I meet a friend for dinner after work and we sit at the bar of one of the four restaurants in my current rotation. She’s never been there before, and I go on at length about the other places I love. One that I mention – my favorite these days – makes her frown. “I haven’t been there in a long time,” she says, “because I am very superstitious.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, that man – who killed himself – in the kitchen… I haven’t been able to go back since then.”
This morning, remembering, I think she said that he hanged himself but I am not certain. I may be thinking that only because I have just finished reading the memoir of a war journalist. There are many suicides in that book, and they are all by hanging.
I can only really think of one “good” way to die – peacefully, in sleep, having drifted off seeing the faces of those you love around you. Perhaps there are others, but I know that hanging is not one.
I try very hard to put this thought out of my head. I hope that I will have forgotten this when the time comes, but I fear that this is not a thing one easily forgets.
I am expecting a bit of news today, so I am on edge, waiting. I wonder about the clinical diagnosis that will develop around the compulsive refreshing of a web page. The anticipation in the moment when the space goes white, the expectation of what will have changed when the familiar alignment of colors and light returns – as if by magic. The ways in which these bits of light arrange and rearrange themselves in such array.
How strange to think that mere patterns of light from this screen have brought me to tears. Have exhilarated. Aroused. The power these magic boxes hold.
It is almost impossible not to call to mind any number of experiments in which rodent behavior has revealed some unsettling truth about our own. The way we will continue to push the levers of pleasure – even when our own well-being is at risk.
At dinner, we talk about work and about the circuitous paths our lives have taken to arrive where we now find ourselves. We speak a similar, familiar language although our fields are not the same. At the far end of the bar, there is a woman holding her infant daughter. She cradles her in one arm, leaving the other free for her fork, her glass of wine. I think about the rest of my family – at this very moment on the other side of town in another restaurant – a ritual of their own. I imagine my son drawing in his notebook and my daughter and M., alternating between comfortable silences and exuberant conversational bursts.
When we all gather at home, we disperse quickly. There are bedtime stories to be read, work to be done, phone calls to be made. The kitchen table is piled high with newspapers and magazines, bills to pay, invitations to support this cause or another. A few of last night’s dishes still remain in the sink, unwashed. Is this the way, I wonder, that we are supposed to live? Are we together enough? Do we give each other enough space? Do we maintain an environment where our children can thrive? Do we provide each other sustenance? Do we love sufficiently, selflessly enough? How will we remember this time, years from now? Will we say that we were happy? What will we remember most, after all?
One of the few memories I have of Korea is of ripe persimmons. Every year, when they appear at the market, I buy a few, just to remember. I am the only one in my house who will eat them. Last weekend, I brought home two and the first was so juicy and sweet and perfect that it brought tears to my eyes. I spooned out the brilliantly-colored flesh and let it sit on my tongue, cool and slippery. I knew I would have to wait for the second one. There is a narrow window of time when the fruit is perfectly ripe and only then does it offer up its luscious sweetness. I grew impatient, though, as I am prone to do, and this morning, even as I drew the tip of my paring knife around the calyx, I knew it was not ready. But the damage had been done. The flesh was too firm and as soon as I brought it to my mouth, its tannins left their furry film on my lips and tongue. I carried that sensation through the morning – a reminder that my own careless haste ruined the thing I most desired.
Several months ago, a summer storm blew down the wooden fence in our backyard. In the neighbor’s yard, the beach roses grow wild and leggy and know nothing of garden borders. We’ve not yet replaced the fence and now the line that separates us is invisible, hidden by the weedy overgrowth. When I take mental inventory of the endless list of household tasks that we have failed to adequately address, this one looms large. I dream sometimes of drifts of beach roses covering great swaths of the earth.
I do receive news, but not what I have been waiting for. A baby arrives early to a friend. Five weeks premature, she is tiny, tiny – barely five pounds, but perfect. Her mother has waited several years for this moment. Years of treatments and procedures. Miscarriages. Years of inconsolable grief. I can remember times when she did not think it would be possible. But, time passes. Circumstances change.
Not a single one of us, after all, can see the future.