My friend Carla was in town this weekend. I love Carla. Carla is soft and sharp and for some reason has always reminded me of a brunette Meryl Streep. Carla can finish my sentences and make me laugh and when she comes to town and eats lunch at my table, she asks me how she can help clean up, and I show her the sink setup, and there she is, doing my dishes for me as I stand next to her, talking, bent over with my elbows propped up on the counter and my rear end up in the air while I barrage her with questions, her barely missing a beat. As she slips spoons and forks, one by one, into the dishwasher in our galley kitchen, like she is the hostess and I am the guest, I let her because she is Carla and because I know she knows me and because all those weeks (or months? or years?) of walls that typically block we humans from finding intimacy with one another have already been torn down. Carla was the person I went to visit a few nights before my wedding, two years ago this month, so she could make me dinner and we could sit on her new back deck, and she could tell me inner secrets of marriage that can only come from someone who’s already been in it for as long as I’ve been alive.
“Being married is awesome!” I later texted her, from my honeymoon, shocked more than blissful, my cynical heart surprised (still surprised!) that a human relationship could be so sweet.
“Well, of course!” she wrote back to me, with either an SMS smile or a “ha!”
She was here Sunday because her son got married the day before, almost exactly two years after Tim and I did, almost exactly 31 years after she and her husband, Pete, did. When they came to have lunch this weekend, we talked about the wedding and the decorations and the food. We also talked about what books we’re reading and about Pete’s job and about the tufted chair in our living room and how we bought it off Craigslist.
“Have you ever thought about how, if you died, I mean, like if I died, and Tim and I had had kids, that the only way they’d learn about me would be what other people told them?” I asked Carla across the table, Pete in the bathroom and Tim at my side. “Sometimes I wonder how different people would explain me to be and how different their ideas would be from who I am. Like who really knows me besides Tim?”
These are the kinds of weird, hypothetical questions that plague me, right up there with the “What will I wear tomorrow?” and “I wonder what makes so-and-so tick?” that most people would find annoying. Carla responded with something about how our perceptions become our realities and the way we perceive something is the way we believe it to actually be.
It’s answers like those, along with comments in our long conversations about entertaining or family dynamics or pride, that make me feel like when I talk to Carla, I am talking to someone who sees me as I am, someone who understands me. And the older I get, the more I realize how rare such an interaction is and, therefore, how good a gift. When you’re the type of person who gets lost thinking about the way your stories are always autobiographical (because, like Jhumpa Lahiri says, you’re always revealing the things your eyes see—the limitation and grace of your own perceptions of the world), it’s nice to be that sort of person alongside someone else. It’s nice to have someone who thinks your analytical mind is okay.
At our lunch, we fed Carla and Pete a (sadly tough) pot roast, abed Brussels sprouts and potatoes, alongside Tim’s salad and our homemade pretzel rolls. I laughed that we were “treating them like family” by serving new recipes we’d never made before, some of which we’d want to apologize for, but none of which we would brag about, and we ate it all, and they ate it all, and afterwards we went out for ice cream in the Nashville drizzly rain.
The next day, Tim picked up our CSA share and, in amongst all the tomatoes and herbs and squash was a bunch of mustard greens. Today, I took those greens and turned them into chips, barely dressed, changed chiefly by the oven’s heat. Eating them, I felt like I was eating mustard greens as they are—spicy and sharp, thin and leafy, albeit mellowed and crisped by the roasting time.