On Monday Chef texted: What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Going ice skating,” I texted back. “Wanna come?”
“You can do that anytime,” he texted back, “tomorrow you’re coming with me to test a prototype for a new food competition show.”
“Do I need an apron?” I asked. “My knives?”
“Nope,” he said, “Just wear jeans. It’s casual.”
Every Tuesday afternoon I skate for three hours. This Tuesday I went to the 8:30 AM session so I could be back by noon. I showered, put on some jeans, scarfed down a couple liver pate sandwiches, and was almost ready when Chef knocked on my door. I let him in and went into the bathroom to finish putting on my makeup.
I could heard him in the other room joking about something someone had posted on Facebook, then he said something like, “Wha-?” and went silent.
I finished putting on my mascara and eyeliner. He was so quiet and not pressuring me to hurry that I even spent a little more time with the mirror than usual.
I came into the living room. “What’s wrong?”
“My friend just died.”
I fidgeted. I put on and took off my shoes. A line from the book, Mrs. Dalloway kept coming to mind. Maybe you know the story. Clarrisa is throwing a party. Parallel with her story is that of a young man who is struggling with depression. When he jumps from a ledge nearby, the guests are all suddenly talking about it and Clarissa says, “Oh! In the middle of my party, here’s death.”
Chef sat in a stupor. After a bit he got up. We headed out the door. I offered to drive, and he accepted, so he could make a few calls.
“I lived with the guy for four years,” said Chef.
I had been looking forward to talking with Chef today. I had listened to an episode of This American Life and I wanted to talk to him about it. He’d had an important meeting earlier in the day. I wanted to know how it went. But… here was death.
I headed in the direction of downtown while Chef talked about his friend. How he made the best biscuits, how he joked with everyone saying, “Them’s mighty good biscuits, there, but I think mine are just a lee-ttle bit better.”
I drove until we picked up another chef who was going with us, who I will call Arsenio because he was, as Chef said, “rocking a flat top.”
As we drove to Burbank, Chef joked with Arsenio about people they knew, about their old job, other chefs. He rallied.
In Burbank we met a friend of Chef’s name E. He and a girl named Siss were waiting for us in a glass box of a room with a view of the hills on the other side of the valley. After a few minutes we were joined by a man named I’ll call Oregon. Oregon had a commanding presence. He familiarized us with the rules and the general idea of their show. Then we, the guinea pig chefs, pretended to be contestants.
We laughed and chided each other. We pretended to play with food. And a few hours later we drove home. The name of the chef that had died didn’t come up again.
We entered the courtyard to our apartment building and Chef suggested we grab dinner and look at a potential space for his restaurant later. We agreed on a time.
When I looked for the quote from Mrs. Dalloway online, it took me to a page in Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative – a book I actually used for my graduate thesis on the use of time in Virgina Woolf’s work. He writes: “What maintains [Clarissa’s] fragile equilibrium between mortal time and the time of resolution in the face of death … is her love of life, of perishable beauty, of changing light, her passion for ‘the falling drop.’ Whence her astonishing power to rebound from memory, to plunge ‘into the very heart of the moment.'” In other words, sometimes the only way we can cope with death is by letting the present moment consume us.
Chef has become one of my best friends in L.A. One of those people I can drive down the highway with, both of us singing our hearts out to a F.U.N. song. The kind of guy who brings you roasted cauliflower when you ask what he’s cooking that’s setting off the smoke alarm. I love having a best friend living upstairs because it means that on my lonelier nights, I don’t have to be alone. I can always go knock on his door and drag him out for a drink.
It’s an odd thing, living directly below a friend. I hear him get up in the morning. I hear his door slam when he leaves and I hear him whistling on his way to his car. I know when he’s in an 80s mood. When he’s listening to house music, I know he’s cooking.
On this particular night, a little time passed and then I heard him grieving.