I’ve always been drawn to the things we’re not supposed to talk about. I remember the night when, toward the end of writing A Homemade Life, I got into bed, switched off the light, and suddenly was hit with a very bad idea, an almost electric impulse to write about my father’s death. I wanted to take it out of my head and put it somewhere else: the color of his skin, the strange percussion of his breath, the nurse calling up the stairs in the middle of the night. I wasn’t writing a book about my dad, and I wasn’t writing a book about death; I was writing a food memoir, tra la la, with fifty recipes and a cheery seafoam-green cover. But I got up the next morning and wrote the scene, because I couldn’t figure out how to avoid it. I felt the same way when I started to write Delancey, realizing that I couldn’t tell our story, or not in any way that felt complete, without exploring us from our most unflattering angles – and particularly me, as I bumbled and flailed, learning to trust and love someone whose dreams are much grander and riskier than my own. I felt the same draw again after June was born, when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. If anything, I wish I’d written more about that, been less afraid. I was afraid.
I read The Argonauts last month, and Maggie Nelson puts it best:
Most of my writing usually feels to me like a bad idea, which makes it hard for me to know which ideas feel bad because they have merit, and which ones feel bad because they don’t. Often I watch myself gravitating toward the bad idea, as if the final girl in a horror movie (…). But somewhere along the line, from my heroes, whose souls were forged in fires infinitely hotter than mine, I gained an outsized faith in articulation itself as its own form of protection.
One night this past September, I was sitting in the bathroom with June (“Mommy, I have to go potty, and I need company”), and she asked, out of the ether, the way four-year-olds do, what happens when we die. I panicked a little and tried to hide it. I thought hard. I don’t know exactly, I said. Maybe anything we want can happen? We won’t have our bodies anymore, so we could do whatever we want: maybe fly like birds, or maybe swim like fish. “I want to be a fish!” June said. “I’ll be a pink fish. And you be a pink fish. And Daddy will be a purple fish, and we’ll all swim around together.” I sat on the wooden step stool that my second cousin gave us when June was born, with her name and birthdate spelled out in puzzle letters, my eyes full to the brim, not sure if I was happy or sad or some third thing. I want her always to think of her family with easy love and confidence, the way she does now.
Brandon and I separated over the summer. I live in the house that we bought almost six years ago, not far from Delancey, and he lives in an apartment near Dino’s. June calls our homes “the Delancey house” and “Dino’s house.” She lives with each of us for half of each week. Our lives have a lot of overlap: Brandon and I work together, text every day, and see each other many days of the week. We meet up for soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung most weekends. When June is with Brandon, he texts me funny things she says, and when she’s with me, I do the same. We hug when we see each other. We spent Thanksgiving together in New Jersey, with Brandon’s family and extended family around the long table, and when it came my turn to say what I was thankful for, I mostly cried into June’s hair. The shape of our family has changed, gotten weirder and more complicated and harder to define, but we are still a family. We’re just a family that doesn’t live in one house anymore, and that, sometime in 2017, won’t be married anymore.
Sometimes I see pictures of married couples, especially married couples with children, and I feel heavy. I don’t have particularly eloquent words for it – just loss, grief. It feels like a death. I never imagined June as a child of divorced parents. Sometimes it feels like we failed, like there’s something everyone else knows that we don’t, something everyone else is doing right. But then, other times, it doesn’t feel that way at all. We never stopped loving each other. Our marriage never failed. We never broke it. In some ways, it feels like we’ve actually had a huge success, like we’re actually succeeding right now – just in a way I didn’t predict, and a way that’s hard to explain.
About a year and a half ago, in June of 2015, I experienced something that I didn’t know could happen in adulthood. I found that my sexual orientation had changed. I wasn’t straight anymore. If you’d told me two years ago that this could happen to a person – that “sexual fluidity” was a thing, that the search term “late-blooming lesbian” is a real gold mine in Google – I would have nodded politely and privately, internally, rolled my eyes. Ha, riiiiight. Explain it however you want. Clearly she was closeted, and now she’s just coming out. I might have added, THAT’s one midlife crisis I’ve never heard of before. I’ve caught myself doing exactly that, thinking exactly that, when I’ve heard about people who’ve lived for years in the straight world – friends-of-friends, celebrities, strangers – coming out as gay, lesbian, or queer.
