A couple weeks ago, I traveled back to Massachusetts for my five-year college reunion. I expected it to be a rollicking good time, and it was. I expected to see a number of beloved faces, ones I hadn’t seen for three or four or five years, and I did. I expected to wander the old red-brick campus and ride a few gentle waves of nostalgia, and I did. And then I came home, and realized something in me had gotten knocked askew.
When I’m home in the Bay Area, I’m pretty content. I have my challenging-but-rewarding office job, my long but relaxing train commute, my exquisitely nerdy techie-friends, my beloved partner. I have a room of my own and the leeway for travel. But it seems like every time I go back to the East Coast–every time my college cohort and I are in the same room together–I start to ache a little for the place I didn’t choose. Massachusetts never quite felt like home to me, but little pieces of it still nestled themselves under my skin. The red-brick walls, weighted with history. The pointy-roofed houses with stairs and gables. The diner food. The chickadees. The clear and palpable shift in the seasons, the slide from green to red to brown to white and back again. The people I once held next to my own heart, whom I now hardly ever see.
It’s a tough business, this growing-up business, having to choose between incompatible things you love. Most of the time, I know that moving back to California, finding a day job and building a new social circle, was the right choice. But going back to the East Coast has a way of rattling that confidence.
It took a couple of weeks after the reunion for my system to return to normal. And during that time, something bizarre happened: I lost my enthusiasm for food. Not my appetite, exactly–if someone put food in front of me, I would eat it. But I didn’t particularly look forward to it, or crave it, or spend my spare time concocting recipes in my head, the way I ordinarily do. I went several days at work without eating lunch, because nothing seemed appetizing enough to make me leave my desk. It was as if leaving Massachusetts, leaving behind the people and the places and the emotions, had temporarily muted my ability to find joy in a place I’d always relied on.
For about a week, I didn’t cook at all; I ate frozen food or takeout or pretzels. I remember sitting in a sushi restaurant, with a huge bowl of udon, mechanically slurping the broth and counting the mouthfuls until I’d be full enough to stop. It was unsettling, to say the least, and I started to wonder if maybe something was really wrong with me.
And then, a week after we returned, Sam and I went to the farmer’s market with a new friend. I hadn’t been to the market in weeks. The sun was out, it was crowded, and the stone fruit was finally showing up. I’d gone to the market with some anemic plan to make an elaborate, blog-worthy dish. But it was sticky hot outside, and just walking around felt like extraordinary effort. Standing under a vendor’s tent, feeling the sweat run down my temples and past my ears, I felt the stirrings of a craving. Forget the plan. I wanted an enormous salad for lunch.
It was the first real food desire I’d had all week, and so we ran with it, picking out some crisp-ripe nectarines, a bag of walnuts, a dozen eggs, and a mound of baby kale. We brought them all back to Sam’s place, cut the nectarines into thin shards, hard-boiled and chopped the eggs, and tossed everything into a huge bowl. I whisked together a quick white wine vinaigrette, and then we blanketed the top with shavings of a Basque cheese Sam had in his fridge. It was a delicious salad, bright and rich and sweet and crunchy, the kind of thing that would be impossible to recreate from a recipe. I forked pieces of kale into my mouth I could feel excitement trickling back into my limbs.
The salad was what brought me out of my post-reunion funk. Sitting at Sam’s table, it occurred to me that if I’d stayed on the East Coast, I would not be eating this salad, with these people, on this day, in this room. I might be doing something else, but I’d never have been able to do this. And as much as I ache for Massachusetts, and my friends, I’m happy here in California. The reunion was a reunion, a short-lived thing, and now we can get on with the business of growing up.