A heavy quiet fell over the world. There I knelt, devoid of any emotion anymore. I had been stricken of everything: sadness, remorse, regret, pain… I could feel nothing anymore; I was numb. A shell—a blank stare to the place where she once was; the ashes that were gently carried away by the wind. She was here once. I held her until she faded from my arms. And now, there’s nothing left. Only memories of her…her name etched in history…the spot where she rests eternally in my heart…and this place—the echoes of footsteps where she once tred. The places she once stood. All the smiles she brought. What now?
Everyone had left already, but I didn’t really notice. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. I was already lost in my little world—alone—disconnected from everything and everyone. I would have hated to see the looks on their faces. Would have hated to see the looks on her parents’ and siblings’ faces when they were told what happened. Would hate to see the look on my own tattered face even—of course—that would be the worst to see. My heart was broken that day. Broken and never to be mended. A gaping hole that would never be filled. Just like the rest of me—everything I’d ever be. Shattered future with no hopes without her. A broken heart full of only pain; pieces and fragments that had nothing to hold them together. I knew I’d never be the same anymore. That I was broken, and that’s all I’d ever be. That I am broken. I will be broken. Nothing. But broken.
What did she think of me, really? I tried to be good—to make good impressions. Sure, I lost my sanity—the pain became too much sometimes that it just burst from me without my being able to control it. I hope she understood. What kind of memories and stories would she take to Heaven with her, I wonder? Only good ones, I hope. Maybe some…with me…those days we spent together and smiled. Picking flowers and looking out at the stars… My singing her lullabies at night to get to sleep. Those moments…I’d just love to hold her just to feel her near me.
My God. That’s what I miss the most. Holding her. Just feeling her near me again.
Why can’t I leave? I couldn’t leave. I just wanted to stay there forever—as though her essence still lingered there...invisible. Waiting until the dust was taken away completely—far into the untamed sky. Where no pain would wait her there. But I’m left only with pain.
Maybe…maybe I just wanted… For her to take me with her.
But… She saved me. I had to go on, but how could I? I felt so hopeless. So crushed and empty. After a while longer of melancholic pondering, blank staring, trying to make sense of the impossible and push away the pain—I lifted myself up off the ground. And turned away.
That hurt the most. Turning away. Leaving it behind… But I never left her behind.
Needless to say I spent the next vapid, timeless months or weeks or something moping around my house—chasing away the light and hiding in the dark, carrying the pain and crying until I almost fainted from dehydration or until I couldn’t breathe because my chest was so heavy I thought for sure my heart was about to burst. Maybe I wanted to die. To feel like I was—just to comfort me into thinking someday…I wouldn’t have to bear an eternity without her. Sometimes I lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, asking myself why it hurt so much. But I didn’t question. Why. The pain told more than words could ever explain. I cried, I moped, I sighed…and that was enough. I didn’t need logic to tell me what I should or shouldn’t feel and why. I’ve always been a believer in the heart.
And then, among the restless nights, I’d affix my glance toward the ceiling and talk aloud to myself—or to her. In hopes she’d be listening. I still talk to her. Sometimes, I feel she responds. But I felt so lonely then—my heart so racked with pain that there was no such thing as hope or love or happiness anymore. I don’t think there’s even a word for how I felt then. “In the depths of despair”? That’s not even close.
But I’d talk to her. Talk to Him, asking for guidance and to watch over her…to take care of her now—for me. To have mercy on my poor, pitiful soul. But…somehow…I never really got mad at God for what He did. I know she wouldn’t have liked that; I know it was just the way it was. But—ugh—did it hurt.
I didn’t care anymore. The battle still raged—ridiculous. The stupid Hundred Years’ War was still going on—even after all that. Why? What was the point anymore? I wanted nothing to do with anything, so my poor citizens fought out in the cold, harsh world while I cried to myself in bed every day and night. I wanted to be shut away as far as I could. It’s impossible, I know, to run away from the world—especially if you’re a country—but I still tried. I wish we could have run away together. I regretted that; I regretted everything—down to the words I spoke to her every day. Did I do something wrong? I always wondered…
But what I regretted the most. Was not being able to tell her how I felt about her.