I remember learning, as a young kid, that my uncle Jerry was gay. As my family saw it and explained it to me, he was born that way. It’s who he was. These were the early days of the AIDS epidemic, “the gay plague,” as some brashly called it, and I remember debating with other kids in my conservative Oklahoma hometown, laboring to explain what I knew to be true: that gay people are born gay, the same way I was born with white skin and blue eyes. I thought then, and for a long time after, that each of us has some kind of essential self, a core or foundation, and that foundation is sturdy, dependable, unchangeable. There would be things that we could always count on, a sense of me that would be constant over a lifetime. Sexual orientation, of course, would be part of this. It is not a choice: no one chooses which genders they’re attracted to. But a year and a half ago – after 36 years of loving only men, and a decade of loving a particularly good one – something in me shifted without my permission, and it wouldn’t go back to the way it had been, no matter how hard I wished it would.
I could interrogate myself, park myself under fluorescent lights in a cinderblock room and go after myself like Vincent d’Onofrio in Law & Order. (No one can resist Vincent circa 2001, especially not me.) For most of last winter, I tried. For a good part of this past spring, I tried. I wound up with nothing but a quarantine-worthy case of hives, a month of spectacular anxiety, and my first-ever panic attack, which ultimately led to my coming out to my mother in a hospital emergency room at two o’clock in the morning, which I do not recommend. I wound up with nothing to show for it, except the realization that I haven’t always been, and won’t always be, the same me.
I’ve been slow on the uptake. My friend Konrad, who has known me since I was 22, says that my story has always been about self-discovery. “You’ve always been searching,” he says. “You thought you were finished, but you’re not.” I’m learning who I am, and I can’t stop.
I think the shift started, millimeter by millimeter, when June was born. Having a baby, having her, softened me. It broke me a little. It gave me first-hand knowledge of the fullness of joy and the emptiness of clinical depression. It made me appreciate my body, and femaleness, in a new way. It committed me to becoming the kind of person I want June to know and remember and be proud of. It committed me to being a person I want to parent her. It made me brave.
It also bound me to Brandon in a way that isn’t marriage, but something just as deep. There are many reasons, too many to name, why he has been my partner in life for almost a dozen years. Neither of us wants to toss that all away. He’s my best friend, and I’m his, and we’re willing to work hard so that we can always say that. I will tell him when his fly is unzipped, and he’ll be genuinely disgusted when I play Justin Bieber in the car. We will be parents together, and we’ll own restaurants together. We’ll share friends and colleagues, a wide community that has stunned and moved me with its unconditional support over the past seven months, since I began coming out.
Marriage is complicated. Not being married will be complicated. We’re choosing to keep what is good about us, us as an us – and to also have entirely new lives, other families, other loves. It’s horrible, and it’s nothing I would have chosen, and it’s also better than I could have ever imagined. I don’t know what word to call myself – gay, lesbian, bi, queer – and I don’t really care. I’ve known great love, and I feel lucky to still know it. I feel lucky to get to show it to June. I believe that Brandon and I will both know it again, with other people.
It’s terrifying to say this aloud. But not saying anything has made me feel disconnected from this place, and from this community. It started to feel like hiding, and I don’t want to hide, especially not from something that is so important to me. This site is a home I made before I knew Brandon, before June. It’s been the root of my community, both real and virtual, for more than twelve years. It’s been everything. It is everything.
Our friend David told me the other day that he’d recently reread the end of Delancey, and he suggested that I go take a look at it. “Just go look,” he said.
Brandon was 27 years old when we opened Delancey. I was thirty. I was married to him, but in a sense, I hardly knew him. I didn’t know that he had a head for business, or that he could lead people, or that, after going through the multi-year rigmarole of opening a restaurant, he would even still be interested in it. And I didn’t know that he would be right: that it would, in fact, realize everything that matters to us. I only learned that by letting him do it – “letting” in the very loosest interpretation, through clenched teeth and with a certain amount of screaming.
