The first love plain and simply, sucks. This was the first time she understood her friend Jay's blistering declaration that "Love is a willingness to be bludgeoned." She's still not sure what it was that precipitated this tumbling; the guy in question was an awful boyfriend, thoughtless, heartless and careless in a way that as a friend he had been nothing short of exemplary. But at 22, having never let go of her feelings, she fell in love. She began to fall in love, when at the opera, during Cherubino's Voi che sapete aria, he kissed her in the dark and said, "I love you." It seemed so romantic, so sophisticated: but in looking back it was little more than self-indulgent aggrandizing.
Before him she had had other serious relationships; but in those circumstances she had simply floated through, faking emotions she didn't really feel. She once jokingly said to a friend that she reserved her greatest passion for inanimate objects like her books and fountain pens. Karma is a bitch. It wasn't until the night he broke a third date with her, when she was writing a letter to him to articulate her disappointment, that she realized she was in love and there was neither accompanying joy nor elation; how could there be when she was alone, unable to voice these feelings to him, and knowing deep down that in love, she has chosen poorly?
There used to a restaurant in Georgetown called Au Pied de Cochon. They went there a few times to have the chocolate mousse and a cup of coffee. A well made chocolate mousse is light and airy, relying on the perfect incorporation of whipped heavy cream with melted chocolate and a yolk meringue (egg yolks + simple syrup). Everything needs to be the right temperature to produce a lighter-than-air consistency and not a soupy mess. It's time consuming. It takes effort and patience. For all its pretense at sophistication, the chocolate mousse at Au Pied de Cochon was a heavy handed concoction that lacked subtlety or finesse: it was little more than melted chocolate mixed with the beaten cream and then cooled. The omission of the egg meringue would be noticed only by someone expecting silkiness and delicacy. As fakes go, it was a good fraud, a thick chocolate brute in a white ramekin topped with over beaten whipped cream one shade away from the canned stuff.
She knew the relationship was at an end when took her to the airport, kissed her and said, "I love you." The thing about sincerity is that it's hard to fake.
This is not the One That Got Away. There's no such person in her life, nor should/will there ever be. Life and love are sacred arts; we should not be dilettantes at either; and so she's never allowed a moment to pass without marking it, or a person to enter or leave her life without noting them. This one...this one, oh I suppose this was the one that restored her to a state of balance from the enervation of her first love to the exultation of her last love.
People fall in love over a kitchen table at a friend's house when it is late and they talk endlessly. They fall in love because there's seduction in being heard. They fall in love because there's no alternative to the moment. But they do nothing about it: they never talk about it, they never acknowledge it, and they never act upon it. There's a third person in the picture and neither of them are willing to transgress; interestingly, there's always a third person. In their long relationship, there's never a right moment to allow the option of exploring. But they both know. They always know. They know when they're driving to her boyfriend's house. They know when they walk companionably with the Gotham skyline in the backdrop. They know when their long conversations meander from topic to topic and they finish up conversational threads from days, months and even years earlier. They know when her relationships and his relationships rise and fall. And they know, when in a quiet moment he inexplicably breaks The Rule of Silence to tell her that he has sometimes wondered how differently their lives might have been if they'd had the chance to find out if their mutually mute and requited love could have met the high bar of their hopes.
There's a little cafe across from his old office that serves terrific French pastries, including Opera Cake. Opera cake is so intricate, so complicated: six layers of Biscuit Joconde (an almond sponge cake), three of which are soaked in coffee syrup, sandwiching coffee buttercream, one layer of ganache, and covered with chocolate glaze. It's time consuming to make, and honestly, never tastes as good as you think it will. It's so pretty to look at, so appealing to all the senses -- but the buttercream and the ganache make it tricky to serve: too chilled and the cake becomes clunky and dry in your mouth; too warmed and you risk the mushiness of the same. The chocolate glaze needs to be near perfect for that shine and texture; else it's cloying. Opera cake, as you can imagine, is all about timing.