But I could have. I should have. I didn’t. I kept myself from saying anything for fear of how she’d react or what she’d think of me. I wanted her to feel safe around me—to be someone to come to when she was worried or scared. To be there. Always. Is that love? What is love, truly? I’ve…always wondered. I’ve always tried to find it…to give it…to share it… Is love companionship or pleasure? Or innocence or romance? Or sweet words or thoughtful gifts? Or one-night stands or well-planned dates? Or kindness or compassion? Understanding and thoughtfulness? Happiness or contentedness? Trust or joy? There isn’t even an answer, is there? That’s…all I’ve ever tried to understand all my life. What “love” really means. I’ve tried them all. I’ve fallen into all sorts of traps. Been in all kinds of relationships. Ugh. “Relationships.” That’s like saying I’ve been in contracts. Love is more pure than that—I’m sure of it. It’s not a list you have to follow or a magic word you have to say. It’s not always knowing the right thing to do but trying anyway. It’s… I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. But I know how I felt about her. How I feel about her. And if it is love…then I have always known the answer, haven’t I? I’ve…just been so blind is all.
Maybe I’m just over-thinking it too much. Or maybe it’s hard to love with a broken heart.
A heart that will never forget the love it had once known…and lost… So tragically. Suddenly. Painfully.
But I wanted to tell her…regardless. Just for her to know. Maybe she knew. I’ll never know.
But I do know one thing: she meant everything to me. And losing her ruined me forever. And ever since then, I’ve never stopped telling her “I love you.” Every night. Every morning. Every time my thoughts turn to her. When the memories resurface, or when the purest evening sunset falls. “I love you.” And I always will.
And, each time, I’m left with a feeling of peace. So maybe it’s true, after all.
I love you, my sweetie. My miracle girl. My Jeannette. Petite Jeanne. Ma Cherie. Ma chère.
Finally, I decided after the longest time of confinement to leave my house for the outside world once again. But only for a short walk, I told myself. Only for a short walk outside. The confining air of my little shack had become stifling—life-sapping. That the air of the outdoors, cool with a tinge of chill, was so refreshing. Life-giving. I wanted to spread my arms and take to the sky—touch the clouds and maybe take her hand in the process. But I was so bound. By the ground, the pain, the reality of it all. I’d rather dream. Things go better in dreams. Though…sometimes I wish I could have written my dreams differently.
In retrospect, I felt like Ophelia from that stupid play. Mind-numbingly melodramatic and pained to the point where I might have taken invitation to go drown in the nearest river—my conscious-waning corpse floating along with the beautiful flower petals…almost like floating in the sky and being carried by the soft, fragile scents. But flowers come back. Would I come back, too? Maybe I wouldn’t want that, after all.
But I digress. My heart wasn’t as much of a lead weight as it had been. The light singed my skin, but the breeze felt nice and light enough that I didn’t mind being outside. My bitter disposition bit at the bright sun, though, disgusted that such a lovely day would exist during such a sad time. It felt like years since I’d been outside—like I’d been frozen and thawed into a new era or woken from a thousand years’ slumber and plunged into a new day that had nothing to do with the time I had fallen asleep. How much time did pass? Did it even matter? Everything was still the same. The same. Sigh. How I loathed it. What was the point of still fighting after all that? What was the point?
