All the way home, as the plane strode across the continent, my mind kept ringing with one song: “I want to see him. I can’t wait to see him!”
Days in cities filled with people who drove to see me — delightful and filled with stories. But nights alone in strange beds without him — dreary and fitful sleeping. I swear, once I knew how to sleep alone. In fact, I did it for decades. At night, I’d flail out my arms and stretch out my toes and take the entire bed to myself. But now, I naturally lie on one side, the sheets besides me remaining unruffled.
It feels so strange to walk through the world without him by my side.
How does this happen? One day, you meet a man, a stranger who feels familiar. Even though there is something in his eyes that feels like home, still — you don’t know him. You’ve lived a life of orange slices and fennel bulbs, roast beef and Dodger dogs, season after season, summer coming once again, and he was never there. And he comes in. Everything feels new. You taste everything for the first time with his tongue. Sleeping in the bed with him feels utterly strange, even though it’s wildly exciting. Every bite, every breath, every blessed day with him feels new and alive.
Somehow, over time, he blends into you, though. You rise from sleeping to see his eyes smiling at yours. You drink coffee in the morning, and you learn how he likes his. You stop making fun of how much sugar he drinks in it and simply swirl it in and smile as you stir. You memorize the order in which he reads the section of the newspaper and start the day by handing him the comics first.
He’s a dork. He wiggles his butt at you as he leaves the room, and you laugh. He does funny voices in inappropriate places, and you laugh so hard you can feel it come out of your nose. He grows teary when the chicken and rooster from down the street are in the back yard in the morning, waiting to be fed. “They love us,” he says, and you agree, and then you tease him that the fact that he throws them half a pound of bird feed every morning may have something to do with their loyalty. He doesn’t mind you teasing him. He loves it.
He’s nothing like you ever imagined that the man of your dreams might be. He’s everything you ever wanted.
And somehow, in all the planning for a wedding, and honeymoon to Italy, and trips to different cities to celebrate the book, you have a shared existence. And in all the late-night dinners cobbled together from leftovers from the restaurant in a white takeout box, and the angry burns on his hands that fade into pale scars, and the drives to work and the kisses at every stoplight, you create a life. And with every breath and deep chuckle and out-loud puzzlings, you become something else together. Something more than you and him, or even the two of you. You become each other’s hands, and each other’s breaths.
You become a warm bed meant for two.
And so lying in a hotel room with the other half of the bed cold and untouched? I didn’t sleep at all, for days.
On the plane, coming home, I imagined the scene when I would see him again. I’d leave the airport in a shuttle, pay fast at the parking garage, and drive home singing. When I pulled into the driveway, I’d honk hard, and leap out of the car. He’d come bounding down the steps to meet me, and sweep me into his arms. I’d kiss his lips and laugh through my tears, and he’d hold me close, saying how much he missed me. We’d walk into our home and close the door.
There’s a funny thing about the human mind. We’re always imagining the lives we will have. And the living is never as we imagined.
Why do we walk around with these fully formed expectations when they never come true?
Someone wise once said to me, “Expectations are premature disappointments.” That sentence still rings in my head, every day.
When the plane descended through dense grey skies — as slithery as soup spilling off a spoon — I smiled. Lowering clouds and spitting rain — ah Seattle, I’m home. The wheels skidded across the concrete and I turned on the phone. I dialed his number on speed dial (#9, if you must know) and waited to hear his familiar voice, as soft and warm as tomato sauce. But after one touch, his voice mail clicked on. Disappointed, I waited until we reached the gate to try again. Voice mail again.
With increasing frequency, I tried. And tried. He always clicks over when it’s me. So do I. What was going on? Where was my telephone reunion?
By the time I reached baggage claim, I worried that something horrible had happened to someone in his family, and he was talking on the phone to everyone he knew. As I walked out of the airport, the rain suddenly seemed cold on my skin. Without his voice, my body remembered all the trips I had taken when I had arrived home alone, no one waiting for me at the other end. I remembered the way I had dropped my bags and looked around, suddenly bereft of anything to do. I usually headed for the fridge first.