This is the dessert they are sharing at the cafe when he makes his confession. It sits unfinished after she puts her coffee cup down and says, "It's pretty to think so, isn't it?" He understands. He knows. It's what Jake Barnes says to Brett Ashley at the end of "The Sun Also Rises" when she muses about how good it could have been between the two of them.
When she calls him a day later to tell him there's a line from an Edith Wharton short story he must know; and the quote is, "We've been too close together - that has been our sin. We have seen the nakedness of each other's souls" they know that the shared reverie is at an end, as necessarily quiet in its death as in its naissance.
Third Time Lucky
The simultaneous reactions to The One: "Finally," and "This is going to effing hurt."
...Sometimes she'll catch a glimpse of him in a quiet moment when he's preoccupied with something else and she just aches. When she hears his laughter from another room she pauses and wishes that delicious sound were directed towards her. The best time is in the still night, when he's sleeping and she can stare at him at will without feeling as though she is trespassing or being intrusive. She's stopped wondering why the pleasure she derives in his company marches side by side with wistfulness? Oh yes, she knows: because love hurts. In all its myriad, poignant forms: watching your parents age and realizing that your adult love for them is tempered with the realization that they're not immortal; kissing your babies and accepting that having children is tantamount to allowing your heart to walk outside your body; but these loves you don't have much choice. It's the love you choose for yourself -- the person next to you, the one you wake up with and go to bed with (and thank whatever high power in which you believe for allowing you these privileges) -- okay, that's the one where you've willingly allowed yourself to be exposed and the one over which you have no control, the one where you do stupid things willingly...
A friend once described an incident in which his then-girlfriend ran out of the bar where they'd been having beers when he told her he was leaving for a job out of town. Of course he followed her out, whereupon she tearfully berated him for not thinking to ask her to come along with him; but as it turned out, it was little more than a show of dramatic bravado on her part. When the time came to actually go, she balked and the relationship fell apart.
"I am never doing that again," he said. He meant that he was never going to chase a girl out of a bar again and lay himself out at her feet - and risk being disappointed again.
Oh but you should. Read above about love and life being sacred arts. Why cut off any part of yourself? Why not throw yourself in whole-heartedly each time? Why not risk everything you have to give? Risk is half reward as much as half failure. Wouldn't it be better to go into every relationship risking everything you are, everything you hope for, all the parts that make up the sum of your being?
At the lowest point in their relationship, when she was most hurt and disappointed, she wrote the most beautiful love letter ever about him.
"I had to write it," she said. "so that I could remember - 'Why him?' So that I could remember why I was in love with him, THAT I was in love with him." It allowed her to fall in love with him again. (Note again about love being a sacred art and risking everything over and over).
Everything she feels is always out there, right on her sleeve where he can see it. It's kinda messy and sort of sloppy. She doesn't care: everything. Everything. There is no point in being half-assed about it. He's much more inscrutable but in moments of doubt, she recalls something he told her once in earnest: "I feel tethered to the universe because of you." She remembers lots of moments like these because they are the real things that bind her to him, that make their life together seem less ephemeral, less oneiric.
The first time they went out, she had a chocolate tart for dessert. The first few times she tried to duplicate the recipe, something invariably went awry. How can something as simple as a ganache be so ridiculously difficult to make? When you add hot cream to melted chocolate, depending on the portions of cream to chocolate and the additions (butter, oil), the ganache can be used to make cake fillings, truffles, a shiny glaze or whipped to become an icing. A really good ganache is the result of very compatible ingredients - so harmonious that even if you make a mistake like adding water and causing the chocolate to seize and harden, the mixture can actually be saved by the further addition of cream. Chocolate is forgiving if you have the patience to work with it; if you have the actual desire to make the whole greater than its parts. Ganache was supposedly a culinary accident, created when a chocolatier's apprentice spilled cream into melted chocolate. The chef screamed, "Ganache!" which means, "fool." But the happy accident was so delicious the name is actually an homage.
Huh: sounds like falling in love.
If you would like the recipes for chocolate mousse, Opera cake or a chocolate tart with hazelnut graham cracker crust, email me at ablithepalate (AT) gmail (DOT) com.