Preaching the End of the World

For my husband, Brian Jarboe

I learned the news that guitarist Chris Cornell’s death had been declared a suicide on Thursday, May 18—which also happened to be the fourth day in a row I had not managed to get over to the pharmacy to pick up my antidepressant prescription.

Which meant that I had not taken my medicine for at least four, maybe five, days. I felt vaguely apprehensive about the prospect, for sure, but I’m not a major sufferer and the dosage is low (Sertraline, 50 mg).

In fact, I was amazed at how relatively “normal” I felt, after all. It was a busy week at work with some scary tasks I had to accomplish, amid the usual hours of driving in traffic. I found myself taken over by a rush of passionate energy, in which every word, every moment, everything I had to do, seemed as though it were falling into place, as orderly and infinite as tiles in an Arabic mosaic.

You’ve probably already figured it out, but I was just a wee bit hypomanic.

When I heard the news report—mere hours after Cornell had been found dead in his Detroit hotel room—I was threading my way through D.C. streets in my ragged Volvo on the way to my eight-year-old daughter’s piano recital.

And when I was finally there, sitting in a hot basement stuffed full of parents, and a girl, maybe ten, began singing and playing along to “Burn” from Hamilton, tears started running uncontrollably down my face, and I realized my folly, the delusion I’d had of my own invincible efficiency. [Read more…]

Pascha, the Resurrection, and Ricky Gervais

photo of the beautiful painted walls and ceilings in a shadowy orthodox church.Rays of midmorning sun shone through the window and fell in molten pools across the white sheets of our bed. Lying back on my two feather pillows, I could hear and smell the burgeoning sounds of spring through my open windows—birds chirping, the scent of sweet olive, the soft susurration of car wheels on the street still wet from the early morning rain.

It was 11:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning. I leaned over and touched the pillow beside me—my husband, a Roman Catholic, had gotten up and gone to Easter Mass at his church. I felt bad for not accompanying him, for he’d been there with the rest of us through the night.

Then I turned back over and slept a little bit more.

I went downstairs and got coffee, and stood at the kitchen sink in my nightgown and ate a fried chicken breast. The house was fragrant with flowers. My husband came home, and we had noontime gin and tonics on the porch.

Christ is Risen! [Read more…]

Share If You Agree

black and white film image of a bowler hat suspended over a bed of tall daisies I have had it with the rage.

It might drive me off social media.

At first, I thought it might just be a problem of living in metropolitan Washington, D.C., where the strident opinions held by many are usually interlinked with what they do for a living. No such luck, though: I’ve been on trips to Mississippi, California, and Texas in the past couple of years, and it has been just as bad there, too.

This social pose has driven me crazy for the past eight years, the ongoing and incessant braying that has filled up my Facebook notifications, the “Honk if I’m Paying Your Mortgage” and “I’ll Keep My Guns and Religion, and You Can Keep the Change” memes, which also appear on bumper stickers that I have to follow on the Beltway. [Read more…]

Weddings, Women, Sweets, and Wishes

Still life of a white cake on a blue tablecloth, messy painting, warm colors. My heirloom cookbook was born during a Washington D.C. snowstorm in February of what was then called “The Year 2000,” in my final months of singlehood before I was to be married in July. That storm barely registers in the city’s memory now: it was neither the Blizzard of 1996, with its eight-foot-high snowbanks, 2003’s freak President’s Day storm, nor was it the incomparable Snowmageddon of 2010 (which I wrote about on Good Letters).

However, the storm in 2000 was significant enough—knee-high drifts under a gunmetal sky and the threat of more on the way—that work was cancelled for two days, and my roommate Paula and I lounged around the apartment filled with snow-glare-white light, drinking wine, ordering pizza (somehow Domino’s still delivered), and watching the first season of Survivor with her boyfriend Johan, who had crashed at our place for the fun.

The second night we were housebound, Paula—a tall, raven-haired engineer originally from Bogotá—announced that she was going to bake a cake. Not just any cake—I, for one, was raised on Betty Crocker—but her Colombian grandmother’s homemade white cake. She went into the kitchen, and once she ascertained that, amazingly, we did have the many eggs and flour and baking powder and mountains of sweet cream butter required, began to separate eggs with the acumen she brought to technical drawing.

Paula beat a sweet yellow cake batter that, once it was poured carefully into floured cake pans, smelled high and sugary in the heat of the oven. The remaining egg whites she beat into thick stiff peaks, to which she added sugar until she’d beat a glossy meringue frosting—her grandmother Sophia’s treasured batido blanco—that held its shape when twirled with the back of a spoon. Once the layers were out of the oven and safely cooled, she sandwiched a layer of jam between them, and spread this thick luxuriant icing all across the top.

We ate. And we ate and we ate and we ate. I have had wonderful cakes in my time, but never one as purely delicious as this. It amazes me that the tight bodice of my ivory jacquard wedding dress still zipped up so easily at the next fitting, the skirt snug over foamy layers of tulle. [Read more…]

Ready to Run

running-by-patrik-nygren-on-flickr-editMidway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path

And the reason I had wandered off from the straight path, Brothers and Sisters, was because—for the first time in my forty-eight years on this weary earth, I started doing something I sworn up and down I’d never take up:

I have started running.

I can’t even begin to imagine the level of cognitive dissonance that this revelation must be inducing in my longtime friends. Even before there were European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that said “0.0,” with the tiny legend below “I Don’t Run,” there were the “26.0,” “13.5” and heaven forbid, “70.0” European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that smarty-pants athletic overachievers put on their Suburus.

And I scorned them all. I not only didn’t run; I was The Anti-Runner.

From infancy to middle age, I was an advocate of cars, air conditioning, and general immobility. Why was this? you ask.

Say what you will about today’s spineless “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports culture, but I would have delighted by such a thing in 1978 (the year that my fourth grade P.E. teacher in public school paddled me for talking in class, in front of about 100 other kids).

In 1978, if you were not at least passably athletic, you were in for it. I was awkward and clumsy, and I was always, always, always picked last for kickball. [Read more…]