Grandma says to this day, “you’re such a good boy,” and I’m inclined to believe her. In fact, it’s been an existential imperative that I explicitly hear these words and see myself.
So much of my past used to taste freshly cooked in my mind; more of a gumbo than any fine dining, my memories used to be reminiscent of comfort food, palatable and familiar. On first approach each moment felt bold and potent, and bright. And much like my relationship to gumbo itself, I used to adore my memories of me and feel safe and satisfied when I was able to meditate on who I’ve been, a “good boy”. ——
Unfortunately after a rotating set of painful experience my memories and more specifically my mind have rarely served up anything appetizing or ready devouring. For nearly a decade now I’ve been cooking past ideas of myself on a warped surface, often leading me to formulate mental moments flooded with flavors of guilt and regret, and hints of self hate that color just about every emotion I feel about myself.
In the last year or so I’ve felt the process of healing, and I can see that those “flavors” of me weren’t part of my original recipe. After all, grandma said I was a good boy, and as far as I’m concerned the memories of a good boy shouldn’t carry this aroma, shouldn’t taste so harsh; memories shouldn’t sour this way when you’ve done nothin wrong.
The truth of it all is I am good. From birth I’ve been good. But the pain and trauma I’ve been seasoned and marinated in has left me marbleized and crisped, offering something a bit unsavory and overtly undesirable to myself. I’ve hated myself, my stench and my texture for years. While at the same time I’ve consumed these memories, choked them down, often chasing them with whiskey or rum to cut the pain.
If I am a product of my environment, then what does that mean for my environment? If I’m the fruit of mountain soil, Atlantic sand and hot concrete then which of these foundations can be the source of my sour notes? If I am a good boy, then why do I feel the world has severing and pillaging the best parts of me. Why do my memories and mind remind me of scrapple and gizzards; why do I only savor my own life, why is the meat that beats in my chest feel like an acquired taste to so many I wish to actually share it with?
Did the cop not kill me and devour my heart because I am a “good boy” or was he satisfied with reaping of my leg meat? Did I live because of what grandma said or am I still being fattened in the shadows for a supper of greater suffering? Most cooks say shock and fear ruins meat, well does it do to the flesh, heart and soul of boy turned man in muck?
I know I’m more than a piece of meat, and still I fail to affirm the whole of my essence, often leaving so much of me on the chopping block; I can tell you more about the menu of me that I don’t desire than I can order up and savor my signature self. ——
A good friend recent told me I have life in me. She ain’t grandma, but damn it all of her words didn’t bring me to tears, and soften my boyish spirit.
Lately it’s been the salt of my tears that brines my flesh, and the slow roasting of the sun that has simmered my soul, freeing the aromas of my joy. Later, when I rise it’s to a la carte version of the life I desire. I pair it with the parts of me that I’ve developed a taste for; and fortunately, my palette has been expanded beyond my pains, trauma, and childhood knowings.
I’ve found a real power in being the cook, meal, and tongue of judgment. My mind and memories are now the product of the environment I choose. I know now my pain, much like the marrow of my bones is rich, and my suffering similar to the shells of shrimp, makes an excellent base for a pungent stock; a broth to be paired with the rue of my soul. Flavors that shine and burst with delight.
I see now the “good boy” memories and now I desire more, I want the whole damn Buffett! I am a glutton, and yet I crave more than comfort food; more than a flight of comfortable memories. I pour in liberally the spices I used to neglect (remorse, rage, shame, fear). And I waft and don’t rush my gifts, trusting they’ll rise to the top.