I love to cook.  I love taking what’s in season, particularly if I have grown it myself, and combining things just right with my practiced hands to highlight the flavors of summer’s first tomatoes or handfuls of rainbow chard.  I love finding out what my loved ones’ favorite foods are and studying recipes in painstaking detail, figuring out exactly how I can create the dish best.  I love waking to the smell of my sourdough starter, patiently and gently folding the dough just right, giving freshly baked bread to friends and watching them tear into it with relish.

When I adore someone, I love making their favorite cake for their birthday.  I haven’t done that for very many people.  I love hosting dinner parties, plating the food beautifully, serving it in courses.

I’ve cooked very, very little since leaving my abuser.  My own kitchen things have remained in storage as I’ve lived with friends.  I can cook in my friends’ kitchens, but somehow my delight seems displaced along with my knife set and my kitchen torch.

Cooking in Kevin’s kitchen felt like coming home.  I loved how, like my own, his kitchen was meticulous and organized.  I loved the sensory experience of preparing our meals while we talked or he finished working.  Once I made dinner while he played the guitar; I was so happy it took my breath away.  I know I’m an exceptional cook, but half my joy comes from sharing it and I still miss the look on his face when he was impressed with what I’d prepared.

I make myself an omelette or eggs shakshuka or whatever now and then but I’m going through the motions, utilitarian and uninspired.

My friend is out of town and I’m watching her sick cats.  I give them food and water and medication, and I spend time at the house with them.

It’s been a difficult day.  I woke up panicking again, it took a long while to calm myself.  I’ve cried a lot.  Finally, at the end of it I go for a run; easy six miles through Durham.  Running, my dark mood begins to lift.  I feel the wind against my skin and the sensation of flying.  I feel myself capable and resonantly alive.

After my run I go to the cats.  My friend has told me repeatedly and emphatically to make myself at home.  I survey her kitchen; it is spacious, wood floored and beautiful.  The counters are tiled in vibrant daffodil yellow.  There’s a wooden island, big windows, a magnificent five burner gas stove and convection oven.  I flip on the light in the pantry and start assembling ingredients.  I bring out almond meal and leavening agents, salt and vanilla.  I find mixing bowls and whisks, measuring cups and pans.

While I look for things I nibble on licorice from the pantry.  I fill a wine glass with San Pellegrino and grapefruit bitters to make a fancy fake cocktail.  I slide in my stockinged feet to the fridge, smiling to myself.  I find milk and eggs, green beans and butter.  There are pepper flakes; I grin and grab those too.  The cats mill around investigating.  I chatter merrily with them while I whisk eggs and milk, vanilla and greek yogurt.  The yogurt is blueberry; that’ll be cool.  Pipee the cat likes ice water in a glass on the kitchen table.  I prepare it for him, sliding across the floor.

I beam at the tiny painted ceramic measuring spoons while adding baking powder and soda.  I admire the course salt and combine almond meal and flour in a stainless measuring cup that reminds me of my own set.  I pop a few Swedish Fish in my mouth and down another glass of my pretend cocktail then slide to the bottles to pour another.  I’m tempted to scold myself for the nutritionally worthless candy, but I’m enjoying it and I deserve to be happy. I eat another one just to make a point.

When my batter is assembled I fiddle with the burners.  I love the click-click of the gas igniting and the heft of the long-handled Williams Sonoma pans.  I melt butter from a ceramic dish, accidentally dump in a whole shit ton of pepper flakes, and laugh about it.  I keep them in the pan, add salt, and swirl the crackling pepper around in the butter.  I ladle my batter into the first pan and dump a pile of green beans into the pepper flake one.  My pancake flips easily, and I toss the green beans while making three more evenly-sized, perfectly browned, gorgeous pancakes.  I plate my food and set a large dollop of Greek yogurt beside my pancakes.  Beside that, I apply a slightly inappropriate amount of whipped cream.

The green beans are just spicy enough to be exciting.  Eating them, I stroke the head of Coonie who has come to sit next to me.  Her fur feels just like my cat’s did.  I tear off a small piece of pancake like my friend would and let her have it. Her eating noises sound just like Kira’s.  I smile at the sad, precious memories of my dead cat and the sweet connection to the living one who shares my dinner.  When I’ve demolished the green beans I start on my pancakes, sighing with contentment–they are perfect, light and fluffy.  I am happy, sitting in my friend’s kitchen with her cat, a plate of pancakes and a glass of fizzy grapefruit water.

When I finish I load the dishwasher.  I love it because it’s very well organized.  I actually enjoy laying the utensils side by side in the shallow top rack, where there is also a perfect tiny shelf for the perfect tiny measuring spoons.  I laugh at the dainty thing sitting there and spray down the sink, sighing at the simple pleasure of the clean kitchen.  Next I go upstairs, where there are fresh soft towels laid out on the guest bed for me.  In the spacious glass shower, the hot water feels delicious.  I’m mesmerized by the droplets rushing down the glass.  I wonder about the neurochemicals released during my run and what is responsible for the total change from my earlier misery to the beautiful, delighted presence I find myself in.  There’s a slight heat of pepper oil still on my lips and I bring my tongue to it.  Smiling serenely, I consider dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.

I imagine how nice it would be to hold someone right now and talk about this.  I am someone; I hold myself.

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