Pulling a piece of string between my thumb and forefinger I will always search for a knot or snag, somewhere to stop, a blight to measure the rest of the smooth string against. No matter how much string I have to play with – long, uninterrupted lengths – my fingers will always find that knot.
There are thousands of moments every day when I miss you. When my alarm goes off in the morning I miss your annoyed groan before I sneak sleepily out of the room. When I’m singing really loudly in the car, beating on the steering wheel and tapping my lazy left driving foot, I miss your pitch-perfect harmonies. When I change lanes in an intersection I miss you carefully explaining that it’s unsafe. Same when I forget to indicate, break suddenly without checking my mirrors or cross double lines to chuck a U-turn. I miss you calling me Fangio.
My lacklustre high school career is most memorable for the mornings I’d turn up, say hi to my friends and have them silently turn their backs to me. Bitches. Defeated, I’d retrace my steps, catching two buses home and taking to my room. Away from it all I found comfort in books and a bigoted eating plan. It started with orange foods only, then white foods only, frozen peas, pineapple rings, then the next thing, and the next – always with the same narrow focus. I was lonely and isolated, but at my own hand, which felt like a victory. Half my life later I have no time for bitches and bristle at the suggestion of food restrictions. Half my life later and my world started to tip on its axis again; all the good pooling on the low side and me stuck clinging to the high side, unable to let go. But this time my friends didn’t turn away from me and I embraced an equal opportunity, all-inclusive, enthusiastically excessive approach to eating. After work one night, over a redemptive bowl of Pho, I met a girl who orbited just a couple of degrees outside my social sphere. She had blonde hair, a big grin, a tiny, determined dog and before I even realised we were friends, she was calling me on a Saturday morning to invite me to breakfast. Hip to both my reluctance to leave bed and habitual avoidance of social situations she’d cleverly make the call from outside my house, leaving little room for me to wriggle free with an excuse. She also fast understood the intense lure of breakfast. She knew when to push me and at exactly what point I’d pull away – we became firm friends. Then she moved to New York, on the side of my world where all the good was pooling. We were reunited when I visited her new city, where she gave up her life/work/friends/babes/running/sleep to hunt down hot dogs, ramen, burgers, bagels, amusement parks, cookies and squirrels with me. Mid-way through my stay, snazzy in our Sunday best and with a humid breeze at our backs, we wait on the street for a table at Tartine. The shoebox-sized bistro, cuddled by a corner in the West Village, knocks out home-style French fare from its matchbox-sized kitchen. We order French green lentil salad with feta, roasted red pepper, crispy shallots and lemon dressing ($10), that is tangy, cool and mealy, and has us scraping the plate with duelling forks. My pal rules that the spicy chicken with guacamole and French fries ($18) is ‘fucking incredible, dude’ and my grilled sirloin steak with red wine Bordelaise sauce and French fries ($24) is heart-red rare, rich and bang on. The room is small enough to enjoy snippets of NYC dinner conversation, sing Happy Birthday with the next table over and eat from your friend’s plate while she watches the world go by. We pay the bill (cash only) and walk home past the darkened, quiet shops on Bleecker, through the ghostly, night-still parks with their sleepy hydrangeas and across the vast city blocks, sometimes chatting and sometimes not. She lives on the other side of the world now, a life that is full and wild and spirited and young and not at all convenient for breakfast on the weekend. Still, even from all the way over there, in the haze of her fun, she’ll send me regular messages to make sure I’m ok. And even if I’m not ok at the time, those messages make me so.
I ran away to New York City to try and shake a heavy heart. Ran away from all the people who know best, the people I don’t show my busted heart anymore. I ran away from the life I wanted, but was too scared to fight for. I ran away from him and desperately hoped he’d make chase. When I’m running, I like to play it cool – I like to pretend that I’m running toward something. Like when you’re running for a bus, but see the doors close and watch it pull away from the kerb before you catch up, so elect to keep running for a bit. You never call out, ‘hey, bus! Wait!’ Cause you weren’t really ever running for that bus, you don’t care that you missed it, you were just jogging to get your heart rate up a bit. Maybe burn a few cals. So, I ran toward New York City and it’s food. I ran toward bagels and hot dogs and giant salty pretzels, toward meatballs and pastrami and cookies, toward pickles and lox and lobster rolls. The red-eye from LA leaves me tired, sweaty and giddy; my first day in NYC has the same result. A deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, baked eggs and coffee fill the hole, but don’t touch the ache. I want comfort; I want soup. The whole world cries into soup: the Jews and their Matzo ball, the Thais and their Tom Yum Goong, the Vietnamese and their Pho. Ukranians and their Borscht. In NYC, on a heavy-hot night, I choose Momofuku Noodle Bar and Japanese soup, ramen. We’re offered a twenty-minute wait, and are seated in five. It’s busy and it’s loud and it’s somewhere to sit after running so far. We order soy sauce eggs, the murderously good pork buns and ramen named for the restaurant. The broth is balanced, clear, creamy with pork fat. Cabbage, shallots, seaweed, shredded pork shoulder and a perfect poached egg jostle for attention, overshadowed by slabs of soft, fatty pork belly and a messy tangle of pliant noodles. I drain the large bowl – it’s equal parts satisfaction and comfort and sustenance to keep running. But you can’t run forever. And when I stop running, life is time spent between the moments when my heart pounds frantically in my chest, trying to get out, trying to get back to him. So I eat a lot of soup.