My heart is broken. Everything had been going so beautifully and I couldn’t believe my luck at finding him. We seemed like a perfect match, but suddenly a switch flipped and the withdrawal began. Who turned out the light?! I tried to fix it. Food can do so many things. I grilled thick steaks, made lamb kebobs with fresh mint, citrus-y salmon, Poached Scallops with Soft Grits topped with warm hazelnuts and snipped chives, and, of course, crème brulee, his favorite dessert – each time something different and delicious followed by great conversation and laughter that slid into lovemaking as deliciously as the last silky morsel of crème anglaise slips off a spoon. “What more could anyone want?” I thought.
Perfect symmetry, shared secrets, hints of a future, affectionate teasing and flirtation had gone, for him, just as suddenly as they had come. “I just don’t love you and I don’t think I ever will,” he said. “But I have a chicken! I was going to make Ina’s perfect roast chicken that she makes for Jeffrey each week.” I thought. That homey, comforting scent was supposed to get him thinking, “Isn’t she wonderful? She’s exactly what I want.”
Instead, I wish him well, hang up and go to bed. I can’t sleep though. The house is so quiet but my brain won’t shut up and I lie there with an arm around my dog and just feel the weight of goodbye.
I can’t eat. I feel not quite nauseous, but a hollow, sick feeling in my stomach that makes eating even a few blueberries and a sip of coffee next to impossible.
After a few miserable, zombielike days of this, my girlfriends mobilize. They know. They’ve been there and they know that they must come and fill up this emptiness with the love and caring that food so often conveys. First, it’s Lori. She arrives with flowers, three bottles of wine (one to drink now and the other two for my inevitable need in the lonely nights to come), a crusty loaf of bread the size of a Volkswagen, butternut squash soup and the ingredients for a salad. She pours me a large glass of wine and quickly sets to work building a salad of baby greens, Burrata cheese, prosciutto, blackberries and sliced almonds all drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve been subsisting solely on coffee, so some vegetables and protein are just the ticket.
I try my best to eat some salad and a bit of the soup and we chat while she peels fresh pears to bake with a crumble of brown sugar. The warm lovely smell envelops me like a hug so badly needed. While they bake, we work on the scratch off tickets she’s brought as a distraction. She says maybe we’ll win a million and run off to France to eat cheese, drink wine and just forget about men. Not to be – I don’t win a million, but I do win $100.
The next night, it’s Kitty’s turn. We meet at a pub and find a semi-quiet, dimly lit corner where hopefully no one will notice my red-rimmed eyes. She refrains from telling me I look like shit and buys me wine and whiskey and salty homemade potato chips with sour cream and onion dip. I have the freedom of onion breath now. I’ve only had coffee today, yet it’s all I can get down. She uses her charming southern drawl to say all the supportive things a girlfriend says at times like this and encourages me to finish the last of the salty chips.
Finally, Friday arrives and my daughter swoops in for a weekend at home. She materializes at the door with her beautiful smile, two giant sacks of laundry and a dozen of the most perfect white roses I’ve ever seen interspersed with eucalyptus. As the washer chugs and spins, we set about making Ina’s perfect roast chicken, the one that was going to win his heart. Instead, we give the love to each other. We fill it with cut lemon, half a head of garlic and fresh thyme. We chop fennel and onions and alternate between talking and a silent dance of rhythmic chopping, passing the best knife back and forth and dodging the open oven door. Next, we make a spinach gratin because, after all, Gruyere is magical.
Then rhubarb crisp – somehow both sweet and tart simultaneously – much like love.
She and I share all the warm, loving feelings the meal imparts. The very act of eating with another human being, rather than alone, is such a gift.
I reach into the pantry to return the oats and brown sugar to their assigned places and catch sight of my calendar. “Outstanding in the Field” is marked for next weekend. Early on, he invited me, jokingly saying, “We could make a weekend of it, if you keep me around that long!”
Outstanding in the Field is a traveling celebration of people and place and the origins of good food. A single long table is set in an extraordinary site at different locations around the world and fellow foodies come together to enjoy. I quickly find the white out and swipe it across the painful reminder of what was supposed to be, wishing I could erase my pain as swiftly and easily.
People will often break your heart. Things change. There’s no escaping that, I guess, but what a blessing to have people in your life who want to try to fill all your emptiness back up with love – the love and comfort food can bring.