Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wings of a Pumpkin Colored Butterfly

I am not an outstanding chef.  I have a few signature recipes.  My chicken and dumplings, for one.  My stir fry is pretty good, and I do a mean spaghetti sauce.  But, by far and away, I am known for my pumpkin cookies; an old family recipe of my Mother's.  I made a batch to take to a work function the other day, my first of the season  (it's decidedly a fall dish).  The thing about baking them is this:  they take for bloody ever.  A single batch is large - I have a mammoth mixing bowl just for it - and they take 20 minutes to bake.  So, one has time on one's hands.  I oiled the butcher block, cleaned the countertops, cleaned everything else I could think of in the kitchen and still had time to let my mind wander aimlessly between swapping out cookie sheets.  These days, too much idle time to think about things can be dangerous, leading me down dark alleys of the mind.  The other night was no different.

Greg turned on one of those channels on cable that's strictly music so we'd both have background music as he sat at the kitchen table and worked on paperwork and I baked. At first his selection had real promise, beginning with a Foo Fighters song, but then it went off into an old classic rock vein, working its way through some power ballad from the 80's to even older stuff from when I was in my teens.  I was reminded of the times in the house I grew up in when I would sit at my kitchen table at night, listening to Manfred Mann's Earth Band singing Blinded by the Light or Heart's Magic Man on my parent's old transistor radio, doing some forgotten task - homework maybe - and thinking about my future.  The future that was wide open.    Both the folly and the power of youth is the belief that all things are possible.  And I had big dreams.

I wanted to be a writer.  I love film, so I daydreamed of writing screenplays to rival those of my favorite films:  Dr. Zhivago, A Lion in Winter, and - yes - Star Wars (say what you will - it's a clever story).  Of course, I never really had any desire to live in Hollywood - that's never really where I saw myself, but these are fantasies, so I get to live wherever I want!  I never really thought about settling down and having a family.  I thought my family dynamic was way too screwed up to pass that along to a new generation.  In the moments I tried to think on a more practical matter, I still conjured up visions of some exciting, dynamic career - being the next Woodward and Bernstein, for example.  I never once, in my wildest, worst dreams, thought I'd be where I am right now.  I think, even though my path went completely awry of where I was trying to chart it on those long ago nights, I was only a few twists and turns away from achieving, ultimately, what I really wanted out of life before it skewed out of control:  a sense of contentment.  I would have been content in a house like this one with a hoard of dogs and two beautiful, intelligent daughters, a loving, generous hearted husband and six Super Bowl rings.  With just a few changes in the choices I made, what might have been, I think to myself as I plop orange balls of dough onto the cookie sheets.  These thoughts are nothing new, I've hashed over them before in my blog.  I just not have fully come to terms with them, it's pretty clear.

As I slide a tray of raw round plops into the oven, I look up at the fridge.  I have two group pictures of "The Cousins" - Marissa, Kelsey and their three cousins.  One taken when Kelsey was probably 13, another at Christmas when she was 19.  Then I glance over a bit at the picture of my mother playing bridge, flanked by Greg's Great Aunt Hazel, an awesome lady now departed.  Below them is a picture of me with two of my original pack of dogs, Lando (yes, named for who you think) and Daphne, both long gone.  Wow, that's a lot of death, I think almost casually.  I make myself look back to the pictures of Kelsey and study them for a long moment, then cast glances at the other people in the pictures, their lives now at the point where mine was all those years ago, sitting there listening to nighttime rock on KBOZ.  How have their lives been impacted by what happened?  Marissa's life has been violently interrupted by the death of her sister, and the path she will now take is certainly far different than it would have been before.  For the cousins, I'm less certain.  They will miss her, but - and I hope this is true - they will be able to move forward with their dreams and aspirations in much the same way as they would have before.  This gets me thinking about how Kelsey's death changed the course of our lives dramatically.  Like the Butterfly Effect, only the butterfly is the size of a Pterodactyl.  I doubt I would have become involved with the Austin Foundation for Eating Disorders and not met the people I have through it.  Jenn B and I might not have reconnected, particularly now that she lives in BFE small town America.  Greg would not have left his job, in all likelihood, and we would not have been contemplating a drastic move, which I'm increasingly thinking is the dumbest thing financially I'll ever do (but I'm still doing it).  That means that the individual who took his position with his ever changing hair color (it's brown, it's blonde, now it's brown again) would have remained in Louisiana, one of Greg's assistants would likely still be employed as opposed to sitting at home at this moment reeling from her unexpected firing.  I don't know if I would have gone back to work for the company - that's harder to say.  But, my experiences there and people's reactions to me are definitely colored by the event.  (I am, as I have often said, the greatest Buzz Kill of all time.  I still definitely do not get invited to many happy hours with my co-workers.)  I've been picked up and plopped down on a completely different road.  Thinking more about Fate and Free Will as I scoop baked cookies onto the cooling racks, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg settling around me, I wonder if this was meant to happen all along.  If there was nothing I could have done to save her because I was meant to be put on the path I am on, and it'll serve a greater purpose.  I look back at the smiling face of my daughter in the Christmas photo and tell myself that's too great a price to pay to give my life meaning.  I would not have agreed to play that hand.  But, since it's been dealt, I'll try and find some greater good.  Really, what option do I have?

In the end, I've decided the next time I bake, I'm making chocolate chip cookies, there is much less time to ponder.

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