Every Little Thing is Magic

What have we here? A relic of life in my early twenties. A sink full of apples. When I first moved to Berkeley to start grad school in 2004, I was there for a month before I got my first stipend check from my fellowship. Given that I’d just come back from an unpaid internship at the Dostoevsky Museum in St. Petersburg, things were pretty tight there for a little while. Luckily, I discovered the magic of the bargain produce bin at Berkeley (sadly, it took me a few more years to discover that the Bowl’s produce prices were so good that I probably could have afforded non-bruised apples. Oh well.). I’d show up right when they opened in the morning and get all the fruits and vegetables I could: huge bags of slightly bruised apples, bell peppers with a few blemishes, grapes that had come loose from their bunches, pears a bit past their prime, whole artichokes slowly grading from green to brown. All of these big hulking bags were one dollar or less, and I considered them treasures. A few minutes with a paring knife, and they were good as new.

When I got home to my little apartment, with its hardwood floors, bright kitchen, double tiled sinks, and rush of traffic from busy Dwight Way, I’d wash everything right away, so I could just grab a few pieces of fruit as I ran out the door. I remember lots of trips to the Bowl and tons of these clear plastic bags, but what I remember more than anything was the apples. They were one of my main food groups that first year. I was so overwhelmed and overworked that I mostly ate a simple rotation of quesadillas, spinach lasagna, and yogurt/fruit/nuts. I didn’t actually learn to cook for four more years.

It’s crazy how this one little photo (stumbled upon in Picasa while looking for something else) brought all those days right back to me. All the pots of coffee I made to fuel the late-night homework sessions, with my papers, notebooks, and dictionaries spread all over the table. Long walks in the pouring rain to my Descriptive Grammar class. The post-it note I left by my front door during that long winter: “Turn off electric blanket.” Saturdays spent in the department library trying to translate Soviet poetry lauding concrete (no joke). Fall afternoons baking pumpkin bread and reading Doctor Zhivago. Trekking through all four levels of the subterranean library, my backpack full to bursting with books. Having my breath taken away every time I saw the city lights driving back to the East Bay from San Francisco. Not being able to believe, on a daily basis, that I could possibly live in such a gorgeous place and be paid to read books and discuss them with brilliant people. An ocean of memories, full of waves and tides, caught in a few hundred pixels.

I had a similar experience recently when I was checking my Amazon account to see when something was going to be delivered. In a flash, there were all of my orders from the past year.The one that brought tears to my eyes was a set of newborn mittens, which we found waiting for us the day we brought our sweet baby home from the hospital. It was hot, and we were hungry, and we had this tiny precious new person to care for. I fed him in the afternoon sunlight, and then those mittens went straight on, since we were too scared to cut his nails for weeks on end.

And just yesterday I went to Trader Joe’s to get a few things (mostly cottage cheese…and chocolate), and I picked up a few bags of Eric’s favorite trail mix. It’s kind of the holy grail of trail mix: almonds, cashews, pistachios, cherries, cranberries, chocolate chips. I put a handful in my mouth and was immediately taken back to the first days we had Micah home. I lived on that trail mix, often inhaled at 6am after an early feed, along with scones and pastrami sandwiches, delivered by the world’s greatest friend.

And so for several months now I’ve been thinking about this: how every little thing is magic. I sometimes feel a pressure to keep lots of things for the sake of memory, and there are indeed plenty of storehouses of them around here. But there are also quite a lot of things I’ve let go. And so I just had this wonderful sense of peace that whatever little thing it is that I decide to keep, or whatever thing is automatically archived for me online or on the shelves of my local grocery store, that little thing holds a whole world within it.

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