June 14, 2009

P.S.: I love you?

P.S. I Love You is a 2007 film with Gerard Butler and Hillary Swank, two actors I adore in a Rom-Com that is not worth analyzing, that I don’t own, but that gave me pause. Sure Gerard Butler (more recently in The Ugly Truth: great title) stopped my heart but then so did Jeffrey Dean Morgan who closes the deal in the film. P.S. I Love You relies on the death of the character Butler so effectively plays with wry intelligence and wit—not characteristic of the letters that drive the film—so a bit out of sync there. But death and love cause me to write a P.S. on Let the Rom-Coms roll.

I revisit here that early relationship with the real estate developer m. because he revisited me over a year later well after he had been dating the woman in New York. I learned something about myself when I saw him again.

Before the ellipsis, before his silence, m. and I agreed that I would cook dinner for him. Perhaps, the cynic in me now says, he did this while he was already pursuing the woman in New York. This dinner-to-be was, of course, before he told me about her.

But it’s hard to see through the lens of grief. P.S. I Love You fumbles sincerely to do that, a mighty task for the Rom-Com.

That night I prepared Mussels with Potatoes and Spinach, one of D.’s favorite dishes, and for the actual first time, I cooked, meaning I did not throw together a meal, but cooked with the right-tool-for-the-task verve in my condo’s pared down kitchen.

I cannot yet bring myself to do this for D. Kitchens and men and new men and old ones and Viking stoves and big-chested refrigerators (gone…) are all about love, despite what your stomach tells you.

Just as m. was to arrive and the deconstructed parts of this meal were about to come together, he called and canceled. His reason, so heartrending that love and death joined in my heart: His oldest daughter needed him. He had to go home. He was looking for love after the death of his wife. But it was her mother who had died. He wrote the next day and explained that his daughter had had a headache. I heard heartache. I wrote him this:

Dear M.,

You are good to write after also calling and explaining quite fully. I deeply respect your commitment and sensitivity to your children.

I spent last night after your call (well, cooking) but also thinking about R.’s [his daughter’s] bouts with grief—as I suspect that may be the less-spoken part of what goes on as she tries so hard to find her way, dunno, just a guess. I don’t know her of course.

Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking is writing mostly about the death of her husband. But she says, “After my mother died I received a letter from a friend in Chicago, a former Maryknoll priest, who precisely intuited what I felt. The death of a parent, he wrote, ‘despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.’”

Too soon, way too soon, your daughter has had to learn that death defines life. This next thought is for you (actually all of this e-mail is really for you): Take hope in the fact that without a doubt, the wisest people I have known experienced adversity early in life. And what more could we want as we journey ourselves but to know that wisdom might in fact come to our children even as we struggle helplessly to protect them from adversity.


M.’s silence followed, the girlfriend in New York, the reason, as he later explained. When I met him a year later when he considered getting together again with me—or perhaps he needed something else that this time I could not give— I had wised up.

But I was deeply saddened to learn that he’d dated this woman for over a year, that she had inexplicably dumped him, and that he could never forgive her for that. He actually said never in the same sentence with the indomitable and I loved her. She had lost her husband in the Twin Towers. How could never apply here?

We love on debt: Carta di credito finito?

Here’s the recipe:

Mussels with Potatoes and Spinach from Gourmet’s Five Ingredients (a great little cookbook. Recipe, slightly adapted here)

(start to finish 35 minutes)

1 lb small red potatoes
3 T. olive oil
1 T. minced garlic (I use more)
2 lb mussels (preferably cultivated, meaning less gritty, cleaned and beards removed)
½ lb baby spinach (I use more)

1. Simmer potatoes in enough salted water to cover by 1 inch until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain under cold water. Pat dry; cut in half or quarters.
2. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet (I use my cast iron pan) until hot but not smoking, then sauté potatoes with salt (I use Kosher coarse salt), turning as they brown (don’t turn too often or potatoes will crumble instead of getting crisp—and that’s what makes this dish great), about 10 minutes.
3. In a 5 to 6 quart pot, while potatoes are sautéing, cook garlic in one tablespoon of oil until fragrant (don’t burn the garlic; burnt garlic ruins a dish). Stir in mussels and ¼ cup water (white wine also works, but I use a little more when I choose wine), cover pot and cook until mussels open (take them out as they open), about three to five minutes (discard unopened mussels).
4. Add spinach to the pan with the potatoes that are now crisp and toss until spinach wilts. Serve potatoes and spinach with mussels.

I used to put the spinach, potatoes and mussels together in the Italian ceramic bowl D. gave me, the bowl he now has in his apartment—it’s on loan?—the bowl that thrives with color (red, black, blue) and molded striped blue and white handles, the line carta di credito along the side in script.

In my Rom-Com-Life, I considered actually writing at the end of my e-mail about death and love and wisdom, “P.S.: I think I could love you” and thought better of it, but in my fantasy cinema you’d have seen me write it, delete it, and you would have known.

But then, I’m wised up. And life is not a Rom-Com.

PS: When is the carta di credito finito?