As did thousands of Angelenos during that unforgettable March of 2020, I found myself in an ominously quiet supermarket, maneuvering a cart down a crowded dry goods aisle and bewildered by a quickly dwindling supply of pasta, rice and beans.
Standing in front of the bulk bins, a fellow shopper and I deliberated.
“Should we be touching these, do you think?”
“Well, if we want what’s inside, we have no choice,” he determined, digging a stainless-steel scoop into the last of the cornmeal. “Only hope.”
“Right,” I nodded, filling a bag with my usual pistachio fix. I took a tiny pencil from the common box, wrote the PLU code on a twist tie and decided maybe I should keep the pencil this trip.
A few aisles over, I grabbed a five-pound bag of organic spelt flour, a gigantic can of stewed tomatoes. Who I thought I’d be cooking for, I had no idea. My long-distance sweetheart was three states away, and while our regular Southwest flight was faster than a Thursday night commute from Pasadena to Malibu, air travel suddenly seemed as viable as interstellar transport. Besides, my Mountain Time Zone beau was the better cook by far.
No matter how bare the fridge or how late the hour, he always prepared dinner when we managed to be in the same time zone together, and I adored sous-cheffing for his spinach omelets, rocket and radicchio salads, slow-cooked dhals. A trip to the grocery store always seemed more date night than chore, and the food shopping I did when I was back in L.A. felt a kind of being together, even when we were apart.
In fact, our first date took place at a small gourmet food shop in a state where neither of us lived. We’d met at a weekend conference after he sat cross-legged on an end table next to my chair, the only available seat in a packed lecture room. For the next hour and a half, the only view I had of him was his boot, a buckskin-colored suede Frye.
They say timing is everything in love, but maybe so is place. After the panel was over, we spoke, but it wasn’t until the evening of the keynote when the space-time continuum brought us face to face and I asked if he’d managed to find a good spot to eat. A half-hour’s walk later, we were sitting at a table, working our way through a butternut squash and kale pizza.
It was there that I learned he lived in a canyon surrounded by mountains, his house accessed via a road comprised, alternately, of mud, dust, snow and ice. I’m no Einstein, but even I could tell these dimensions weren’t going to be exactly easygoing, especially for a lifelong Californian who hadn’t seen snow falling until she was 20.
I’ve read that space-time does not evolve, it simply exists, and maybe the same is true of love. In this case, moments expanded to fill the absence of distance. One of us boarded a plane every few weeks; the other drove to the airport. Until time screeched to a stop — not only for us, but for everyone.
Not knowing what to expect, not wanting to get each other sick, it was months until I traveled again, double-masked, to his house in the canyon.
At my long-delayed annual checkup, my doctor asked how I was doing, living so far from my main squeeze during isolating pandemic days.
“Oh, doctor, I don’t know,” I said through my mask.
“Well, you’re not a teenager,” she scolded gently, my emotional health in mind. “Don’t waste time.”
Which is maybe all we have, after all. I just wanted mine in the same place. It was an unsolvable equation.
We spent that first pandemic Thanksgiving sharing a cozy holiday meal at his kitchen table, but by the second, as the virus worked its way through the Greek alphabet, it became clear that as much as we masked, vaxxed, and boosted, it wouldn’t be enough to ward off the long-shot odds of insurmountable distance.
As you might imagine from a woman who kept a five-pound bag of organic spelt flour in her refrigerator way past its 2021 sell-by date, I miss the early lockdown days of bread baking, the gorgeous loaves of sourdough popping out of Dutch ovens all over Instagram. Even if yeast was now back on the shelf, what was the point? It’s one thing to love someone, another to make a life. And because making a life in the same kitchen hadn’t worked out, I made toast.
But first, I bought a toaster. Not just any toaster. One I’d had a crush on since that first work-from-home scroll across my screen, introduced by some newly minted fairy-Zoom-mother algorithm. With its cheerful analogue dials, peek-a-boo window, and winking orange lights, this model was downright adorable, the Easy-Bake Oven I never had. Not surprisingly, the non-toy version was well beyond my household budget, and — less surprisingly, still — months on back order. Besides, my compact two-slice toaster was still plugging along.
Nearly two years later, as hope short-circuited into an Omicron winter, what wasn’t ticking so well was my heart.
But guess what was finally in stock?
Reader, I’ve lived eons without a television, microwave or coffee maker. Neither do I own a dishwasher, pressure cooker or air fryer. But the minute that flirty toaster came back on the scene, I clicked “buy now.”
By the first week of December, unboxed and set up like an anime hearth on my tiny kitchen counter, I toasted raw almonds, flaked coconut, thin slices of apple sprinkled with cardamom. I ordered miniature pans in which I baked brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, a two-egg frittata. I toasted kale into chips, chickpeas into crunch, artichoke hearts to nourish my own.
I watched transfixed as the electrical alchemy of heat turned dullness into golden, the gentle tick of minutes sounding the bright ting of the alarm.
And then, another pandemic New Year countdown on the calendar, I found myself making a single, sublime piece of toast.
A friend had given me three avocados from her tree: “Two weeks,” she’d told me. Amid emerging variant news and changing holiday plans, I’d almost forgotten about them ripening in the bowl. But the slight give when I pressed their skins told me time had passed more quickly than I’d thought. And even if one day blurred into the next, made blurrier by the rain, time would keep passing and time would do its work, and it was time not to waste the gift.
I picked up one of the avocados, sliced it around the plump middle — by habit, the way you’re not supposed to because nobody wants an emergency room cut right now. I scooped the tender green fruit onto the toast, sourdough rye from the freezer. I ground pink Himalayan salt, a squeeze of lemon a neighbor had left in a basket for passers-by. Hemp seeds because that’s the kind of Californian I am. I ate the entire toasty wonder straight from the cutting board, standing over the kitchen counter, which is maybe a little more civilized than the sink.
And then I toasted another because, well, the other half of the avocado was waiting, and why not a second round? To love — here’s to now, wherever you are.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected] You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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