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Essays

Chopping Up a Memory

Several nights ago, I found myself at the kitchen table doing dinner prep alone. Instances like these are rare. I’m used to cooking with at least one other person, and singing while we do it. All day long, I’d had the (now-vintage) Taylor Swift song “Last Kiss” stuck in my head. When I entered the kitchen and popped in earphones, I queued it up. Then I got out the cutting board.

As the gap between its 2010 release date and the present day widens, “Last Kiss” has grown into itself in my head. Ten-year-old me hadn’t kissed anyone, nor had I lay in bed saying “I love you” at 1:58 am. Not to expose myself here, but I still haven’t done all of those things. And yet, I now know (at least a little better) from where Taylor was coming. Her words settle onto my ears differently, and tug at memories that didn’t exist a decade ago. 

So. Dinner. I don’t remember what I was making, but I started by chopping a yellow onion, because that’s usually what I do with my roommates and I’m nothing if not a creature of habit. Instead of standing high above the plastic chopping board, though, and looking up intentionally to spare my eyes from the acidic spray, I kept my face angled down. I focused my eyes on the knife’s edge, and when the tears came, I leaned into them. 

Our kitchen was made for late-spring early-afternoon light. We keep the windows constantly cracked, and they let in just enough breeze to toy with the gauzy white curtains filling them. These are the curtains from my childhood princess-themed bedroom, but on afternoons like these, nothing feels farther from that reality. When sinking sunlight is filtered through them, the effect is almost cinematic. Is it a Wednesday night in Brighton, Massachusetts, or am I alone in the center of an obscure city?

The tears, beginning to pile up in wet clumps under my jawbone, feel real. The moment is my own, and the apartment feels that way too. Taylor’s words are not hers, but mine. I whisper-sing, I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep. I brush the water from my face, and simulate a moment of utter heartbreak. 

The music slows to a crawl, and I’ve stopped chopping altogether. I let myself stare into the tapestry hanging adjacent to our window, relaxing my eyes while my brain moves a mile a minute stirring up a story. A mirage of feelings, moments, unrequited exchanges blur into one another. 

Ding! The default text notification prickles out of my earbuds, cuts off Taylor during the last refrain. All that I know is I don’t know/ How to be… My roommate messaged me in a panic, the door was locked and she forgot her key. “Are u home??” She typed hastily. I blink. I suppose I am, though for three minutes I fully left the kitchen on Sutherland Road. 

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