Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seven Years

Seven years ago today I was hit by a car while jogging. I broke my pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, fractured the back of my skull—and, as a result, lost my sense of smell. For a long time, I wasn’t okay. Not physically, not emotionally. In an instant, everything had changed. I was 22 years old.

I write about the anniversary of the accident almost every year. I write about it in the same way, even. Short, staccato statements. (Hit by a car. Fractured the back of my skull. Lost my sense of smell.) I’ve thought about the events of that drizzly late-August morning often. I’ve talked about them. I’ve written about them. So much, in fact, it’s difficult for me to remember what happened before all happenings began to exist in the concrete netherworld of typeset and paper.

But every year I like to take a moment to remember where I came from, and how far I’ve come. I recovered, of course, as you all know—slowly, cautiously, but completely. I’m lucky. I’m so lucky sometimes it hurts. For me, August 30th is an emotional anniversary. It’s also a physical one. If I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, I can feel it in my bones—in the ridge of my pelvis, in the contours of my skull.

Last year, yesterday, I wrote about a dinner that I cooked for my father, stepmother, and Matt. A heaping bowl of spaghetti sauced with little more than the luscious raw tomatoes of August, the bite of a bit of arugula and red onion, a few glugs of olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese.

I made the same dish again last night for some friends. I hadn’t realized the symmetry of the dates. But it’s not the first time this has happened. In 2009 and 2010 I baked the same plum cake, a simple butter cake that made my kitchen smell sweet and warm, like fruit and caramel and autumn.

And today, as I sit at my kitchen table on this sunny August morning, that feels right. Who am I if I’m not circling back to my past—to events in my past, to the people of my past, to the smells and tastes and flavors of my past? These are the things that have made me who I am. What I am. Where I am. Whether monumental accidents or simple late-summer meals: this is where I’ll return, even as I move forward.


Hannah said...

Hi Molly - Joan Didion talks in a few different places about how, for people who write, there is often a sense of not knowing what you think or feel about something until you have written about it, sometimes repeatedly. Writing it down is the way of working through it. Likewise, in Plenty Ottolenghi talks about how some of the recipes are different then when they first appeared in his column - not because he has consciously adapted them, but because every single time you make something it is different: the weather, the ingredients, the mood of the chef. Each time it is new, even if it is the same. Your post makes me think about how even things that feel habitual or like "repeats" are really new experiences, and are helping us move forward even as we might feel like we are circling round and round.

China Millman said...

Hi Molly,

Coincidentally, I just finished reading your book and wanted to write and tell you how much I loved it. As I was reading it, I felt like I was so much more aware of how everything around me smelled, from the new bakery up our street to the particularly ripe garbage days of August. Thank you for writing it all down.

Molly said...

Hannah, Yes, yes, yes. I completely agree with Joan Didion on this. Writing is how I have always figured out how I feel about things. I hadn't heard that about Ottolenghi, though, but it makes so much sense. I love how you've put them together, here. Thank you for such a wise comment.

China, so glad you liked the book. There is nothing like the scent of garbage in August. That was one of the first "bad" smells that came back to me, those years ago. I'll always kind of like it, as a result, I think.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Amazing how one life moment can change us so deeply. Best wishes for the future and for how far you've come.

Anonymous said...

Molly, I also just finished reading Season to Taste and I was so moved- emotionally, intellectually, sensually. Wow. Thank you for sharing your journey so generously- not least because, as China writes, everything smells so intensely delicious & disgusting to me at the moment!! You have made something very beautiful out of an unimaginable experience- on the page, and in the kitchen too.

Molly said...

Plum, so true. Thank you. xo

Alexandra, thank you for your kind words, too. As crazy as it feels to say that I'm thankful for the accident, horrific as it was to go through: I am, very much so. It gave me the opportunity to make something worthwhile out of that pain, and I feel so lucky to have done so, at least in some ways, a tiny bit. Glad you're paying more attention to scents as a result -- both the good and the bad!

Jess said...

And just think of all that might happen in these next seven years. It's going to be good. So happy to know you, Molly Birnbaum.

Anonymous said...

There is a scientific statistic that I came across somewhere once that stated that every seven years all the cells in our body have actually been refreshed. We are no longer the person we were seven years before. I think it is important to sit back and take account of what happened to that person of seven years, what they went through, how we are so different, and yet so essentially the same. Keep the good, shed the bad, and be thankful for the blessings that see us through the years.

Mollie@Kitchen Accessories said...

It could be the tragic part of your life but looking back of what had happened. You still thankful and blessed after all.

Lecia said...

I used to mark the anniversary of my first cancer surgery - July 1 - with some sort of acknowledgement. Year eleven came along, and I realized a day or two after that I'd forgotten the anniversary. I felt good about the forgetting.

As Jess said, I look forward to seeing where you're at in seven more years. xo

Molly said...

Jess: so happy to know you, too.

thoroughlynourished: that's a really beautiful thought, us becoming completely new every 7 years. so different, yet so much the same. thank you.

lecia: i suppose at a certain point, i'll begin forgetting, too. i wonder what that will feel like. xo

Rebecca said...

Hello, I'm from Australia. I found your book inside a bookshop, next to a few very well known cookbooks. I found this fittingly this afternoon after a culinary exam. I looked around and flicked though the pages, walked around the rest of the shop, trying to find something nice for a friend of mine who is going through hard times. I went back to the place where I found your book and read the first page, then the second and then the third, I hadn't realised that I was on page three already until I put it down and wondered if I should buy it.

I brought it and read it on the train, still going through the next few pages ... but I love your writing it really speaks to me. I feel like I am in the same boat - except not exactly the same... I went to a music school and read culinary books and recipes. I love what I am reading so far, your style of writing is very conversational, I feel like I can really hear your voice.