"Anything dead coming back to life hurts." -Toni Morrison, Beloved
It was the first big gift to arrive. I had registered for a blue kitchen aid on a wish list. The $300 price tag made it an item unlikely to be fulfilled. But one day a package showed up and I was curious, what family member had sent such extravagance? Many people were generous and it was humbling to watch shelves fill with the everyday items ready for a newlywed life. I reached into the box with wonder but cut my hand on an unseen protrusion. Looking, I realized it could have been much worse. The entire left side of the appliance was raised up in a mangled edge. I called Macy’s again (this was the third damaged item), resealed the box and placed it back outside the door. Although a replacement would arrive soon, I felt a sting of disappointment, muffling the frustration of receiving broken things with a joke that I had been sent a lethal weapon instead of a cookie maker. It was Miss Scarlet with the mixer in the library!
The item was picked up before I remembered to look at the tag and I checked my email later for a copy of the note. To my surprise it was not sent by family, the liberal gift was from an acquaintance with no more than kindness to motivate.
I realize now how much love I knew in obligation.
Soon the new item arrived and I was married at home making food like I was supposed to. The replacement never quite worked. It spun off kilter and the lever popped off within the first few months so the speed would never slow enough to just stir, but I managed. Made cakes and meatloafs, whipped cream and beat eggs, and created memories—I always hoped. Family, friends, and strangers sat at the table, lent a hand, washed the bowl, and ate. Home service in high demand. While serotonin releases in offering help to others, there’s more ingredients to a life of the mind and beating heart than self-sacrifice.
I’ve been making breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (sometimes) dessert everyday for a dozen years now. I’m 27 nearing 28 so the midlife crisis came early. Last year after the move and the fourth baby, I found a chip off the beater in the dough and stopped, looked at my hands doing work my heart was not in with half the ingredients my family can’t stomach and laid the machine to rest.
Even writing that sentence draws my fingers and lungs to take a deep breath. I make everything by hand now, with film and paint and words and sometimes chocolate.
Late February and early Lent last year a letter arrived in the mail. Nonetheless hopeful about mail contents than I was at 19, I opened the envelope. (By coincidence it was dated the anniversary of the day I made the hardest and best decision of my life.) Four typed pages, double spaced, back to back, so maybe two depending on how you look at it.
When you learn about a food allergy, you learn to read labels. It’s nice that a manufacturer is required to put them there. I often do wish we all knew what came inside us and were candid enough to believe in grace and be honest. A little leaven leavens the whole lump and it might make the difference between heaven and hell depending on which parable you get.
Here was a nice ingredient list. A summation of unfiltered thoughts from another made to interpret me. Of course, since we all tell the truth no matter what we do, it said a lot more about the sender. Yet I was grateful. This was evidence of the consumption I’d suffered for over seven years. Not to mention a few one liners meant to be condemnatory were actually a pat on the back. Isn’t perception funny that way?
But I had reached in and it slashed more than my hand. Oddly enough though, I didn’t send it back. The return policy is too strict. So I kept it, like a Gollum, hidden in my garage. When the environments meant to offer you unconditional love don’t, you live like an addict. Cycling through the vulnerability of hope, reaching out towards acceptance only to recognize, again, the shame for ever living like you were worthy of something more than what they wanted to create.
Finally one night, unceremoniously, I pulled the papers out again. Re-reading each word with a hollowness I’ve come to ache that I’m capable of. While every sentence was justifying of a professed love I knew was false all along, I made a decision to sacrifice this shred of evidentiary vindication in hopes (there it is again) for a reality that may never come.
I tore it lengthwise and then crosswise in strips. Found my husband and asked what we could burn it in, as we gave away our fire pit in the move, went into the kitchen to grab a lighter where he met me in the backyard with the dented bowl from the kitchen aid mixer.
Lighting the scraps in two places we both held our breath. Paper doesn’t like to burn completely and whatever god is up there, in myth, fable, or bible, fire lives as decider of what will and will not survive. Husband shook the container to disperse the flame and I spoke release into the smoke for their soul and mine.
Later on, relaying this story to confidential friends, they said that what we did next was incredibly brave. The gift of this admonition still bewilders me.
With the silent prayer of “please god, let it all have burned up,” we water down and sift through the ashes.
Only a small block of text survived. The tearing and fire altered vowels and tense to read:
A final recipe from an appliance of my internment. It sits framed on my desk where I put my hands to this keyboard now.
As we begin Lent, we remember. Being but dust, you must be born again from ashes. This is a glimpse of my Cinderella.
And writer, should you read this here is my reply:
As I leave captivity, oh how I love you well now
in acknowledging the not at all.
I forgive you.
Would that you had known me,
I never knew you.
Take this courage and be kind to yourself
I welcome you to print and burn this letter.
"They gave me the heartache and in return I gave a song. It goes on and on."
-Ed Sheeran, Save Myself
from the album, Divide