My new apartment has a small kitchen with a large window. Being in the heart of a mountain town in Montana, one can imagine the summits that would be visible if not for the brick wall adjacent. The counter is covered with an amalgamation of life: small succulents propagating on a plate, fruit nearly spilling out their glass bowl and half-empty glasses. My roommates and I tricked ourselves into believing some of the kitchen’s objects are essential; do all adults need jars for flour, sugar and rice? It is in this space that we’re becoming the versions of ourselves we need to be. While cooking for each other, we’re growing up.
When my sister and I were young, our parents insisted that we learn how to cook with them. When my mother made Indian food from her favorite now-closed restaurant, our little hands folded samosas and stirred dal. “One day you’ll live on your own,” she insisted. “You should know how to feed yourself.” My father would tell stories of not knowing how to cook rice in college, and we’d all laugh. Among all other things, teaching us how to make food was my parents’ way of preparing us to live.
The older I grew, the more I became myself through cooking. In high school, my best friend and I would make pasta together while backpacking; in the morning, we ate oatmeal while the sun reflected off the lake, hitting our tent and bundled up faces. In our own homes, we’d make garlic knots that turned into warped orbs. “No matter,” we would cry! Both attentive in school, we learned through cooking that perfection was a false stage that we’d painted for ourselves. We could make mistakes and the world would continue turning.
Eventually, the oldest of my friends started moving into apartments with kitchens of their own. There, we would all cook together. One person would make a salad, ripe with tomatoes from their garden. Others told stories about school while dicing sweet potatoes and chopping rosemary. In the summer heat, far behind schedule, we’d all eat. Around second-hand tables, we learned to listen attentively to each other. One person’s silence often meant they were mulling over a fear. Then, we would go for a walk later, the moonlight soothing worry and the words “I love you” being offered as dessert.
When I left for school in the fall, I knew that, of all things, I would miss the people from home the most. While I was gone, we would have group calls and I would imagine how beautiful their faces once looked around a table. How their laughs sounded distant not just because of the thousands of miles they had to travel, but also because they weren’t echoing above our slightly chipped dinner plates. We entered adulthood together, and there we were, all trying to live out in the world without each other.
The first night I moved into my new apartment with my closest friends from home, we cooked dinner. The night, like many others, was documented with polaroids pinned to the corkboard that guards our front door — our smiling faces welcome us each time we hang our coats.
We have an eclectic group of roommates featured on the board, each studying something vastly different: astrophysics, wildlife biology, piano performance and humanities. Some nights in our small apartment, Rachmaninoff’s intricate melodies will travel through the halls, teaching us unspoken wisdom, as the rest of us spin tales of our own lessons we have gained thus far in life.
“Use the knife like this to avoid cutting yourself,” we whisper, telling each other how to protect ourselves.
“You can tell the oil is hot this way,” one roommate will say, noting the moment when it is time to denounce fear and begin doing what needs to be done.
“These spices go well together,” another announces while stirring sauce and teaching us about balance.
We have all made many mistakes in the kitchen. Once, the apartment filled with the smoke from burnt cookies. Last week, I sliced my hand open cutting carrots. Quite often, food will start to go bad in the fridge as we cling to the past. Throw the old milk out, it’s a new week.
At the end of each day, we are all still confused at how fast life has pulled us into adulthood. We all have to do things like pay bills, feed the cat and decide what it is we want to do with all the living that remains. Still, we have our meals as a place of comfort.
Our hands are always busy. Playing études. Noting the joints of a bird’s wing. Mapping out the universe. Writing in books. Cutting vegetables. Washing dishes. Holding each other.
Despite what may come, we will always have to eat. Just as with all other special moments, the beauty is amplified when we are together.
Maia Decker | firstname.lastname@example.org