Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Young Love Pasta Salad

More than a decade ago, Aqua Man had me over to his house for lunch. When I arrived he had just finished making us pasta salad, so we sat together, eating at his kitchen table, and talking. Back then, whenever we saw each other, we couldn't help but smile and talk with one another. We would spend time talking about ideas, creativity, and writing. Writing, writing, always talk of writing and language and expression. This first lunch together was no exception. I had known Aqua Man for just under a year, and increasingly looked forward to seeing him, to listening to him, to being heard by him, to being seen by him. Sitting together, at his kitchen table--a table that later we would move into the first place that we would share together, the beginning of a life that we would build together, that has so far spanned three different states, eight moves, starting our family, changing jobs and careers, and (re)examining and (re)defining our dreams and goals--we ate together. Not knowing that all of this was to come, or perhaps, at some level, knowing that all of this was to come. And that pasta salad tasted like the most amazing meal I had ever eaten in my life.

Back then, we were both finishing our degrees; I was beginning my Master's degree and Aqua Man was finishing his Ph.D. We lived in a small midwestern college town where each of us had our own place, and each of us could actually afford to rent our own house (a whole house!) and pay for it from combinations of graduate stipends and student loans. I remember Aqua Man's house as a modest, older, somewhat worn down, white framed home not unlike many things that were worn down in that small midwestern college town. Though it is only now, when I revisit pictures from my past, that I see that things were a bit worn down, and shabby. Back then, through my younger eyes, I saw my surroundings as magical and beautiful, unaware of any drabness.

I remember the first time I drove to Aqua Man's house to meet him for that pasta salad lunch. I can still hear the sound of my car tires crunching on his gravel driveway, seeing his unkept side gardens, wild with weeds and flowers, pressing towards the sun, escaping through the side walk cracks. I remember walking up that sidewalk to his back door and knocking, my pulse quickening, wondering what lie on the other side. I remember seeing Aqua Man's face when he opened the door, his bright smile and vivid blue eyes welcoming me in, as he swung his screen door open, inviting me into his home, his life. I remember that first step over his doorstep, slowly swinging my eyes over the scenery, taking in all of the little details, the decorations, the declarations, that expressed who he was. That day seems so long ago, yet not so far away. In so many ways, I feel so different from that young woman from so long ago; in so many ways I feel so similar to that young woman. In so many ways, Aqua Man and I are so different from those young people from so long ago; in so many ways, Aqua Man and I are still so similar to those two young people from so long ago.

Over the years, Aqua Man has come up with different versions of his Pasta Salad, and that's one of the things I love most about it. It's ever changing, dependent upon his mood, the layout of the kitchen itself,  and the farmer's market or grocery store that we can frequent. Sometimes he uses Bow Tie Pasta, other times, Penne or Cork Screw Pasta. Usually he puts in carrots and Garbonzo Beans, but not always. Sometimes there are Black Olives and Red Peppers in his pasta salad. Sometimes he makes his own dressing, playing with new combinations of spices. Other times Marinated Artichoke Hearts add to the flavor of the dressing. Of all the ways that he changes his recipe, his pasta salad is always delicious and always brings back memories of when we first met: memories of Spring, of what had been quietly going on below, unrecognized, unaware, all of those years ago, below the surface of our surrounding landscape, and in our lives. His pasta salad always reminds me of when we fell in love.

Aqua Man hasn't cooked in a long time, but he has been cooking again these past couple of days. And, one of the first things he made was his pasta salad. This time, I shopped for the ingredients, bringing him options of things he might, or might not use, and left him to create in the kitchen. He made lasagna and stuffed shells, and then his pasta salad. And, when he brought me the first bite, in a small sample bowl, it tasted new and familiar, comforting and surprising, all in the same bite, and I smiled. We both filled our bowls, and sat together, eating. With each bite I remembered when we first fell in love, so long ago, not knowing that all of this was to come, or perhaps, at some level, knowing that all of this was to come.

Not knowing, though, that we would end up in that specific moment together. Still not knowing where it will all lead, or how it will all end up, because know one knows the answer to that. So we sit at the kitchen table that is now ours, in the home we share together, in our life, in the family that we have built, together. And that pasta salad tasted like the most amazing meal I have ever eaten in my life.

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