I found myself wandering to the river Seine once in a while. Just to reflect on the shimmering waters. They poured the ashes into the water, as though to hide them or let them flow away. But they did the opposite. Water—life-giving and clear. Pure. The river that flows straight into my heart. In a way, she’s always kept close to me now. Flowing with life like the never-ending river. Flowing along with my love that shall never recede. When I look into the clear waters, can I see your smile reflecting back beneath the surface of blue? Or maybe your eyes shimmering like the jewels left by the sun’s rays? I don’t know. I wish I could see you again. I can only see me. Sad, pathetic me. But somehow, reflecting and pondering—looking to the river for introspection—always helps me find my answers. Then, I had no answers. I barely had any questions. My head and heart were heavy enough as it was. I could think of nothing more but her. Just her. And how much it pained me she wasn’t there beside me. Should I have kept some of them with me? Sigh. But the thought frightens me. Mortality…frightens me.
Wandering, aimlessly, I followed the whims of my legs, which felt like they could give at any moment and leave me flailing and sobbing stupidly on the ground until someone came by to pick fun at me. But—somehow—I kept going. Walking, on and on at deadening pace, until I had scaled one of the small hills to overlook the countryside that lay beyond. The overlooks always invigorated me—space, height, being above and beyond looking over and out—all these things give me height and invigoration. But, under the guise of depression, the space instead felt so empty, so vapid. It just reminded me how lonely I was. How much I wanted her to be there beside me—so I could tell her how I’ve always dreamed of staying in the mountains with someone—overlooking the beautiful countryside and lingering there until the sun set…where we’d whisper sweet sentiments to each other, dream under the full sky of stars… Feel so big but so small in this wide, majestic world of ours. It is all ours. This wide, crazy, beautiful world. Both eternity and nothingness at the same time.
Now. It’s just me. Sad, lonely, sorry me. Looking at how sad and sorry I am.
Ma Cherie amour.
I had cried so much that summoning more tears seemed to be impossible. It was like I had exhausted all the natural resources possible to make more rivers from my sadness. There was no water and no place for it to go. So I feigned crying while staring out into the distance—such pained notions of dreams that would never come.
I need you.
“There you are, idiot. Where have you been? I thought you’d fallen off the face of the Earth!”
I didn’t mean you.
I heaved a sigh, wiping the tears that weren’t there. I couldn’t muster any bit of anger let alone mild frustration or annoyance, so my words came out very bland. “Please. I’m not in the mood for you right now.”
“Don’t you realize there’s still a war going on right now?” he asked manner-of-factly.
I had turned my back to him, but I could tell by the normal and somewhat softened gentleness in his tone of voice that he wasn’t here to pick a fight with me. For once in a while—that did happen. After all, unfortunately or not, we had fought so much and conversed so much that we became closet confidants as well as mortal enemies. I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to then. Not that he was the best company.
“Come on, spit it out,” he commanded.
I sighed a mournful sigh. The kind of sigh a rainy day would send away as it wished it were something other than melancholy. “You know what’s been bothering me.”
“What?” he asked for clarification.
“You’re really that dense, huh?” My voice choked. “You don’t know? Since then?”
After a few seconds of reflection, he huffed a sigh. “You know, I feel bad about it, too. I mean, she was just a child.”
The tears found their way back then—after all.
“I mean—that was the big thing the others planned. She was by all accounts our enemy, and they did what they had to to assure we’d be victorious, is all!”
“Stop sugar-coating it.”
“I was desperate, too, OK?! But… Now it’s different,” he whispered, and I turned to see his eyes cast over with gray. He was truly remorseful. “I felt terrible because…” Closing his eyes, he abandoned that silly “tsundere” side of his for the genuine side. “I didn’t realize…she meant so much to you.”
My heart pained, I broke into a series of hurt chuckles. “Meant a lot to me…” The laughter shook to pained sobs. “Meant a lot to me?” I strained. My eyes longing for the bright, blue sky, I stared until I faded away in the beautiful blue pigment. “She…was the world to me.” But my skies turned to gray with subtle, falling rain. “She still is,” I whispered, forcing myself not to burst into maddening sobs once again.
He said nothing. He never could say anything.
