Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Past Shops at Trader Joe's

By Ren Jender


She was wearing a t-shirt in a shade of light blue that no one wears anymore except for the cashiers at Trader Joe’s--and they only wear that color because they have no say in the matter. We were in Trader Joe’s, so the shirt wasn’t remarkable. Nothing about her was. Still, I recognized her, the woman whose name is a flower, from the back, at a glance. We had dated, for a brief time, eight years before.

There must have been something special about her: why else would she have spent a four-month stint temping as the most important person in my life? I remembered that shortly after they first met my mother had said of--oh, let’s call her Violette---“She’s the cutest little thing,” which had unnerved me. I never expect my mother with her teased hair, orange lipstick and 1950s mindset, to say anything nice about my girlfriends especially not the butch ones. Mum usually waits until after a terrible breakup, when I most need her to be on my side, to say good things about anyone I’ve dated.

Ex-girlfriends aren’t good for much else, but they can be effective teaching tools. Violette taught me I didn’t want a normal life. I might have come to this realization snarking at Violette’s straight roommate who had even fewer social skills than most science nerds. She stayed in watching TV every night, her hand tight around the remote. So whenever we were at Violette’s place, we ended up watching the same shit she did: science fiction and Jessica Alba in an unholy alliance. But even when Violette and I were alone I wanted to surreptitiously unplug the set, jab at the buttons and say “Oh look, it’s broken.”

Maybe I came to the realization when Violette and I were driving to Provincetown. For the last half-hour, instead of keeping the conversation going, as I had, like a cocaine-addled cruise director, for most of the previous four months, I relished the silence underneath the soft, dreampoppy sobs of Mazzy Starr and tried to convince myself that people who knew each other well didn’t need to talk.

I was the one who wore the lipstick, so I got to do all of the cooking. Because I was “good at” cooking, as if I were born knowing how to make hummus starting with the dried chickpeas and ending with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil flecked with good paprika or how to stew lemon slices and figs into a fruit compote that makes oatmeal palatable. Like every other skill, cooking is a matter of practice. I tell people--I must have told Violette, “You burn enough stuff, you learn.”

That Violette was food-shopping made me think she might have settled down with someone, either a femme who wrote the list and would chop, sauté and serve-- or another soft butch, maybe a fellow scientist. I imagined the two of them living like bachelors, heating up frozen enchiladas and rice that came already cooked.

One night I had been stirring a pot in Violette’s kitchen while crap TV blared in the next room and I thought, “I want to go home.”

My apartment then was small and ugly, but it was mine, quiet, with no one but the cat expecting a meal from me. I left Violette's place. As I walked into the fresh cool night air, I ignored her voice calling, “Come back,” from the open window. I could never figure out if she wanted me or the fruit compote I had tucked under my arm.

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