Tonight I ruined my beets. I boiled them for such a long time that by the time I looked up from my book, smoke had filled my apartment. I haven’t been that cotton-headed since I first started living by myself twenty years ago but it was an engrossing book (another Octavia Butler) and it has been a terrible summer.
I mention the beets because, in the process of ruining them, I also ruined the pot, which made me panic for an existential minute. I’ve had this pot, a Brazilian stainless-steel 3-quart saucepan, for as long as I’ve lived by myself. I inherited it in a very stupid breakup—or, rather, in the demise of a very stupid relationship, the sort we used to have in the 1990s when we still equated sex with death and so made long-term commitments out of what should have been one-night stands. This man, whom I have called The WASP elsewhere, left me in his West Village studio when he left for graduate school, where he began shacking up with a fellow student before properly ending things with me. When the lease of his NYC apartment ended, he was too terrified to claim the household items he’d left behind. To be fair, I’d threatened to mutilate him with most of them by then.
So I found a sweet and affordable Brooklyn apartment of my own, and soon enough the only traces of that man could be found in a set of stainless-steel pots as well as two sky-blue plates. (I ritualistically burned all his plaid flannel shirts.) This established a pattern. Whenever I received kitchenwear from a lover or, worse, their mother, the romance’s death certificate appeared on the wall.
Right after a blistering fight with my girlfriend N, she snuck into my apartment and left three butterscotch-colored cutting boards on my kitchen table. We haven’t talked in years but I still use the boards daily. On a particularly awful Christmas with my boyfriend Y, his mother gave me a small sauté pan and he gave me an orange ceramic mug. We broke up on New Years Day. Though he went on to become a famous Internet entrepreneur, I rarely think of him except when drinking from that mug. It’s a good mug. (I threw out the sauté pan, which was not good.)
I still have an excellent chef’s knife left behind by a British beau who would make splendidly garlicky meals for us in my old apartment: Upon discovering he wasn’t my only lover at the time, he retreated to his native country where girls could be expected to not be Lotharios. (By then, it was the 2000s and sex no longer equalled death.) The mother of my other lover at the time gave me a tomato knife, which proved surprisingly handy. So did that chap; we’re still on good terms many years later, presumably because we didn’t pretend to practice monogamy.
I made the mistake of dating an employer who really had no idea of what to do with me. His mother had even less of a clue, and gave me a ridiculously oversized calphalon skillet. (I swear I could hear it pleading: Nourish my underfed son!) Once this colleague and I reached our inevitable end, I gave away the behemoth so I could resume closing my cupboard door. Another suitor expressed her disdain for my ragtag lifestyle by supplying me with practical kitchen items every time I turned around. I still use all of them, especially the rice cooker, but was not such a bottom that I could sustain my attraction to anyone that domineering. A man whom I was certain was the love of my life bought me a seltzer machine, which I was certain would be the appliance of my life. Ecological traitor that I am, I discovered I preferred store-bought seltzer, and both he and the machine now collect dust somewhere on a back shelf. A woman I briefly dated called my pattern’s bluff by breaking a perfectly decent soup tureen while I was breaking up with her. She did not replace it. And I have a lovely green vintage cup given to me by a rainbow child who worked at the now-defunct Verb Café. He went on to become a famous rockstar who still swoops in from time to time. My relationship with the cup is much more satisfyingly constant.
No matter what else has transpired, I’ve kept all the Brazilian cookwear until today, when I burnt that 3-quart pot so badly that it’s no longer safe to use. When I realized this, I sat at my kitchen window for such a long time that the city’s lights replaced the last bit of sunlight. (I live at the top of a building situated at the top of a hill. The views are glorious.) I felt the loss of those two decades descend upon me—all those years when I thought I might be the marrying kind but just had not met the right person to marry. All those years when domesticity seemed disposable, easily transferrable, mostly a movie set. All those years of playing house with people whom I simply should have treasured as wonderfully separate. As I sat there, I assessed myself with a rare detachment: Grayer, grouchier, thicker, more wrinkled, less shiny. Smarter. Kinder. And–given that the worst casualty of these last two horrible months has been a 3-quart pot–stabler. Eventually I stood up and ordered a new pot on Amazon Prime. It’ll be here Tuesday.