In return, I got to discover something in myself, albeit also with some screaming. I have never been good at change. But I thought somehow that, by throwing myself into Delancey, I could trick my system, beat change at its own game. I couldn’t. But Delancey did change me. I saw my own limits, walked right up to the edge and even over it once or twice, and I saw that I could be alright again. I could be more than alright: I could be happy. I learned that my life could reshape itself completely, and that, maybe if I stopped trying to fight it, or to hurriedly reshape myself before anything else did, I could instead let it slowly guide me, bend me, and bring me along. Brandon saw that before I did, I think; that’s why he helped get me out of the kitchen at Delancey. He let me go, so that I could let go.
We got to have a small victory in the end: a successful business. Of course, the story of that business is not finished. I don’t know what’s coming next, not really. But I hope that we can always do this: that I can let him go, that he can let me go, and that, wherever it takes us, we find the way back.
In August of 2014 – which, for those who are counting, was twenty-two entire months ago – I mentioned my friend Natalie’s “famous cucumber dip.” A bunch of you asked for the recipe, so I e-mailed Natalie, and she sent it promptly. The recipe is not fancy. It’s the opposite of fancy. I liked that about it, and I was very excited about the new chapter of my existence that was revealing itself, an existence promising as much famous cucumber dip as I could get myself around. I was going to write about it immediately. But then a few days went by, and then more days after that, and some more after that. By then, it was sometime around New Year’s Day of…Read more
I first met Lecia a handful of years ago, and I tyan’t remember how. We saw each other around, and then one year, maybe 2011, she took a leap and invited us to her family’s New Year’s Day party. We stood on the deck and talked, and the sunlight was warm enough that I didn’t wear a coat. I guess that was the start of something, but for me, our friendship got its footing while I was pregnant and she, a former nurse, cheerfully withstood my cross-examinations about epidurals and other hot topics of the day, and it has grown in the months and years since, over many meals that June and I have eaten at her table. Lecia is…Read more
A couple of weekends ago, we packed up the better part of the restaurant kitchen, crammed it in the back of a pick-up, and drove two and a half hours east to cook an all-day anniversary party for a pair of longtime Delancey regulars. We rented a big house along the Wenatchee River, about ten minutes from the property where the party was held, and we brought as many people as we could fit inside, including a set of 8-month-old twins and one almost-two-year-old June. If you’ve ever been to Leavenworth in the summertime, you will remember how hot it gets. It hit 100 that weekend, and no one had air conditioning. The flies were out and biting. But the…Read more
We spent half of last week on Lopez Island, staying with friends at the home of friends-of-friends, breaking in our sun hats, making buildings out of driftwood, wearing ourselves out so well that we were in bed before the light was gone, getting reacquainted with summer. Despite the fact that I seem to have filled my life with a lot of work and obligations and businesses and whatnot, I am not someone who enjoys feeling busy. I do not like to feel busy at all. I also do not like to set goals. But my goal this summer is to have a lot of days like the ones we had on Lopez, summer days like the ones I had as…Read more
I’m typing this post from my cousin’s kitchen table in Oakland, California, where June and I are visiting for a family baby shower and have stayed long enough to eat four slices of red velvet cake, get stuck twice in rush hour traffic on I-80, and sniff every single rose in Rockridge while out walking the neighborhood at 6:49 in the morning, killing time before the rest of the family wakes up. We fly home tomorrow, and then, on Tuesday, I leap into that heady, unnerving thing called Publication Day, otherwise known The Day Your Copy of Delancey Will Finally Ship, If You Pre-Ordered It, or, The Day You Can Find It In Your Local Bookstore, If You Didn’t. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!…Read more
I first met Megan at a conference, I think? I’m a real loser when it comes to conferences – crowds make me feel like hiding under furniture, and my brain is a wide-mesh sieve for faces and names – but I think that’s how it happened. We met at a conference, and at some point down the line, she happened to hire our friend Sam to do the website for her granola company Marge, and at some point further down the line, Megan and Sam started dating, and at some point down the line from there, she became Our Friend Megan. I hope she will still be Our Friend Megan after I post this picture of her and Sam being pummeled…Read more
