Cooking Artichokes

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Last night I cooked artichokes. I have eaten artichokes, but always pieces in a sauce, salad or dip. I never cooked artichokes nor had the desire. They were perfect, delicious. My husband and I sat on the floor watching TV, a dip of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise on the floor between us. Suck on an artichoke petal, have a sip of Vinho Verde, look at each other and smile.

In high school, one would not call me a wallflower. I never blended into the woodwork. I was a social butterfly with dyed black hair and safety pins in my ear. Later on, I was a social butterfly with fantastically sprayed bangs and crunchy gelled curls. I was boy-crazy, and dated a lot. I went to a relatively small school and was well known due to that, as well as being in a bunch of school groups and activities. When I started 9th grade I decided I was going to be popular. I had always been a bit of a dork, and high school was a way for me to start off new and cool. I did become popular, dated the most popular boy, had the prettiest and coolest friends. Then the popular boy dumped me for one of my pretty and cool friends and suddenly I realized that I was only as cool as who I hung with.

This was a horrible situation, but a good one because it forced me to redefine myself and through it I made friends who liked me for me, not for my social status. During this time, I became friends with the popular boy and the pretty friend again, to have it all go south again senior year when I made out with popular boy, who was still dating pretty girl. Come graduation, I had about five friends left in that entire school.

Pretty girl and I never spoke again. She and popular boy stayed a couple until sophomore year of college and I expected her to spit in my eye even if I were to see her twenty years after the high school make-out incident.

I never heard from her. Until MySpace. Then I get a message from her. She’s now married, living on the other side of the country and having a very content life. She had no desire to spit in my eye, and I was happy to reconnect. Through the four years of high school, we were the best of friends for more time than being the worst of enemies. Might as well concentrate on the positive.

This past week I had to go across the country for business, business residing in the city that my old friend now lives in. I sent her a message via MySpace saying I would be in town and offered my cell number. She immediately responded and that day she met me after my client meeting to give me a mini-tour of her new home and to have dinner with me.

We ate artichokes, her favorite food; a food I know little about. She quickly told me how she and her husband prepares them at home. I couldn’t recall ever seeing an artichoke for sale in a Maryland grocery, figured a trip to Whole Foods may be needed. We talked until 11pm about everything, from high school memories to or college lives to married lives, babies, jobs, books, you name it. We realized how late it was and got me a cab and I dashed back to my hotel to get a bit of rest before my early morning flight.

I spent the flight thinking about how this girl from my high school days and I are so different yet so similar. My husband and I have been talking much about feeling as though we are at a fork in the road. Do we have babies? Do we move? Do we pursue different dreams than what we are currently pursuing? If we don’t pick a path soon we will be stuck where we are right now, but are we really unhappy with the current path we are taking? This friend and I were similar in high school – similar interests, music, friends, community we were raised in and income level. Thirteen years later we are in very different places, careers and lives, yet our cores are similar. Our values, our beliefs, our quirky interests are still in sync. Somehow this made me feel that I can travel on any path, and even back up and switch paths mid-journey. It’s not about the destination, but that actual journey. We even mentioned this in the wedding vows we wrote for each other. We don’t want to be bitter old people with a small fortune socked away, yet we want to have the ability to travel, to send our kiddies to college, to live in a nice home.

I came home from my trip and got back into regular life – work, groceries, dry cleaners, Target, stopping by my mom’s, dealing with in-laws and pets and bills and the house. I forgot about my deep thoughts on the plane and got wrapped up in all the little tasks I wrote in my agenda book.

Sunday I had a second high school reunion. A girl who grew up down the street from me. We were on swim team together, went to middle, high school and college together. We lived together sophomore year of college; she tweezed my eyebrows for the first time. We haven’t seen each other for about ten years; we both dropped out of college and went different ways. I too found her via MySpace, coming across her sister’s page. We met at La Madeleine for brunch. She looked the same as she did in college – poised, stylish, calm, cool and collected. She is newly pregnant, married for six years, living in Virginia. She sounds successful and happy. We chatted for almost two hours over soup and salads and then she had to leave for another appointment. We hugged and she suggested my husband and I coming over for dinner some evening.

I loved seeing her, but it was different from seeing the friend in California. This reunion seemed… disjointed. I think it was because we have both done the same thing – we dropped out of school and then spent the next decade making up for it by pushing ourselves in our careers and trying to justify our decisions. Now we are over 30, married and wondering what the next step is, but not wanting anyone to think we are questioning ourselves. I left the restaurant and went to my favorite store, Anthropoligie. I spent hours roaming the displays, reading books, trying on fun clothing, touching and smelling and just wandering. I left the store with a skirt, a Christmas gift for a loved one and a hankering for artichokes. I couldn’t believe it, but not only did the little neighborhood grocery have them, but they were looking plump and fresh.

The recipe was perfect, the night with my husband was perfect. And our future? Well we haven’t decided which path to take, but we know the journey will be just as perfect.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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