“Why?” My pained, tortured heart got the best of me, as it always does. And I began to ramble on while crying, pained, trying to quell my heart to keep it from breaking again. “Why?? I can’t live on like this! It hurt me so much! I swear I’ll die of a broken heart!” Reflecting on my words with a sigh, I realized how nice they sounded. I muttered softly, poignantly, “Maybe that’s not so bad, though… Why don’t you just kill me and put me out of my misery? I’m worthless anyway. Go on. I wouldn’t mind.” I burst suddenly, water pouring from my eyes, “The world wouldn’t care if I were gone!!”
Suddenly, a sharp pain came to my face, and my eyes snapped open. The tears halted, but my face felt even worse with the addition of the stinging sensation.
“You idiot! Don’t talk like that! You’re delusional saying things like that!” he burst, practically fuming.
“You of all people slapping sense into me…” I muttered to myself, drowning out his frantic words. Consoling my pained cheek, I wondered what prompted this onset. Maybe I would be missed, after all?
“Are you even listening?” he questioned, belligerent.
“But there isn’t anything special about me,” I mentioned casually. “What do people even know me for? Being stupid? Running away? All I have is Paris, the countryside, and a broken heart.”
“Well…” he calmed down, staring to the ground, hiding his intent, “you didn’t hear this from me, but the word around is that everyone talks about your food like it’s pretty good.”
“Really? It’s not that good,” I responded, surprised. Back then, food was just mainly for nourishment. No one had ever thought of it as anything more—especially when it was scarce. Nobility, on the other hand, often enjoyed lavish meals. But that was another story, and that really wasn’t until the late 1600s and beyond.
“It’s just what they say, all right?! I don’t know if it’s really true.”
With a huff of a sigh, he turned from me, tired of my stupidity already. “I’m sick of you being depressed all the time. It’s really starting to bug me. You know, it won’t be any fun if you just surrender after all these years. So I’m hoping you’ll still put up a good fight.” And with that, he walked away. As usual.
Sigh. He was right. I knew it, too. My work wasn’t done. I couldn’t just give up like that—especially not after what my love did and her sacrifice for me. He knew that, too. Radiantly, joyfully, I let out a grand, bombastic, over-confident laugh as I was so used to doing before yelling back, vowing, “Don’t you worry about that! I’ll be like a tiger! No one will be able to stand in my way!!”
With confidence, I jumped from the hill and ran to the fields, reveling in the power and vibrancy I had lost—so suddenly and distastefully—to sadness. With a confident smile, I lifted my eyes to the sky once again, feeling I was looking straight into her eyes. “I won’t let you down, my love!” I yelled triumphantly, overcome with hope, joy, power—but falling to my knees with depression, emptiness, and confusion. Both resolute and lost at the same time.
Back at home, I made myself a little something simple to eat, and I just couldn’t grasp why England claimed others were talking about my food. Was there just something about it? Even Jeanne would always tell me she enjoyed my meals so much. It was so strange to me. Did I have a talent I didn’t see or notice? Or maybe his food just tasted like dirt or garbage (which was highly possible—even then). It made me chuckle to think about.
But it was so perplexing—that something so mundane could actually be a kind of talent that someone could have. A life path and something made special by a dream. Then, as if a message dropped from Heaven, my eyes lit up, and a soft but grand dream entered my thoughts—seeping its way slowly into my heart. “What if food, such a simple necessity—became a kind of art form? What if the mundane became the elegant? A luxury?”
Ever since then, I sought to find the answer to that question. But it took me a very long time to find the answer—and, finally, to make such a grand and mocked dream a reality. And that’s how I preoccupied my mind and soothed my madness during those long, arduous days without her.
There wasn’t really anyone else to go to in those days to talk about art and food. But, luckily, my neighbor and little brother Italia was willing to hear me out—and, wouldn’t you know, he was curious about working with food during the same time I was getting into it, so he was happy to help.
“Big Brother France! It’s-a so good to see you!” Chibi Italy greeted me with a warm smile. Then, he was still so small and just a child, so being with him made me feel so young at heart…but so old at the same time.