Our friend Ben was here last week. He arrived on Thursday, just in time for lunch, and flew out early Tuesday morning. Even June misses him, I think. She got into the habit of standing at the top of the basement stairs – our guest room is down there, a dungeon with red deep-pile carpet and faux wood paneling and an enormous oil furnace that’s as loud as a train – and yelling, Beh! Beh! Beh! until he came upstairs. We all agree that his trip was too short, but he did stay long enough to play a ukulele duet with Brandon, to get a kiss from June, to make me a Boulevardier and a great steak, to help us host a…Read more
I am writing to you, once again, from my friend Ben’s dining room. When I was here last August, writing my brains out, I had a hunch that a return visit might be helpful before my manuscript deadline. Turns out, that was correct. In Ohio, there are no Brandons to distract me, no Delanceys to worry about, no Jacks or Alices to bark suddenly at absolutely nothing and, boom, scare the organs out of my body. In Ohio, there is just a Ben and his nearly empty house, and a twin bed under the eaves with my name on it, next to a window onto which the previous tenant’s child stuck two butterfly decals. My first day in town turned out…Read more
We’ve arrived at the end of my trip. The last walk. The way I remember it, the wind was blowing like mad. I have no idea how these pictures came out looking so peaceful. Christophe and Gemma led the way through Holyrood Park, along the skirt of Arthur’s Seat. Another time, I want to climb to the top. I’ll have to go back. I think I could live in Edinburgh. Next lifetime, maybe. Hope your week is off to a good start.Read more
To those of you who advised me to go to Scotland: YOU WERE SO RIGHT. I get it now. In order to get there, I had to endure a bout of verbal abuse from a disgruntled airline employee whom I will henceforth remember as Psycho EasyJet Guy, but I made it. My friends greeted me in Edinburgh with a bag of Mini Cheddars, and shortly after, there was a homecooked meal and a long sleep on a very comfortable air mattress, and then I fell in love with Scotland. Christophe and Gemma, my friends in Edinburgh, are good walkers. I admire that quality. They might say, Let’s go for a walk, and you’ll be out for six hours. We spent…Read more
I sat down to write this post last night at a kitchen table in Edinburgh. My friend Gemma was making barley soup, and Christophe was at the sink behind me, doing the last dishes from breakfast. If you had told me three weeks ago that I would be in their kitchen last night, I would have looked at you like you’d grown a second head. For once, I like being wrong. We’ve been talking about a feeling that sometimes comes with plane or train travel, and maybe the best name for it is Bonus Time. You’re in the plane or the train, and you can see the world outside the window, and you’re hurtling through it, but it’s very far…Read more
I love the mistakes that come with using film. Often, I like the mistakes more than the shots that turn out. That’s part of why I started shooting film. For the surprises. Whenever I pick up a roll at the lab, it’s like Christmas morning. Of course, it’s sometimes a sad Christmas, like the year when I found two sweatshirts in the box that I was sure contained a Cocker Spaniel puppy. But I’m learning to take what I can get. My friend Gemma has the most beautiful hands. I will never have hands like that. And while we’re on the topic of beauty, two words: bacon and sandwich. I hope your week is off to a very good start,…Read more
Hi, friends. I’m in Paris now. I know I just typed that as though it were nothing, but what I meant was: I’M IN PARIS NOW! That sentence should always be written in all caps, with an exclamation point. I took the train down from London on Wednesday, and I’ve been staying with a friend. From where I’m sitting on the pullout sofa in her living room, I can hear a moped in the square outside and Night Moves on the stereo in the kitchen. She and her husband are sitting in there, at the counter. He’s doing a crossword puzzle, tapping his fingers in time. They’ve been good to me. I shot a whole roll of film in twenty…Read more
When I was eighteen, I took my first big trip without my parents, and before I left, my mother suggested that I pack a nice notebook to use as a journal. In my normal life, I’ve never been a journal-keeper, but I took her advice, and for roughly fifteen years now, every time I’ve taken a substantial trip, I’ve kept a record of my days. Sometimes I’m a real champ, and I’ll write down every detail: what I overheard in line at the museum, how much I paid for such-and-such, which subway station I was leaving when that handsome man smiled at me and my heinous pink-and-white polka dot umbrella, or, tragically, which subway line I was on when I…Read more
Hi, friends. This is not the post I had expected to write next. In my head, there were going to be cheers, an obscene number of exclamation points, and maybe a picture of the evening street outside our apartment in Paris. But due to sad and unforeseen circumstances, our Paris Diary project has been postponed. I don’t know how I even managed to type that sentence, because I hardly believe what it says. Your support for this project blew me away, and I can’t tell you how sad I am. I was due to fly out of Seattle this past Wednesday, go to London to see my friend Brian, and then take the train down to Paris on Sunday. Because…Read more
