I hosted my first dinner party over the holidays. It was a very last minute decision and I was nervous but excited about pulling off a big meal for a small crowd. I set out to cook a duck, mash potatoes, roast brussel sprouts, and create a homemade green bean casserole for seven people with about a days worth of prep. And you know what? It turned out pretty great. I started cooking around 1:30pm on Wednesday and we were sitting down to eat at about 7:45, just fifteen minutes past my best guess of when we might eat.
The food was warm, friends were gathered, wine was poured. I was not anxious or frazzled, and the kitchen was relatively clean thanks to my obsessive “keep your station clean” mentality. I felt very proud to have created such a cozy den of friendship, and in my ability to prove to myself that I could feed a crowd. The serving dishes were mismatched but clean, and the vision of my perfectly imperfect homemade feast made me feel that I can make shit happen in my life when I want to. I felt adult, proud, and powerful.
Flash forward to Saturday afternoon, where I now find myself crying into my knife as I chop cabbage and green apples for a salad. We’re fostering a second dog for the long weekend with hopes of adopting. She’s a sweet loving beagle we’ve named Millie. Millie and our current dog Gayle have had a couple fights, and things aren’t going as we had hoped. I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep her. And now her hopeful face and playful trot comes to represent all in the world that I cannot control.
I’m thinking about her, and about our broken sink. Something we have tried to control, but can’t. And all the other things in my life, the big and the small, that I want to change but either haven’t figured out how to fix or simply don’t have control over. I’m thinking about my eternal optimism that things will get better, which at the moment feels like a perfectly ripe peach that has been smashed by a dirty boot. Sadness oozes around my chest, mascara clouds my vision, and I have the deep down melancholy that is hard to climb out of. I put down the kitchen knife and slump to the floor. I let the cabbage weep on the cutting board while I weep on our cold tile floor.
An hour and an anxiety pill later I am walking the dogs with Jason, feeling the edges of my sadness being folded down. The pain is not so sharp now, and our soft conversation and the vision of two happy dogs walking on rainy sidewalks calms me. I don’t know what will come next, but this little moment is nice and that is enough for now.
If only life was more like an improvised green bean casserole. Do a little research and gather the right ingredients, and everything will always turn out okay. And if something does go wrong – the sauce burns, the beans are overcooked – starting over is possible. Your just need to clean the pans, review what went right and what went wrong, and then begin again with the hope of something delicious still to come.
I suppose life is too big a place to always keep your station clean and organized, and even with the best ingredients gathered things can happen beyond our control. Even when you scrub the pans clean you still have the memory of your failures and past pains. I guess the point is to still hope for something delicious out of life, even if that seems out of reach at the moment.
If nothing else, taking a dog on a walk always seems an anecdote to a not-so-nice world.