I was eight when I decided what I wanted to be as a grown up. Curled into my grandfathers recliner, watching an old Italian woman merry foreign flavors together, create music out of sizzles, pops, and slices. Background noises of my mother making dinner in the kitchen blended into a mural of a softer version of what I love hearing in kitchens today. Wooden spoons sweeping the sides of sauce pots, the deep bubbling sound of boiling pasta, butter foaming, sizzling, and browning.
I was eight when I decided I wanted to be a cook.
I was 18 when I decided what I wanted to be as a woman. Watching my mother process a phone call that no daughter wants about their mom. Seeing shoulders be pulled back in assertion, heart continuing to care, and give. The moment of realization, in me, that she was the branches between the leaves of our family. Tendrils stretching and weaving out from the core of her, intertwining all of us. Watching her continue to be the strong-willed, soft-hearted, fiercely loving force in my life. She was, continues to be, a deeply rooted, softly swaying willow tree.
When my sister decided she deserved to make her own path. Digging deep into the dirt, peering through the salty sweat, planting seeds of what she is today. Demanding respect, giving it in equal measure, calibrating her own scale. Straight spine, set shoulders, keen eyes. Meticulous, and articulate. She is the timbre and cadence in my voice, the one I fake in kitchens when searching for the same presence in myself.
I was 18 when I decided I wanted to be in their roster.
I was 19 when I decided I was going to be a chef. Gazing out at the abyss like void of the future, and seeing two options. One entailing comfort, ease, and security. Becoming a cook that showed up for a 9 hour shift everyday, knew her place, had the pleasure of working with food, and went home each night.
Or struggling, getting screamed at, possibly demeaned, realizing how much I suck at this field. Learning my station can always be more organized, I can always move faster, whine less, do more, hustle more, create, strive, give – more. That right now I am less, but can be more.
Realizing that I don’t suck, but instead have that annoying element called potential. Niggling, nagging, whispering, and leering in the background. Possibilities of what could be on loop. Deciding to tear into it with both hands; shredding the neatly aligned sides that contain it, getting to the marrow, scraping it out of corners and getting it stuck beneath grubby nails.
Working day and night to polish it into skill, giving talent a backbone. Overcoming insecurity and blights of laziness. Climbing over walls of self doubt. Choosing the harder option because of it being more difficult by nature, and therefore more worthy in the end. Win or lose, success or failure – I chose the latter. I chose to try.
To try more, to try at fucking all.
It wasn’t until 23 that I decided I didn’t care though. If my personal struggle is recognized, and comforted. If the leaps and bounds are broadcasted and *liked, *shared, *reposted, *tweeted into oblivion. If there are questions and quiet whispers about why I’m still where I am, why I didn’t move there, or go for that job. Not even that out of everyone else, I was the one that used to care most of all. Most likely, the only one.
I am learning more now, in this chapter, than I have in all the previous. Which is how it always goes, but I was always guilty of trying to read ahead, becoming confused when I’d read the ending page of a protagonist I didn’t know. Each model of success I have in this field has stumbled, fallen, and kept going. Re-routes and detours were defining parts of the character mold that made them models.
Having the gift of just enough clarity to see through the haze of bullshit, and recognize, is humbling. Recognize the mentors, teachers, character arcs and building blocks. Piecing together the puzzle as you find the parts isn’t common, and I’m trying to remember that. More importantly, that the puzzle is your life, and it takes years. I won’t have an idea of what it’s meant to look like until it’s almost complete.
To those that teach me – thank you. Encourage me – thank you. Motivate me – thank you.
To the ones that question? Keep asking. I want answers too.