Each morning, I wake up to a cup of steaming coffee prepared by my husband of twenty years. The kitchen, every day, has a different energy. Some mornings, I feel it invites me to be a part of it’s magic, enticing me to pick up a knife, to smell the fresh lemons on the counter or bite into the juicy grapes in the bowl. There are other days when it seems like the energy is quiet, as though I am invited to stay but not mess with the hearth or the heart of the kitchen. I order take-out on those days. It was years before I realized that the spirit of my kitchen, was a reflection of the energy that I brought into it each day.
A year ago, I remember entering the kitchen with a very somber heart. I did not know why but my kitchen seemed quiet. Almost as if bracing for a storm. My friend B had called that morning and said she wanted to visit. There was something in her voice but I chalked it up to her not being a morning person. She arrived, as she often did, with an armful of avocadoes and a big beaming smile. We sat at the kitchen counter as she talked non-stop of her adventures in babysitting, her good friend’s chatter about her pregnancy, her fascination with soccer and her frustration with English.
I was nearly her mother’s age and yet we had a great chemistry. She had the capacity to talk non-stop and my age advantage gave me the capacity to listen intently. We had nothing in common – she was single, I was married with kids, we had different religions, I had several degrees and she had only finished high school, she danced like a dream and I could barely walk a straight line! But we had one thing in common: food. We both loved to cook and loved to feed each other.
I got up to help her make the guacamole but with the wave of a knife she signaled for me to sit back down. I smiled. She looked like she needed to keep her hands busy.
She placed three eggs in a deep bowl and filled it with chilled water.
“Eggs are better when they are not in the fridge. Why do you keep yours there?” she mumbled and kept going.
She had come with all that she needed. She began to chop the shallots, mince the shiny green chilies and finely chop the cilantro. I loved her version of the guacamole native to her birthplace of El Salvador. She talked non-stop not giving me a chance to intervene or interject other than to just nod my head and smile. Her usually steady hands shook as she struggled with the knife. I offered to help. No, no, I must do this, she said. I took that as my cue to sit back and listen. She mixed the now mashed avocadoes, the eggs, the cilantro, chiles and shallots and added a touch of lemon juice and toasted cumin. Then placed it in front of me.
I was about to dig in when I looked up to see my friend standing silent as a few tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I was just diagnosed with cervical cancer,” she said. She was twenty-five.
We both stared at the bowl of guacamole; one of my favorite snacks. We held hands across the small kitchen island. The kettle whistled in the back.
I got up to make some tea. It was her turn to sit down. This time, she talked slowly and more purposefully explaining that the cancer was in very early stages and that the doctor thought it was totally curable.
I poured her tea and then mine and listened.
The kitchen was a serene quiet, bearing witness to a painful memory as it hugged us in its warmth and shielded us from the world outside.
“I will fight it. You know,” she said. The unsaid is more painful than what is said as I wondered what this would mean for her and having babies of her own.
“Yes, I know. And you will win.”
As we wiped our tears, my kids came running in and devoured the perfectly prepared guacamole. “B, you make most amazing guacamole.”
She laughed and hugged them both.