2017 was the year of “something happened.” From headlines to text messages, the news was violently surreal. Phone calls were big or they were a minute long. Houses lost the patina of home. Language grew mushy in my mouth. Family, full of people I assumed wouldn’t change, changed.
January 2017 became a fogged window that I couldn’t stop walking into.
It got dark in the present. I was surprised when I looked up and found that I had been lying supine, cradled in blankets, my pajamas reeking of passed day. I was surprised when it was a new Monday and when it was a new February. It was March and then it was April, spring and more spring.
The days stretched bright. The moon refused to obey curfew. I was surprised by how every day was a watched pot, but before I knew it, I was four months into a year that still felt brand new.
“I’m doing everything I’m supposed to!” is not a battle cry, but what else can you say when you’re still sad and would rather not be? People will tell you they were depressed and then they weren’t, and we have amnesia about the middle ground, the wobbly time in between.
I swear this will be about food. Listen. Just wait.
When the mental fog started to roll out, it was like there was a mosquito bite on my kidney. I was an unscratchable itch with a heartbeat. I was upright, but wiped clean of ego and past.
“Can you do something to take your mind off things?” people would ask. One of the of many kind ways to say, “Come on, dude. Buck up. It’s been four months.”
I was dizzy about time. I wondered what I would do yesterday or last week. I started going to the farmers market every Sunday, which announced with every color change and new addition: “It’s this season, this month, this week, today. Would you like a wedge of nectarine? Three for a dollar.”
I had been been living off of popcorn and frozen dumplings, the sadness special. Foods that are easy, foods that are hollow, foods that flooded my body with sugar and fatigue. After my first farmers market off the couch, I took my haul to the kitchen and washed and sliced and didn’t think. I needed a win. I cracked open a cookbook called “Small Victories” by Julia Turshen.
Can a self-help book teach you how to make vinaigrette? Mine did. Catharsis was an angrily pumped fist, locked around a mason jar. Relief was dressing, flecked with pepper, tangy with mustard. “Make it in the almost scraped clean jar,” says Turshen. A person exiting a depression has never heard a better instruction than “Turn trash into food.” You’re not lazy, refusing to clean out your fridge. Simply forward thinking.
I wanted dinner. I wanted friends at the table. I wanted to sit beside my husband and feast, elbow to elbow as we watched bad TV and leaned against each other, laughing. I wanted holidays. I wanted desserts. I wanted people, connection. Depression is a kind of hibernation. I wanted to emerge from the cave.
Butter left overnight on the counter was a promise that I kept. I passed out plates of warm Feel Better Soon cookies on a Friday where I made a mental note of every person I would see. Amy gets cookies, Caitlin and Joe get cookies, our landlords get cookies, we get cookies and we all ate them warm. They tasted like butter and the chewy roast of baked raisins and chocolate chips that melt into pockets.
When you spend two weeks on the couch and keep visiting it as often as you can for months, who are you? I didn’t know. I was a slate wiped clean. The recipes of Small Victories filled the void.
Small victories—-I can’t control anything, but I can squish biscuit dough into rounds and bake them on top of a pile of sliced stone fruit. I can serve it in the backyard with sticky gochujang ribs, baked and finished on the grill pan. I can shave zucchini and dress it in olive brine and olive oil. I can fill a table where we pass ribs, lick fingers, watch meat fall off bones. We smash our spoons into biscuit and fruit, we scoop goat milk vanilla ice cream on top of cobbler and watch it drool.
I felt better, and I felt like a person who could dress a salad three different ways. I cooked dinner nearly every night with a book whose spine grew limber with use. With time and work and biscuit dough under my fingernails, I exited the wobbly in between and re-entered the world.
Look, I can’t tell you when it will get better, whatever it is. I can’t offer a date when things will feel normal. I can only say that if you shake olive oil, vinegar, and garlic in a nearly gutted jar of mustard long enough, you will have vinaigrette. That’s a promise.