Day 7 of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, a Meditation Challenge: Sullivan’s Cold Rice Salad

Oh, look at that—it’s months later, not, in fact, one day (or even one week later). Perhaps one of the trickiest thing about trying to develop a writing practice is that, in writing, you tend to lose yourself in time, which results in a heightened sense of Time as a Construction. We think we “lose it,” we think we never “have enough” of it, but really, as all writers know, it’s about “making it,” making Time, like you’d make a pie or a cold rice salad.

We return, thus, to The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook challenge, and on this final day of the “week-long” challenge, I reflect on Sullivan’s Cold Rice Salad. Sullivan was the grandson of Thisbe’s/Erin’s grandmother’s neighbor, and their visits to their grandmothers coincided enough to make a friendship of sorts evolve. (How often we make something out of what we have: mountains out of molehills, love out of nothing at all, friends out of random boys when there’s nothing else to do.) When their grandmothers’ neighbor Myrtle died, the authoress and Sullivan found themselves reunited, sitting shiva together, sharing the food brought by other mourners and their collective, if limited past. Erin/Thisbe brought Wacked-Out Will’s Chicken Wings (another recipe in this cookbook), and Sullivan brought a cold rice salad. It sounds really good—it contains almonds (I will eat anything with almonds), and, best of all, it makes use of leftover rice. You always have leftover rice. The authoress insists that it went extremely well with her chicken wings, which led her to contemplate whether she and Sullivan would have gone well together romantically, if things were different. But they weren’t, and nothing romantic ever happened, and so they grieved and ate together.

Moral of the story: Making do can be more than enough, but we always wish there could have been more.

As the super moon last week drew near, the man I’d been dating the past six months broke up with me. Just as the distant, shining globe of a moon pulled itself closer, an urgent partner interrupting a slow dance, Dan came suddenly into contact with the realization that he was done with our own dance. We’d orbited together, illuminating hours of the night I’d known only in insomnia instead with hours-long conversations and acts of intimacy. As the orbit drew its nearest to the earth, though, he noticed something he hadn’t in awhile: other girls. And it was time to go back to that world. He did it gently. “Please don’t tell people I broke up with you just so I could see other girls,” he groaned, and I know it wasn’t just that. He wants to be present for his age and the experiences it brings, instead of in a private universe of two. I miss him, but I don’t fault him. Whenever you date with a considerable age gap between you and your lover, there are some things you accept—not as inevitable, but as probable and possible.

But I’ve been surprised by many friends’ easy dismissal of this relationship. We began dating shortly after my major break-up, and to some, it might have seemed that he, like Sullivan, was simply sitting shiva with me, a lover found simply by looking to the side and picking who was there rather than by a vetted and careful deliberation about suitability and shared interests. Even Dan shared this perspective, to some degree: we first kissed over the drinks we were having because he’d heard about my break-up and wanted to check in on me. We had a lot of drinks. But we also discovered we went really, really well together—like chicken and rice. We are both quick, both curious, both able to shift topics and make connections in ways that create new things, instead of just fragments.

Primarily, though, saw himself as a companion to me during a difficult time, a fragment disconnected from the larger wholes of our separate lives, visitors thrown together, like children visiting their grandmothers. When I asked him, near the beginning, how he imagined our relationship ending, since neither of us envisioned a longer-term relationship with each other, he said, “I imagine you will meet a Spanish intellectual who will whisk you away and be the partner I can’t be. And I’ll find my ax wench who wants to live in a basement and play D and D with me, when we both don’t need five hours of alone time.”

So, we had dinner every Monday and Wednesday night: pizza and gin or Thai food and white sheets and cool white wine. We were reading Tennyson’s Idylls of the King together; we were up to “The Marriage of Geraint.” We had a cafe and a place to get Stockholm Buns, which we’d eat as we walked on Golden Gardens beach on Thursday mornings. I made him CD’s, even though he said he didn’t like music, and he made me a Valentine, which he walked over to deliver to me on Valentine’s Day proper, even though I wouldn’t be getting home that day until much later and wouldn’t see him. I wrote him poems. “Brynny! I deserve humorous limericks! Not beautiful poems with complex rhyme schemes and intricate imagery,” he wrote in response to the poem at the end of this piece.

But that’s what happens sometimes. The person you thought was simply beside you is a real person, and I love real people. I found that I loved this real person: full of confidence, able to make me laugh uncontrollably by imitating his dog becoming suspicious while eating, someone who claims to be bad at conflict but who was often first to offer a useful solution, the deep voice in the dark night, a man already, despite his own ambivalence and the hobbies he claimed would always keep us apart.

At some point, we all think that what we DO is who we ARE; we believe our hobbies and beliefs MUST be shared, in order for someone to prove they know us well and that they approve of what we know. How else would we know how to play, when we are small? I have Barbies, and you have Legos; it can be hard to share a landscape, even in imagination, so we begin with what seems most obviously to hold us together. But what I know at this point in my life is that it’s not the toys that make the landscape: it’s us. And even if we start out side by side, accidental friends in our grandmothers’ apartment complex, sometimes we find the way to real love, our differences complementing each other, as do spicy chicken wings and cold rice salad. We need others—not just to define who we are through difference but to have our own flavors enriched.

Rice salad alone . . . it’s ok, I guess. But, having had enough, I would rather have more.

“Terza Rima for Dan”

Once-near star, his lost light
lingers, fixed by all cold space,
still, vast, and endless as a blight.

New star, I look upon your face,
our constellation from a different sky,
now shining in this place.

The Southern Cross is flipped
like a light switch. I’m in darkness there,
on fire here, an ember dipped

into the ether. Your hair,
my legs, our lips erase
the stars, leaving this night.

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