Letting me in his house, I admired all the lovely paintings and took a seat on a surprisingly soft couch. It was so elegant at his house—I was jealous. I wanted to integrate such beauty into my house, too.
“But why are you here, Big Brother? Aren’t you in the middle of a crisis at your house? Aren’t you worried?”
“It’s all right. It’s under control for now, so there’s no need to worry.” I hated lying to him—to pretend to be the cool big brother I played. But I didn’t want to worry poor cutie.
“Wow! You’re so cool Big Brother! When I grow up, I want-a to be strong just like you!” he beamed.
“Cute,” I responded but added in a hush voice, “but no one wants to be like me…” Covering up my concerns, I changed the subject, looking interested, “So I hear you’re interested in cooking?”
His wide, though closed, innocent eyes lit up slightly at my interest, and he talked in his usual enthusiastic manner, his hands flying all over so as to bring emphasis to his words. “Oh, yes! Cooking is a lot of fun! So much fun to do! But what-a I really like the most is making sweets and gelato! But whenever I do cook, I make-a something with pasta!”
I chuckled to myself. Seeing him so happy amused me; he’s so cute. And strangely, his enthusiasm seemed to work through me and make me more interested in making things, as well. Maybe because he was still so small, and it was intriguing to me how talented he was at such a young age.
I brought up my question. “But I was wondering how we could improve the taste and quality of food a little. It’s quite bland now, isn’t it?”
“Wow, Big Brother, you must-a have expensive tastes!” he professed, a little taken aback. “If it’s ingredients you’re looking for, I could-a share some with you! Lately I’ve been getting some spices to use!”
“Ah, spices, you say?”
“Uh-hm!” he nodded. “Like salt and-a pepper!”
“They really add-a something special to food!”
It seems so rudimentary now, but then, spices were something truly magical and different.
As we continued to chat, he brought me some spice cake to try, and he told me about some of the cooking methods he’s been trying lately. Yes, even the simplest cooking methods today seemed so foreign and revolutionary then! After all, there were no stoves or ovens.
“Fascinating. You’re really ahead of your time, you know that?” I told him, impressed.
“Oh, it’s-a nothing, really!” he admitted, blushing a little and rubbing the back of his little head. “After all, you need water to boil pasta!”
“Now if only I could get him to stop talking about pasta and sweets…” I mused to myself. Speaking up, I questioned, “But what about the sauces for meats? Have you worked on improving those much?” To tell true, sauces back then were used just to mask the flavorless taste of the meat—a sad truth I must admit. But I was interested then in perhaps making the sauces more of an accompanying feature—by figuring out how to make the meat taste better. I was curious mostly about bringing out the ingredients’ true, different flavors through preparation and seeing how they could be made special—something that, unfortunately, wasn’t really possible without modern technology and techniques. While Italia, of course, had other ideas.
“You mean like pasta sauces?” he turned his head sideways in confusion.
I sighed. “Never mind. It’s all right. I’m just curious on how to improve the flavors of things.” He opened his mouth to speak, and I stopped him. “Without using lots of spices.”
“Oh…” he lowered his head sadly. “I’m not sure I can tell you that.”
“That’s fine,” I consoled him. “It’s a work in progress.”
“You sure have been thinking about this a lot, Big Brother…” he mused to himself, closed eyes searching the room curiously. After a moment, he turned his head to one side, wondering just why we ended up in-depth discussing all of this. “Are you interested in cooking, Big Brother?”
With a sly smile, I concluded, “I do believe I am.”
Finally, in October of 1453, we showed up for the last and final showdown of the Hundred Years’ War, which was actually 116 years long. Too many years by then. I was done. It was then the last formal combat for possession of Bordeaux, which was then owned by England, and our proclaimed “final showdown” we staged for each other to prove once and for all it was the end. If I won, then he would have to accept his loss, and if he won…well, I didn’t want to think about that then. Though comparable to our usual “play dates” where we get together and fight in secret, this was a very serious affair whose outcome meant both our futures.
