My apartment has betrayed me again.

Somehow, it always happens when you least expect it. Your environment reassures you that you are far from harm, then suddenly shifts one element just enough to throw off the balance. There are one too many potatoes in the pot now, just enough to make the soup splatter all over your immaculate stovetop. This shift could be anything, but mark my words, they always happen because of time.

Over the years, I have confronted the notoriously evil Valentine’s Day with viewpoints as numerous in the spices in my cabinet. I have tried to be sagacious about it, maintaining a woody indifference while nurturing hope in silence, the kind of hope that you can only taste once something has stewed for three-hundred sixty four days. As a child, I maintained a bland indifference, took it with a grain of salt. One year, I took a lesson from cinnamon and decided to sweeten things up with a bunch of my single friends. Mainly, I tend to spend the day over-beating myself until I’m too stiff to stand one mention of it. Although I am not qualified to participate in the festivities, I am reminded everywhere I turn that every single human being in a twenty-mile radius is planning on some grandiose gesture of love and affection to what’s-his/her-name. And why shouldn’t they? That is the purpose of Valentine’s Day according to modern America.

Now try being happy when you’re the coconut truffle in a box of cherry cordials. You are blatantly excluded from all their cordial games and banished to the land of the defective conversation hearts.

Of course, on the outside, I am my typical bubbly self. I gratefully accept conciliatory chocolates from janitors and friends. I even laugh as one of my students, single like me but from overseas, wishes me a Happy Valentine’s day in broken English that sounds like the hollow rap of conversation hearts being poured into a glass bowl.

Almond Chicken Ding

Aside from gin, this was my only friend.

Yesterday, I spent Valentine’s Day with a bowl of leftover Chinese take-out and a bottle of gin. I used the same bowl that has housed many leftover bowls of soup, and after taking two straight shots of a liquor that tastes like Christmas or like some uninhabited forest of pines. As always, I had the opportunity to do my drinking among company, but being more salt than sugar, and more orange pith than either, I thought it best to withdraw into the pages of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley for the evening.

I wanted nothing to do with soup.

Gin makes my clumsily penned handout sound perfect, and even when I get up in the morning to give it one more comb-over before the big presentation only to find that it is anything but perfect, I still appreciate the effort. Soup doesn’t have that kind of power. There could always be more salt, fewer noodles—the potatoes aren’t quite right and the flavor is off just enough for me to know.

Gin makes me forget about all of that.

With Gin, I sigh dragon’s fire after just one sip, and all is made right with the world.

Taking drinks of gin straight from the bottle and devouring a forlorn container of Almond Chicken Ding is a recipe for just one more night alone. The fiery liquor and the take-out make it feel more like an ordinary day despite the fact that I hardly indulge in either. At last, I am as still on the outside as I am on the inside, and both are covered in the mold that will inevitably accrue when one loafs around for too long. It’s a good thing I’m turning pages at a rate of 75 per hour. This motion, the way the text clings to my mind, the scratching of a pencil against the margin of every page… all these things keep me from becoming too stale. Without them, I would absorb too much light and water. A feathery mold would cling to me, delicately eating away at my skin until it reaches my acrid core and dies from the sheer gall of it.

I am a plant killer. My bamboo died this summer. This is why I rely on others to take care of growing the seasonings I use in my soup. No one savors the taste of blighted basil.

Perhaps that is why I shoved soup away on Valentine’s Day. Because even when I eat it alone, even when I swallow it half-chewed while working desperately on my thesis, soup is still a reminder of the inevitable connections I have with the world outside. In a course of study that isolates, soup sustains the body, the sole, and the strings that attach me to the outside world. Every bite is a memory of cooking with a friend or of the feeling that comes after eating the second serving that neither of you needed. It can’t be helped, though, because that soup is just too damn good to leave alone.

That feeling is misery, stewed in groans and laughter.

I’m planning to have a leftover bowl of chowder for dinner, so I opt for a sandwich for lunch. George Foreman will help me transform it into a Panini. I can almost taste it already.

The bread on the table beckons me. I am proud of this bread; I bought the pre-sliced multi-grain loaf for three dollars, never mind the tax. This bread is more than just a sandwich fixing. It shows how grains can work together to create something better than they are when apart. It shows that processing really takes the life out of them.

Chowder and Shirley

In all things, progress tastes of chowder.

I extract the only partly eaten loaf to find all of my hopes in vain. Unable to cling to me, the mold has instead settled on my otherwise in-tact loaf of bread. It still gives under the slight pressure of my hand and springs back instantly. I sigh and throw the loaf in the trash. It ends with a bang, and the cabinet door whimpers as I shut it out of mind.

I glance to the table and find that the biscuits I made two days ago have more than enough of me in them to scare the mold off.

Perhaps a bowl of soup would be nice after all.

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