In a split second, I was single again.
When I was single, I convinced myself that I didn’t need anyone else. I worked hard to be independent, fill my life with friends, and tell myself it didn’t matter if I never found love. But now that I have, I realize that my life then was like a complex red wine sauce, built of veal stock and a swirl of creamy butter, but no salt. With one little pinch of sea salt, crunched in and stirred, the taste dances on the tongue.
So where the hell was he?
By the time I was nearly home, I could only imagine he was dead. An hour and a half after I had landed, and I still hadn’t heard from him? Oh god, he must have had a heart attack. (Never mind that the man is entirely healthy, not sick once since I met him.) Suddenly, I imagined running into the house and giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
The phone rang (or more to the point, Stevie Wonder started singing) and my heart tumbled in my chest. Finally! But when I looked down, I didn’t recognize the number. Damn. I’m not answering that. I don’t want to deal with anyone else right now. Besides, I was so close, only a few blocks from home.
When the little jingle of the voice mail tinkled, I picked it up to listen. And suddenly, the sun shone again. His voice.
Get this. The dear man does not drive. (I had the car, anyway.) Even though he had worked late the night before, he had woken early, walked a mile from our home, and taken a bus all the way to the airport. Just to surprise me. (He said he woke up in our bed early, alone, and couldn’t go back to sleep anyway. He was too excited to see me.) Once he reached the airport, he stood near the gate where he thought I would emerge and practiced standing nonchalantly with the newspaper. And waited. And waited.
By the time he realized he had the wrong gate, and that I must have left already, he realized the battery on his phone had died. He couldn’t reach me.
So, the number I didn’t recognize was actually him. There was his voice — as familiar as the feel of his legs against mine in the bed — calling from a pay phone. He stood by it for five minutes, hoping I would call back.
Of course, I did. And I cried into the phone, so happy to hear him. And then I turned around the car.
When I reached the airport again, the traffic snarled in front of me, all the red taillights sinister in the slick pavement. I just wanted to shake the steering wheel and shout, “Get out of my way! I want to see my husband!”
An hour later, I ran from the parked car and ran toward him. He wasn’t there.
As I stared into the emptiness of the pavement where he said he would be, the phone rang. This time I answered the unknown number. “Are you downstairs?” Yes, sweetie. “I’ll come to you.”
When I saw him emerge from the sliding doors, the Sunday paper spilling from underneath his arm, I felt in that moment he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
And so, our imagined reunion — holding each other and crying into each other’s arms —happened on the sidewalk in front of the Alaska airlines arrival doors, surrounded by exhaust and people frantically smoking cigarettes after a six-hour flight and rain splattering down into our hair. Mostly, we were laughing, at his kind gesture gone awry, and my ridiculous imaginings.
Then we drove home.
You never could have told me that the most complete, romantic feeling in the world would be lying in bed eating chips and salsa, watching Larry the Cable Guy on Comedy Central.
Life is rarely like recipes, words printed on stiff paper, an imagined story. It’s onions, roughly chopped, sizzling in the last drops of the oil in the house, keeping warm on the only burner on the stove that works. Real life tastes so good.
We slept well last night, in the same bed again, at last.
Sea scallops dusted in black rice flour
True love is the Chef coming into the restaurant on his day off, when we had not really seen each other all week. He walks into the kitchen to do his work, again, for a party in your honor. He gathers the ingredients and starts cooking. And when you call out that you’re hungry, and could you please have some food, he emerges from the kitchen with this.
Yes, I married him.
6 large sea scallops (as fresh as you can find them)
3 tablespoons forbidden black rice, ground into flour in the spice grinder
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Heat a pan until a drop of water sizzles on the surface.
Dredge the scallops in the black rice flour. Shake off the excess.
Add the oil and butter to the pan. When the butter is foaming, but not yet brown, add the fish to the pan and shake the scallops around a bit, so they stick.
Cook the scallops for a minute and a half, or until the rice flour forms a crust on the fish. Flip the scallops over, then cook for a minute or two, or until the internal temperature is 90° to 120° (depending on how you like your scallops).