So, needless to say, neither of us were willing to back down in this swordfight.
Such an elaborate, but rather conflicting and exhaustive series of strikes and parries, dodges and thrusts. It was comparative to all the battles and struggles and trials that made up this crazy, endless war. The combat seemed to go on forever, vying for my side at one moment but switching against me another. Minutes seemed to be hours and, in retrospect, hours seemed to be minutes. I broke through the pain and didn’t back down, though it sometimes seemed like an impossible battle and one that mocked me. But we were both stark serious the whole time—not even slinging any sarcastic comments. Just stern stares and decisive actions.
And, at last, I had had enough. With a swift swipe, I knocked his sword away—far out of his reach—and knocked him to the ground, pointing my sword to his face, nearly touching, as I stood determined with a look of pure frustration, determination, and fury.
And, as all the years of torture, pain, and dying flashed before my eyes. As I stood there, at last, before him with the courage to win. As I had no strength nor pride left. My arm relaxed, my face fell, and my heart could find only regretful sentiments. The look in his eyes was like all the others’. Scared. Uncertain.
“You and I…” I began to muse aloud melancholically, “We’ve been fighting all these years, and what did it get us? Pain and heartbreak and crisis… What was the point of all of that?”
His giant eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and he yelled out at me, “What are you doing? Just get it over with already!”
Dejectedly, I continued my monologue. “What was the point of all that fighting? Can’t we just come to a compromise so we don’t have to have so much bloodshed? So much devastation?” Turning away, I lamented to myself, “If we maybe could have realized that… Then maybe my sweetheart would still be here.”
In the time I pondered wistfully to myself, Dummy had crawled over and come in behind for a (not-so-sneaky) attack to choke me. “Maybe if you didn’t stop to think so much, you’d actually have a chance! Listen to what I say once in a while, would you?”
“You listen!” I barked back, snapping. Dropping my own weapon, I snatched him by the throat again and reiterated my words, adding some of my pain in the process. “What was the point of all of this? All this pain and madness and death was the result of what? Us fighting over petty, stupid things! How stupid is that?!”
All the words just came at once amid my snapped frustration and prolonged sadness. “I’m tired of fighting! It doesn’t solve everything, you know! All this senseless violence and greed and hatred and false accusing took away the only person in my life that had meaning to me!” Realizing what I had said, I stopped myself, quelling the oncoming tears that came on like a waterfall. After a second of regaining my composure with a slow breath, I added with a soft, pained tone, “Just…what was the point? Did it do anything to improve us now compared to then? To be in constant disarray?”
He knew, too. I may have been a complete wreck beyond compare, but he had his fair share of troubles, too. And troubles that had yet to come. I could tell, for their stories were written in his troubled eyes. Troubled eyes that, though they were the same color as my sweet love’s, they were nowhere near the same shade. Shaded over with gray and tainted by delusions of grandeur. Wishes for a simple past that never was. I let him go.
He sighed heavily, turning away in defeat. He thought for a while without any audible words, unused to admitting that he could ever feel anything similar to the turbid emotions I conceal.
“Don’t you wish we were content with the things we had before we lost them?” I said, almost in a pleading way.
After a minute or two, he walked away casually and slowly. As though retracing his steps, reflecting on the past and the future as they slipped away. Eyeing the fallen sword, he picked it up and studied his marred reflection in its scarlet-tinted surface. Sheathing it away. Locking it all away. As though it would put aside all the years of pain and torture for something new to replace it.
Then, he turned back to me. “I’ll pay you the fee I owe, and you can take Bordeaux back. With that, maybe we can lace up this war a bit? And then I’ll go home.”
“England…” I let go of a relieved sigh, “Thank you.”
