We were a classic example of “is she really going out with him?”. I was a fresh faced 19 year old at the tail end of the “year off” of school that has always had a way of turning into either a decade or forever; I had yet to be determined. You, on the other hand, were something to my nothing. You were moving while I stood still, and for whatever reason you pulled over and offered a me lift. The side of the road, in this case, was the internet, where you were looking for a dishwasher and I was looking for a way out of my shitty job working tech-support in a call center. The fact that I openly wondered whether or not I’d get the job speaks volumes about my level of confidence at that time. The things I was good at, guitar, video games, and gym class, didn’t qualify me for much, so I was thrilled when you offered me the job.
What followed was torrid: you provided a rush of energy and learning, as well as a gateway into a world I didn’t know existed. The kitchen was full of people similar to myself, people who never exactly intended to stand behind a stove for ten hour days, but were nonetheless glad to have purpose. Initially my purpose was to get the dishes clean, and occasionally peel buckets and buckets of carrots, onions, and potatoes. Tasks that seem menial now, but were meaningful to me back then. I made friends, “kitchen friends”, who made not seeing my old friends less difficult. Before I knew it, I had graduated from dish jockey to full time prep cook; first base in relationship terms. The journey from first to home were accelerated, I went from fooling around in the prep kitchen to ruining people’s steaks (including Diana Krall) in a matter of a few months. The pace was intoxicating. I was working beyond full-time, spending my hours outside of work with my kitchen friends or reading cookbooks and thinking about food. I was consumed, and I was spending so little time with my old life that it made sense to just forget about it and embrace the new one; you and I were moving in together.
Years rolled by, not without incident, but any turbulence only seemed to make our bond stronger. Mistakes happened often enough to keep my young but rapidly expanding ego in check, but not so often that you’d tell me to fuck off forever. You were demanding, and we’d spend a lot of time together, but the rewards were better measured in experience not dollars. These were the terms of our engagement, and though I had some questions about petty things like “fairness” and “legality”, I thought better than to disrupt what was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I shoved it all to the back of my mind and carried on the best way I knew how, by burying myself in my work.
Everything in my life was food related and I thought about you all the time. I memorized Keller and Bourdain, idolized them too. And before long I realized that I wasn’t very good at video games anymore, nor the guitar, and I was terribly out of shape. I was covered in cuts and burns, as well as the scars from old ones. The old me was an athlete, and the new me liked beer, duck fat, and sleeping as long as the day would allow. I caught a glimpse of the sun one day and wondered what it would be like to be touched by it again. This led to further wondering; the sorts of questions that aren’t conducive to a lengthy career in a kitchen. I started to think more and more about another life where I wasn’t a cook, but a customer instead. I thought about the money I wasn’t making, the friends I wasn’t seeing, and the body I wasn’t taking very care of. What originally seemed infinite was starting to resemble something futile, so I did the only thing you can do in that situation: I started lashing out.
I talked shit to anyone that would hear it, complained about things that I had once accepted about you, but no longer had patience for. I was foaming at the mouth, righteous, and ready to split. I was mean to you when all you had ever been with me was honest. Regardless, I knew deep down that it was time to pay attention to the voices that weren’t Bourdain or Keller, but rather those of my friends, family, and self. I had to end things.
For my understatement of the year I offer this gem: divorce is tricky. It’s a tangled mess of financial and interpersonal arrangements, and our dissolution is no different. As it stands, you’re keeping all of the people, and I’m keeping all of the stuff. Sure, I see the people from time to time, but I know they took your side, and the exchanges are kept brief; we don’t really hang out any more, we just catch up. It stings a little bit when they talk about the “new guy”, and for the most part any conversations revolve around all that crazy shit that happened over the years. Thousands of dollars of aspiring chef paraphernalia is scattered throughout the apartment, serving as constant reminders of a past life: dozens of big fat cookbooks, Japanese knives that are totally impractical for cutting bagels and spreading peanut butter, and clogs, dirty old clogs. My formerly grizzled hands exist in a sort of limbo where they’re soft and un-swollen, but are littered with red marks: they’re the hands of a man in recovery. I miss my calluses, the sore knees not so much.
I’m a firm believer that time and place are everything when it comes to relationships, and what happened between you and me was perfect for a long time. Before we got together I was completely directionless, and flirted with following in my father’s footsteps because I had no ideas of my own. You kept me from careening in that direction, providing a place to develop skills and gain confidence; to make mashed potatoes and eventually, pommes puree. I’ll be carrying this experience with me the rest of the way, it’d be foolish not to. Your vocabulary knocked mine up, and kitchen slang is now my slang until I learn some new terms. Particular words and phrases, when used outside of the kitchen, don’t go over too well, and my loose grip on a certain C word better get in check soon.
I’m no longer angry, and am able to regard the past 8 years as a positive experience, in totality. There’s a million songs specifically for times like these, but I’d rather put it in terms of food. Considered as a hamburger, it was 6 years of stability sandwiched between a slice of infatuation and another slice of burnout. What we’ve got here is a pretty typical story of how things fall apart in the industry, and for a long time I thought that I’d only ever get to watch it happen from the outside. Instead I got to live it, and while it’s ugly, it was also entirely necessary. For the record, I wouldn’t change anything except the time that I fell down the stairs with $500 worth of chocolate chips. So don’t cry for me, my friends, cry for all of that delicious chocolate.