I have been in love three times and each time the realization that I was in love came over food. I’m not saying the thought of it – I think about loving people all the time, I see people and imagine what it would be like to be in love with them – but the catalyst, the lightning strike, the moment. I told my mom this once, and she just said, “You really need to stop fixating on food like this, you’ve gained a lot of weight in the past few years.” So now I’m telling you.
The first time was in high school with my first high school boyfriend, Grant. I was seventeen, the beginning of my senior year, steadfastly not thinking about what would happen in May. Both of us were slogging through college applications, and I was smarter than Grant and knew I’d have to go far away while he’d stay close to home. I told my friends that we were keeping it casual, but the fact was that he was my first boyfriend and I didn’t know the difference between serious and casual. I don’t think they did either.
On the night after a big calculus test, when we didn’t have as much homework as usual, I got permission to extend my weekday curfew until 11:30 and ate dinner with Grant’s family. He left early to take me home and we got milkshakes at a drive-through for dessert. He parked in an empty lot on the way to my house, and we sat in the back seat of his mom’s car, eating our milkshakes. We kept the radio on. He tightened his hold on me just as the song, a wailing pop ballad, reached its climax, and with milkshake dripping down my chin that’s when I knew with utter certainty that I loved him.
But I didn’t say anything. Keeping it casual, right? We broke up in May and I thought of him every day for six months, until sometimes I would realize that I had gone a day without thinking of him and it felt strange and new like waking up and you don’t know where you are.
The second time was with David, in college. We weren’t dating. I was horribly hungover one day and he took me out to lunch at a diner and bought me orange juice and eggs and sausage and pancakes, and I ate every damn thing. He asked the waitress to pull the curtains so it wouldn’t be so bright. We had been friends for years; I’d never considered him as anything more. But I knew he was having trouble with his girlfriend and all of a sudden I felt filled with painful clarity, and the delicious breakfast was heavy in my stomach. I raised my head to say something, convinced in my stupor that it was the right thing to do, but just then he got up to go to the jukebox and chose the absolute worst song they had, so I stopped. I could never look at him in the same way after that, but I made myself understand that it wouldn’t have worked anyhow. And he and his girlfriend are married now, anyway.
The third time was with you. And you don’t remember it because I didn’t say anything and I’ve never told you this. But it was that Thursday that we both got off work early and drank a bottle of wine on the porch of your apartment. After most of the bottle, we got hungry and we thought it would be a good idea to make spaghetti. So, giggling and grabbing at each other, we boiled the water and made the spaghetti. I threw some cheese on it, you got the plates, and we sat down at the table.
Everything was spinning, but you grabbed my hands and centered me. You bowed your head.
“Dear Lord,” you said. “We thank you for this meal and everything you have given us. Thank you for this afternoon and for the chance to be together. Amen.”
“Amen,” I said, and you raised your head and lifted your fork. “I didn’t even know you were Christian.”
“I’m not,” you said, “not really. We went to church sometimes when I was younger. But I like saying grace for a meal I’ve made. It feels right, you know?”
I did know. Everything around me was blurry but you, you eating your spaghetti and your face red from the sun, you were in focus. And the words sprang to my lips, I love you I love you I love you, but I didn’t speak them then because I wasn’t sure if it was the wine or if it was true.
Rachel woke up early on Friday morning to get to the corner of Tremont and Gardner. The blue house wasn’t scheduled to come down til ten, but when she got there at eight the demolition team was already set up, and the broad wrinkled men in their hard hats were leaning against the equipment smoking cigarettes. Each cigarette sparked and smoked in the blink of an eye as it fell, like a message of what was to come.
The Tribune had wanted neighbors’ opinions as part of the story. Rachel had procrastinated until the morning of – or, as she told herself, she had waited until the event was foremost in people’s thoughts. This lapse in planning (intentional choice) that had resulted in her presence at Tremont and Gardner two hours early on the cool October morning was the exception to a record of otherwise good reporting. She had covered both sides, interviewing the city planning councilmen and the protestors. Both had representatives here. Both looked tired. They looked like Rachel felt – namely, like they wanted to drift back home and into the warmth of bed.
But it was time to get to work.
Rachel stepped up to a dark-haired woman standing at the bus stop with her child, a protective hand resting on his skinny shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have a moment?”
The woman glanced at Rachel’s notebook. “What for?”
“I’m a reporter for the Tribune and I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the demolition of the Lacey house.”
“I’m new to the neighborhood,” the woman said. “So I don’t feel that strongly one way or the other. It would be a nice house if it looked like new. But it’s an eyesore now. And it’s dangerous. I’m okay with them taking it down.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Is that okay? Do you need more?”
“That’s great, thank you so much,” Rachel said, putting a line under her notes. It wasn’t great, but Rachel hated bothering ordinary people. A failure and a weakness, she knew.
She moved on, knocked on doors. Faces greeted her in various states of preparation for the day. She announced herself and politely asked for opinions. In every case, their eyes wandered over her shoulder to the blue house, formally known as the Lacey house, teetering tall and broken at the corner like an old woman about to faint.
“It’s a part of history. They should restore it.”
“I wish they wouldn’t tear it down. It’s been around since my mom was little. But it’s been vacant forever, and it’s pretty wrecked, so I guess it’s okay.”
“I saw a cat there once. I was worried that there was a whole litter of cats living in there. Did they check for animals?”
“It’ll make a lot of noise when it comes down. Will it block traffic?”
People kept their comments short and to the point, in marked contrast to the lengthy and heartfelt responses Rachel had been expecting. Maybe it was the hour. Either way, Rachel returned to her post on the sidewalk at 9:30 after canvassing the blocks around the area and witnessing tens of cars pull out of driveways and leave for work. The Lacey house cast its uneven shadow onto Gardner, and Rachel looked up at the great blue walls.
In its heyday the blue house had been the intellectual gathering place of the city, a haven for civil rights activists in the ‘60s and frustrated liberals in the ‘80s. But Carolin Lacey died in ’88, followed closely by her thin and quiet son in the early ‘90s. Normally the city would have sold off or destroyed the house when it became apparent that the will had included no provision for the house, but a languid yet persistent effort to make it a historical landmark had prolonged the process for years.
Until now. The house was coming down, finally. The dirty, rust-caked windowsills would fall, and the white-painted doorframes would fall, and the bright blue walls would fall, and the brick fireplace would fall, and the red-brown boards of the wooden floor would quake and cave and fall.
At ten sharp, the demolition team pulled the switch. Smoke and dust billowed out of the ball of noise – Rachel could have sworn she heard a feral kitten’s shriek – and then settled on the ground. It was over.
Perhaps this is what Mrs. Lacey intended when she failed to write her will properly, Rachel thought as she drove away. To take all the thought and emotion, love and sex, debate and grief and fury that were born in and borne by that house and bury it, give it a real and final place to rest. Put it forever in the ground.