “Hands down…chocolate and hazelnut ice cream. I. LOVE. ICE. CREAM. *hands pulling on cheeks* I swear if a girl brought me ice cream, in any capacity, even a coupon for ice cream, I would marry her right there.” 
  3. September 17th: His 20th birthday. I brought him a plastic spoon and a pint of chocolate gelato.

I knew he had a girlfriend but I walked into my freshman year of college half-blind, breathing through one nostril, and congested. I would have fallen for a box of instant macaroni and cheese (if only it had a longer lifespan). Everything tasted raw and undercooked. Everyone looked sore and underdeveloped. He looked kind of different though, like a ripe avocado sun-basking on a windowsill. His voice tasted al dente. Like a noodle. Italy would be so proud of his perfectly boiled voice. I started listening for his voice in the library. The soft rolling of water. The bubbling of hot liquid. It was a promising game at first. I heard the sound and there he was. The pot reached a boil and there he stood in front of me, leaning over a large table, holding out his hand for mine. He treats his friends so well, I thought. 

More things that are irrelevant:

  1. I considered writing him a note. I crafted the first draft in my head during the second act of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani. The Lyric Opera Theatre of Chicago doesn’t hand out pens and paper for their lovesick patrons. It started like this, “If ever there should be an appropriate time to be honest, I would tell you this…” There was never an appropriate time. 
  2. He was the ‘he’ in my first poem.
  3. I used to pray for people making hard decisions

September. October. November. Thanksgiving break. We were sitting on my God sized bed (God sized is when you push two twin sized beds together because you don’t have a roommate at the moment, thus, creating a space for sleeping that is a little larger than a king sized mattress). My friend, her boyfriend, and I. Tryptophan, carbohydrates, and glucose were still pulsating through our bloodstreams like a liquid Thanksgiving. 

“…I don’t know who he’ll take now,” said the boyfriend all nonchalantly. My friend and I looked at each other suspiciously. We were both shocked and stunned at the information we had just heard.

“Yeah, they broke up over break. He said it was a hard decision but the right one.”

You know the drill:

  1. I wish I could ship a care package through time back to my freshman self. Amid the chocolate chip cookies and extra underpants I would tuck some Vaseline for the congestion, eucalyptus nasal spray for the clogged nostril, and night vision goggles for the blind eye
  2. Swallowing excitement is not easy like hummus or whipped cream. Excitement comes in a big, hard shell that takes contractors and carpenters to crack. Then, once you’re granted access, the inside tickles your throat like cake frosting and you just want to spit it all out.
  3. I did not swallow excitement. I spit it like frosting. 

The opposite of natural takes place when a freshly single boy collides, against his will, with a girl who is 226 months single. It was a few days after his breakup. The interaction was a heterogenous mixture of awkwardness and interest. You could have put it in a bottle, shook it, and observed the cringe fester into a moldy ball. We talked about our shared love for God. I told him that I admired his faith and how he treats his friend, and how he is so in love with life, and how contagious he is, and how if he were a virus I wouldn’t mind contracting it. Needless to say, I jumped the gun like leapfrog for young adults. I should have given him space. [I think I need to give myself a little bit more credit here because about 20 minutes after this interaction my friend told me that her boyfriend texted her saying that freshly-single-boy proclaimed, “I fucking love Kelly. She’s so fucking cool.” Not going to lie, my only thought after reading that text was comparable to the first two lines of Queen’s song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in which Freddie Mercury states, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”]

December. The month of worsening symptoms. A faint cloud in my chest, a minor wheeze, a subtle whistle, turned into full blown bronchitis and I was SO in love with a boy who SO thought of me as just a friend that my bronchial tubes wouldn’t clear up to breathe in reality. Reality stayed outside of me but I was cordial. I didn’t ignore it. I waved to it. Asked how the kids were. Asked if the rents were coming for Thanksgiving this year. I treated reality like a coworker I’d never really get to know. 

It is a debilitating mindset: between how it should be and how it is. How is it? It no longer hurts. Reality is in me. I know her so well. She is less of a coworker, more of a friend. Reality lives at 8592 Berwick St, Westland, Michigan. She has three children under the age of seven. She’s introverted but loves to host Thanksgiving. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie. Turkey. She makes it all herself. She’s divorced. She scoops the best ice cream cones. She’s very ambitious. She’s a great listener and obsessed with food trucks. She goes to yoga three times a week when the kids are with their father. We met at the end of January. I know her so unexpectedly well.

This is Reality:

  1. He was my date to winter formal. I wore a black dress.
  2. I guess he prefers red.