I’ve got garlic roasting in the oven.
Miles Davis is doing his thing through the speakers of my iPad, and the kitchen is a mess, and as I sliced the garlic I found blue green mold at the base. I peeled the skin away, cut off the edges of mold with a serrated knife, tossed the ruined bits in the trash.
It’s warm, almost, and kids are out on the playground below my porch enjoying those last moments of spring. My experience of Maryland weather, my own former longing for and dreading of summer, reminds me that spring in Columbia is like a peach, not quite ripe, tempting in its sourness. Lanky boys play basketball, shrill girls catapult themselves into the air on the swings, little sisters and brothers beg for attention, and they cry.
The summer – it’s starting, it’s about to be warm, and garlic is roasting in a four hundred degree oven with olive oil and a promise.
I remember seven years ago, living in a mess of kittens and poker and college age mania on Charles Street in Baltimore, staying up all night and walking to Eddie’s at six in the morning. I remember buying steaks and some appropriate vegetable, bartering a slice of meat and fat with a friend for a bottle of Merlot, putting on the Jazz and cooking all day. I cooked for my husband, then a new boyfriend, the cute, brilliant boy. I cooked for myself, even though I didn’t eat much, and I cooked to recapture a bit of those summers on Park Avenue with smoke on the grill and chocolate mint in the garden.
I remember eleven years ago, when my father, stepmother, the birds, and I moved from a run-down apartment building into a new sort of heaven – a few blocks closer to Mt. Vernon, right next to my Grandmere and Grandpere’s Victorian row house, brief steps from my piano teacher’s first floor apartment – a brick and paint space with a garden out back. Dad came home with a small hibachi grill from the Rite Aid, after we chased away the rats and started to plant, and we tossed dried herbs into the fire and delighted in the smell of summer, of art students and their cloying marijuana perfume, of finally growing something in the middle of the city, vines and hopes which we thought could not fail. And we got cheap beer from the corner store; I rolled it along my skin as it sweat condensation like the Asperges.
When I slid my fingers along the dried paper skin of the garlic and found the mold, I had no other choice than to cut it away. I washed my hands.
When it gets warm, I start to remember.
I spoke recently with my stepmother regarding my life, our lives, when I was a teenager, and we were on the phone for three hours. I think the weather stirs it up in me – what is summer and spring to me, but a sensory trigger for being so much younger, thinner, stiletto-perfect and pale? But it’s not just that, and it is not just me – when the weather turns in this new tumultuous dance of climate change there is something inescapable, a need, a desire to find meaning in the rising and setting of the sun and of the cadences of birds.
I’ve got two steaks sitting in the fridge, waiting to be seared in my cobalt enameled cast iron, and I have red pepper and Spanish onion needing to be sliced and salted. The garlic is long since finished, the foil and fat too hot to touch. I have a French boule and Kerrygold butter, and I have spinach to be sautéed.
And I have the song in my heart of summer. I have the taste of vodka in the freezer and of lemon, I have the feel of wood splinters along my thighs, I have the face of my husband as he ate that first dinner of cow and drank of fermented grapes, I have the shouts of young men with basket balls, I have the smell of garlic and the blue of mold and those things we throw away because we have to. I have Miles Davis on the iPad and the knowing that I will go through this thing of growing and planting which is becoming an adult – or pretending to.
I step back into the kitchen, unfold the foil, and the garlic is green. Is it the heat, the mold, or my inexperience?
Here, with Jazz and basket ball and a promise, I feel as untried and verdant as the spring and as ripe-sweet old as the summer. I have to throw things away. Today is about growing up.
I remember sitting with my father and feeling wise, old, privileged, and blessed by the warm winds.
Today, on the porch, or in the kitchen, with the sound of Miles and children laughing, growing up is the smell of perfume and herbs, the taste of blood and tannins, and the feel of the soft parchment skin of garlic and time, aging.
And it is a sharp panic in my heart.
It is a soft longing in my soul.
Images courtesy of Alice Marks.