2016 was supposed to be The Year of the Cookie.
For a variety of reasons, John and I are not exchangers of gifts on appointed holidays. Instead, we usually plan and execute elaborate meals, trying out recipes we don’t usually make time for, or we eat a fancy dinner at a new restaurant or drive to the beach or do some other out-of-the-ordinary activity.
But I am a gift giver; it’s my “love language” (in equal measure with quality time, which, given how most of our lives are arranged, is a gift in itself). I revel in finding just the right thing, perhaps something I noticed you admiring when we were out together or something you mentioned months ago but haven’t treated yourself to or something you are nostalgic for that I can recreate. So I often deviate from the no-gift plan, usually with something handmade. For Christmas 2015, it was The Year of the Cookie chart, complete with star stickers for rating the cookie of the week.
I had a rationale:
- While my love language is gifts, John’s is acts of service. He takes care of things. Cleans things. Launders things. Fixes things around the house, even though we live in a rental. Plants things, like tomatoes and the herbs I like to cook with. Baking things is, to my mind at least, both a gift and an act of service. I end up with (hopefully) yummy cookies and a clean kitchen (since I always make such a mess and can clean it up while cookies are in the oven).
- Baking is something I didn’t do as much of as I wanted to while I was a graduate student, and it was on the top of the list of things I wanted back once I finished. Also, when we have homemade sweet treats in the house, we are less likely to make late-night raids to the grocery store for things that are usually much less satisfying.
- No one else in my family bakes, really. My mother was an excellent cook (by all accounts, not just my own admittedly highly biased one), and I established myself by cooking what she didn’t: dessert. [This is a pattern I’ve learned to recognize only recently and about which there is much more to say. Later. After cookies.]
I started a Pinterest board with cookie recipes. I stocked up on butter and sugar at Costco. I ordered parchment paper from the restaurant supply store.
As I was choosing the first recipe, these Tehina Shortbread, my mom was receiving the results of a biopsy: “It’s cancer. He’s not sure what kind yet.”
The third weekend of The Year of the Cookie, I was working on these Lemon Thumbprint Cookies when my phone rang. It wasn’t a phone number I recognized, but since it was from South Carolina I answered it: “If it were my mom, I would get here.” And so I bought myself a one-way ticket while the lemon curd set up in the fridge.
I was with my mom for almost all of the 82 days between that phone call and her last breath.
2016 was supposed to be The Year of the Cookie. After 82 days of sickness and dying, a month of cleaning and sorting, and a week of driving myself back home, one of the first things I did when I got here was choose the next cookie, Nutella Meringues.
I want things to be as they were when I was making the cookie chart in December. And I know that things will never be the same again.
Somewhere in between what I want and what there is, I am discovering moments of comfort. They are fleeting right now, and I’m guessing they will be for a long, long time. I know grief like this—the kind that makes me feel as though I’ve fallen off the monkey bars and landed on my back, that takes away all my air and leaves me sobbing and trying not to vomit—doesn’t follow any formula or timeline, and I ignore anyone who tells me otherwise.