How old are you? My accountant for nearly a decade rises from his chair and asks what he already knows. He moves into another room where I can’t see him. I buy time, ask what he’s making. Pasta fagioli, he says. The way he speaks reminds me of Italian matrons holding court in Bensonhurst, severing vowels at the end of sentences. Fagiol. I stand outside of his kitchen, but never dare enter it, because it would be rude to trespass this space. I think about a profile I recently read on Italo Calvino, penned by his English translator for The Paris Review. For nearly twenty years the two were colleagues, Calvino trusted Weaver with his work, yet the two spoke to one another using the formal address, lei. Even though I make the annual trip to my accountant’s home, even if I sit on his couch and use his pens to make notes along margins, stepping into his kitchen feels like an intrusion, a shift from the formal to the intimate and informal.
I don’t tell Paul my age but I lay down a few cards (not the whole hand, mind you), and reveal what I’m close to, what’s nearby: 40. To which he responds, You make this money but where does it go? Because you don’t strike me as the spendthrift type. He pauses, tries a joke on for size: Are you like the kids? What is it, weed? Alcohol? I laugh and consider the woman of ten, fifteen years past. A woman who loved her red wine and her coke cut into fine lines. She would be unrecognizable to both of us, but perhaps she lingers just beyond my reach. Perhaps she’s someone, if you look close enough, you can still see.
Or perhaps I strike him as the kind who would be anaesthetized with things that are ephemeral rather than the things that collect dust and fade over time. But this isn’t about blow or booze, not really, this is about being an adult. About having your house in order. About making a healthy six figures and still find yourself choking on an even healthier five-figure tax bill. This is about not having a house yet. Not being married yet. Not having kids yet. This is about a woman who spent years in banking but who can barely balance a checkbook.
I tell Paul that I’m still paying the debt from a previous life. I’m paying for the life I thought I needed, a life I felt I deserved. And that life was rife with finery, pretty things that stockpiled in tiny closets. I bought a life that was about to burst and here I am, years later, still paying the debt for all the things I have given away. Because by the time I realized what sort of life I really deserved, it was already too late.
I’m happy, truly happy, but I sometimes find myself bound to the traditional notions of what it means to be a grown-up. I am mature, I’ve the weight of years, knowledge and experience, but I don’t feel it. I look in the mirror and I don’t see 39. And when I look at bank account I certainly don’t fit the role of 39.
Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way–mercurial, nomadic, odd, strong, yet unable to reconcile an income statement. Part of me will always feel as if I’m straddling a strange middle between childhood and adulthood–some kind of curious adolescence. What is it mean to be an adult anyway? I never understood the dictionary with its binary definition of every word. The weight of the word feels unbearable, something to which I can barely live up. Instead I focus on what’s ahead–paying taxes, securing projects, saving for California. Focusing on a new home, hopeful for a new love, a quieter life.
Maybe one day I’ll get this money thing together, I say, collecting my bulk of papers and forms I need to sign with checks I need to mail. We exchange looks that say the unsaid, the very opposite.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, modified slightly
2 cups baby kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tamari sauce
Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade).
Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the greens have wilted, and then add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tamari sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.