After that bout, finally, I was free. I’d say I won, but that sounds too prideful to say. I don’t feel like I’ve won anything. I only lost things. All the anger and violence and pain and struggles brought us only heartache and destruction. But, at last, I could start my life again—anew. I knew she would want me to live, for she gave herself for me. My darling… I vowed then and there to try to become a better person; to draw upon the statutes she taught me and to discover who I am. I also, with a look of determination toward the sky, promised I would master cooking, feeling that was my calling.
My travels and my interests led me all about the world while I kept cooking in the back of my mind. Not too long after that incident and Sweetie’s era, I had the opportunity to traverse that mystical boundary of blue—the ocean that stretched into forever. A part of me refused to leave with the explorers, feeling I needed to stay in the land which held my soul and the traces of her memories and dreams. The places which she stepped and skipped. I couldn’t keep her off my mind, still. I never wanted her to leave my mind. It’s where she belonged, forever, still alive in my memories and in my undying love. But the others around me noticed my introverted and melancholic state, and they were becoming increasingly concerned for me. And so, long story short, I figured a trip would be a good opportunity for me—to clear my troubles ever so slightly. Besides, I figured would never have the chance to follow explorers ever again—and to figure out, at last, what waits beyond the ocean.
But I was despondent the whole trip—even though we were traversing the mysterious ocean to find what lies beyond the blue. Even though we were living my dream to explore and even though we were surrounded by the beautiful waters…my heart felt emptier than ever. I wished she were there with me to see it. Even though, by then, she would have lived a full life. A life I would have shared every waking moment with her. And every gram of my love.
But, luckily, that was the time I met Mattieu. And he, being so young and vibrant and caring and special, helped fill the void my heart left behind. But that’s an entirely different story…
With little Mattieu to keep me company and for me to care for, my heart healed itself slowly and gradually until I was just a heavy soul hidden beneath a loving smile and caring embrace. Just like I am now. And so, forcing myself to cherish my life and to take my mind off sad things, I devoted all my time to cooking and to learning about cooking—taking notes from the past and learning from others around me (mostly Italy, who shared recipes and ingredients with me. And, yes, Russia and I did share pastry recipes…though it was just mostly my taking and improving upon his recipes).
There were days I practically shut myself in and practiced all day long to figure out what I was missing. I volunteered to help local artisans and even became an assistant at lots of different guilds or a cook for royalty. Constantly, I knew I was missing something, and I refused to settle for anything less than perfection—for I knew I would find the answer eventually. I knew, someday, that the light would shine down, and I would know I reached a breakthrough. Several of them, actually.
But, as geniuses and artists and creative minds often were berated, I was teased, as well. Mostly by Iggy Eyebrows-the-size-of-caterpillars (You know that awful animal nickname he’s given me). As I was often immersed in my studies and obsessed with the idea of beauty and perfection, others teased me, insisting that my efforts were silly and quite extraneous. After all, people back then were concerned with just having food to eat, forget about it being an art form that makes living something beautiful. But I wanted the mundane to be beautiful. I wanted the luxury the Royals had to be available for the common people, too. I wanted it…and I’m not entirely sure why the idea of majesty obsessed my mind so much. But it meant everything to me. Perhaps it was an escape—from all the troubles I had to endure in my country and the world and my people. Maybe to find some reason to live in this tumultuous world…to fill the chasm in my heart that was dug out when she left me—no when she was taken from me. I’m not sure. But I knew it was important to me. And it still is now.
Just like then, though, chefs all had their different ideas and interests, so I tried my best to learn from all of them during every opportunity I had. And to practice and learn as much as I could. I’m surprised now that I had the time to do all that and still visit Mattieu and have some territory in the States and try to solve the madness around me. Maybe time works differently for me…or maybe it’s because I didn’t sleep much then. But the French cuisine you know now didn’t really take shape until much much much later, once I had mastered what I was looking for and once, of course, we were able to design kitchens and equipment that can be used to help indefinitely the quality of the food. So not really until the 1900s, though the beginnings were during the early 1800s. When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound so old!