I first met my friend Maria in 2005. She had a blog then called port2port – maybe you remember it? – and I can’t remember who found who, but at some point, we started reading each other’s sites. She lives in Portland, Maine, but that fall, she came to Seattle to visit a friend, and we went out for doughnuts and had a drink at the Alibi Room, my favorite bar back then. I was nervous to meet her, because I admired her: her photography, her style, the quiet way she writes, the details she notices in her daily life. I remember feeling amazed by how creative she was, by the fact that she made a living through creative work.…Read more
I am writing to you today from my friend Ben’s dining room. If you’ve been around for a while, you might remember that he used to live in Seattle, where he was like a Kramer to us, but he moved away for a job. Now he’s in Ohio, and for a week, so am I. I needed to get some work done on Book 2, and I missed my friend, so I rolled the two into one and called it a writing retreat. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but turns out, it’s like summer camp – only there are no counselors to keep us down, and instead of doing archery and riding horses and gathering around the campfire…Read more
I mentioned last week that I had been away at a wedding, Luisa’s wedding, and a number of you wrote that you were eager to see pictures. I felt a little unsure about posting them, to be honest, because it was her wedding day and hers to share, but she says that I can go for it. Here we are. Luisa was one of the first friends I made through blogging. I guess it was about six years ago, give or take a bit. That was when Brandon was still living in New York, and I would go there to see him every couple of months. Luisa was still living in New York then, too. She and I had exchanged…Read more
Lately we’ve had a lot of friends passing through, lots of changes of sheets on the guest bed. Sam has been around a bit. Ben, our friend who moved here a couple of years ago but was quickly wooed away by work, is doing a short-term gig nearby and comes around on his days off. And Ryan, who also lived here briefly and was wooed away, is flying in tonight for a visit. The bourbon in the bottle is two fingers lower than it was last week, and the apartment feels nice, lived-in. Most days, days when we don’t have house guests, I spend long stretches of time alone, working. I like the quiet. I don’t need a lot of…Read more
A year or so ago, when we opened Delancey, I thought our lives were over and we would never see our friends again. Now that I type that out, it sounds like I was channeling Chicken Little, but my thinking wasn’t without reason: in the restaurant business, you work when other people play, and that complicates almost everything. But as it turns out, our friends are more flexible than I had given them credit for, and like us, a lot of them work odd hours. So over the past several months, we’ve begun to tweak our collective habits. I didn’t know this, but dinner parties don’t have to take place at dinnertime. You can also have them in the daytime.…Read more
I took this picture on an excellent afternoon. It was a Saturday. I had just met a deadline that I had been dreading. I was immensely relieved. Two of our best friends were in town for a visit, two friends who moved here a couple of years ago and became sort of like family, but then they found jobs and gigs in other cities, so they moved away. But they were in town on this particular day, and we had stayed up late the night before, and the night before that, and now it was late afternoon. Bonnie had a concert, and Ben was driving her to rehearsal, and Brandon was at the restaurant, and I was home alone. Because…Read more
Delancey is one year old today. I took that picture, the one above, 16 months ago. Brandon had bought a 30-quart Hobart mixer a few months earlier, and we’d been storing it in our friend Carla’s basement. Our friend Sam named it Sir Mix-a-Lot. That morning, the morning that I took the picture, we had rented a big truck, wrestled Sir Mix-a-Lot into the back, strapped him in, and hauled him to the restaurant. The thing was so heavy, such a mess to move, and I had no idea how to operate it, and I was excited and intimidated and borderline terrified, and mostly, more than anything, I had no clue how we were ever going to get this restaurant…Read more
Restaurant-wise, we are entering what I call Crackdown Mode. That sounds sort of scary, I realize, as though it might involve body armor and high-tech weaponry, but what it actually means is even scarier. It means that this restaurant, this Delancey thing, is now a full-time job. Not just for Brandon, but for me, too. It feels good. It feels good to be caught up in its momentum, pulled along by something so tangible and so big. But it also feels like diving into a murky pool, enormous and very deep, and I can’t see a damned thing. I know I have to jump in, and I want to jump in, but let me tell you, it is dark down…Read more