This summer was among the worst I’ve ever known, a photograph worth shredding. When I returned from Europe, I had the whole of my life cartographed, mapped to a suffocating precision. I had plans. I scheduled meetings. In the morning, I listened to a single song on repeat as that’s the sort thing I need to do to get in the headspace of writing. I’d started a story about a woman and her architected vengeance, a story that revealed itself in degrees, until all that’s left was a tableaux of flames, a hotel room, and a woman writhing in a bed while another watched on, smiling. The story was something, not yet, not yet, the novel was other. I had plans. I scheduled meetings.
Then Sophie got sick, really sick. The kind of sick that makes you retreat, the sort of sick that makes you practice denial like it’s your industry. It should be said that I don’t manage loss well.
While Sophie rejected the battery of medications I had to force in her, twice daily with a syringe; while she defecated on my carpet, in the shower, and on my bed, ashamed; while she writhed much like the woman in the story I was writing; but this was real, real, I started to drink. Nearly seven years off the sauce, I was a binge drinker not an alcoholic, and I thought that this gave me trespass to return to a dark country in which I thought I could navigate. It’s not the same, I told everyone, always. I’ve got my compass and my maps and my tools from a decade in a chair talking it all out to the point of collapse. This isn’t about my mother anymore, I said. I’m passed all that, I said. A raised eyebrow, a tap of a finger, a slow nod — my close friends, those who knew me longest and best, decided to play the hand out. See where I’d go. Yet all of them had that look, it flashed on their faces briefly, but it was that look, that look that said, not again.
Everything was fine in the beginning, it always is. At first it was all smooth sailing and one glass of wine at lunch. My wines were white, practically translucent, non-existent, and I functioned. Signed contracts and did the work I was asked to do; I always excelled, even when the ground that lay beneath threatened to give way. And then the tumble, the fall, and Sophie died.
I started to notice that this country had changed, was unfamiliar, because I was never the sort who drank alone during the day. Closed all the blinds and receded into the dark. My drinking was loud, public, infrequent, bombastic, not solitary, constant, and quiet. When Sophie died, I felt her everywhere. I couldn’t wash the towel she lay on in those final moments. I fell asleep on the carpet where the smell of her was rich, pungent and deep. One glass a day morphed into a bottle a day, and I knew this was a problem.
This country was different because this time I asked for help. I called a friend, early, and said that things had gotten bad, really bad, and I’d been lying to her for weeks. Could you come get me? She drove to my apartment, helped me throw all the bottles in the trash, put me in her car, and drove us around Brooklyn all day.
I think you need to get another cat, she said. You need to go back to a routine, she said. At first I shook my head no, not yet, not yet, but the certainty in her voice comforted me. We went to a shelter in Williamsburg, and when I cried into the fur of one particular black cat, whose resemblance to Sophie was uncanny, my friend shook her head and nudged me on. I had to find the non-Sophie. No black cats. Those are the rules.
Then there was Felix. Sweet Felix who cuddled and demurred and wanted to play all day. On the car ride home, I wondered if I could do this again. If this was too soon, too much, but as the days progressed, I got better.
Two months later, I’m starting my bloom.
I debated whether or not I should talk about this summer on this space, as I’m fiercely protective of my offline life, but I thought it important to admit that there isn’t shame in fouling up. There isn’t shame in grief and the illogical things we do, and the strange stories we tell ourselves to make our way through our grief. Grief is grief. It’s darker than the ocean, but what matters is how you swim back to shore. What matters is that you get back. Safely. In one piece. Knowing that this isn’t six and a half years ruined.
Confirming that my life is bright and rich and raw and beautiful when I don’t drink. In the span of two months, I’ve secured consulting projects, finished a partial submission of a new novel, penned cookbook reviews I didn’t think I could, repaired friendships, and fell in love with a new kitty. When I baked these scones today, a sweet parting gift for my client, I felt the burden of the summer diminish.
What matters is the journey back, not the fall. What matters most is that I’m here.
INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
For the scones
1 1/4 cups (210 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (125 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (50 g) pecan halves, toasted then chopped
1/2 cup (80 g) golden raisins
1/2 cup (1 stick 114 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8-10 pieces
1/2 cup (80 g) cold heavy cream
1/2 cup (160 g) maple syrup
1 cold egg
For the glaze
1 cup (140 g) confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 tbsp water
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350F.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or handheld mixer), mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pecans, and raisins on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg. On low speed pour the cream mixture into the flour mixture and beat for 10-30 seconds, or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are mixed into the dough. Using a 1/3-cup dry-measuring cup, drop mounded scoops of the dough onto a baking sheet, forming 8 scones and spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.
To make the glaze, mix the ingredients together, using enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. Pour over the cooled scones and serve.