And so, it wasn’t until much later in my search and career (about the 1940s) where I had the greatest breakthrough—and found what I was looking for at last! While working in the garden and harvesting the day’s bounty of fresh produce, my mind wandered to and fro about tending the plants, watching them grow with love and care and tenderness. Time, patience, and even more love. That’s when it hit me—cooking is the same way! I couldn’t believe I didn’t see that right away! I was so concerned with getting everything perfect and occasionally frustrated about getting everything just right that the obvious flew over my head. How silly of me…
With great cheer and quiet humming, I dressed up in my chef’s outfit and made a full meal in the kitchen—not for anyone in particular but really just for myself. Silky tomato soup, a light salad, sautéed salmon fresh from the river, paired with fluffy rice and crisp haricots verts. Sigh~ So delightful. Maybe some nice cheese and fruit for after dinner… Nice wine to pair… Maybe a light dessert?
With great care and a sweet smile, I lost myself in the moment—enjoying what I had come to enjoy the best. It had become, as I realized, much more than a hobby or interest. It was so natural working with food, so fulfilling giving it life and transforming simple ingredients into art. Allowing time to develop the flavors and care to sharpen them. It got to the point where even making more than one thing at once was simple—with the lovely aromas lifting my spirit, making me feel as though I were floating along the kitchen, twirling like a delicate flower petal in the breeze. With the meal nearly done, I was in high spirits (though rather hungry by then) and looking forward to relaxing outside and enjoying the serenity of the evening.
All that was left was to sauté the salmon until golden so that it would have a lovely color and crisp coating as it finished cooking in the oven. And as the fish finished, I got to work making the sauce from the fonds of the pan which would complement the flavor of the fish. I was happy to find a way to use sauces well rather than to just dump the meat with “flavor” like we did in the far olden days. As memories came to mind and my body danced as I cooked, the white wine splashed in the pan, the alcohol dancing and spiraling up into a little flame of blue…and then red…and then…
It all hit me immediately again.
The flames. The heat… Her resolute smile beneath it all.
As the colors faded away, I fell gradually to my knees, my face collapsing into my hands. How…did I forget? Had I spent so much time focusing on cooking that I… No, I never really forgot. I just forgot the pain. I had locked it all away—pretending there was no such ending. Searching desperately for her love—or any kind of love. But…
She was always still with me. In my heart and in the depths of my thoughts.
Sucking in a deep breath, I knew what I had to do. Banishing the heaviness and the tears, I summoned the courage and sautéed another fillet.
Perhaps those days were my way to cope with it all. To find something else to carry my thoughts instead of the pain and the ephemeral traces of her. And, if so, my fascination with cooking was borne from her—her telling me how delicious my food was, even during a time when delicious wasn’t really important. I had to share this with her. My discovery. My new life and my hobby. My own form of art of which she was my muse—my own form of creativity which stemmed from the ideals of love, beauty, and art. Me. Now. The life she had charge of giving and sustaining.
With the small table set and the windows open, letting in the fresh breeze and the birdsong of the evening, I lit some candles and prepared the table with the dishes of food. À la française. Typical table style in the household. With a wistful smile, I sat across from the empty space—but it wasn’t empty. I was sure her essence took possession of it. That her precious soul returned to bless the food.
“Please enjoy,” I whispered quietly, a bit of sadness in my voice. “You are the one that inspired me.” Taking a bite of the fish paired with the fluffy rice and light sauce, I leaned back, my eyes fixated aimlessly to the ceiling. “You are my inspiration for everything, darling.”
A soft breeze from outside wandered beside me, carrying the triumphant call of an evening bird and the delicate scent of the lilies waiting beside the window. With a chuckle, I added, so as to prove something to myself, so as to act as a reminder for her and the rest of my life, so as to continue the legacy without it interfering with my life… So as to keep the past and present alive.
“I could never forget you that easily.”