I’m in my mother’s kitchen, stirring egg into flour. It’s 2008 and my mom is dying in the next room. So much of this week is a blur. I just know the kitchen is a different room. A room where I had a larger sliver of control.
I’m making fresh pasta. A simple, good thing. I have to roll the sheet out with a rolling pin. She never had a pasta roller, and I left mine in my college town when I packed, bleary-eyed.
My family hovers around the hospital bed which has been uprooted and set down in the living room. In my head, the meal is a binding act. A bringing together. We were all lost in the fog then.
That’s what he preached about food, and it gave me hope.
It’s 2009 and I’m interviewing to enroll in culinary school. The bald man looms beside in a magically white chef’s coat. The administrator leans across her desk. Her face is warm and solicitous, and I worry my distress is less buried than I think.
“What kind of cook do you want to be?”
“I’ve always wanted to be a Bourdain type.”
I mean the type who sees something soulful, something essential in food. I wonder if they thought I meant the type with a TV show.
I leave with a good feeling about getting into the school. I drive home across a rural stretch of Colorado in the spring night. I go home, shut myself in my room, and think about dying.
Suicide isn’t like any other kind of dying. Death is a lightning bolt—no matter how long the storm builds up, the strike is always an instant. Suicide is the gap between the lightning and the thunder. The silence and the rumble on the other end of it. The internal five-count, and the creeping fear that the lightning is closer to you than you want.
I can’t hear about a suicide without thinking about the way my own urges rose up in me. How they’re hidden away, the serpent in the sea-cave, the dragon in the ruined tower.
I went to culinary school. I cooked, I fed. It didn’t make me feel better. The fact that it didn’t make me feel better made me feel even worse.
At night, I would watch No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain presented something so life-affirming. I could see it. I could taste it. But I didn’t realize then how different that was than having it.
In my twenties, I credited a lot of things with saving my life. Food, family, stand-up.
All these things helped: food let me build something tangible, something people needed when I was feeling the most worthless. My family stood by me when they didn’t have to. Stand-up has given me direction, passion, and discipline.
But none of these saved my life. They gave me a reason to save myself.
That is all I believe we can ask of anyone or anything. Give us a reason. A reason seems smaller, more humble than the grand gestures we’re so fond of. It is, to borrow a Bourdain phrase, a simple, good thing. And when you are in the dark, it may be the surest lifeline you can grab.
I used to think Anthony Bourdain saved my life. I know I got something from his work. Something vital. And I am thankful.