Some things you never imagine. As an aspiring writer, I never imagined that giving up gluten would lead me to see a book with my name on it. And as a perennially unfortunate dater, I certainly didn't imagine that it would lead me to find the love of my life (sitting on a picnic bench stained with bird poop, surrounded by drunks).
The winter of my 38th year, exhausted and sick, I dragged myself to doctors. They ordered expensive tests, shrugged and sent me to the next specialist. In the spring, a friend sent me a story about celiac, calling it the most under-diagnosed disease in America. Desperate, I asked for a blood test and stopped eating gluten.
Within days I came to life. Suddenly full of energy, it was like someone had cleaned my contacts for the first time: So that's what the world looks like! Faced with the realization that I would have to consciously choose every bite for the rest of forever, I decided to make that focus joyful. Instead of fearing food, I grew excited about it. I tried anything, made friends with farmers, lingered over the smell of Saigon cinnamon. And I started writing, but freed from the heavy hope of wanting to be a professional—it was purely to share the joy of sautéed amaranth leaves, fig cookies made with teff flour, seared tuna with peas and avocado crème fraiche.
I embraced food and life, and I tattooed the word YES on my wrist to remind myself to accept every moment as it is – imperfect. But there was something else to it, too.
When I was 15, I read a story of how John Lennon and Yoko Ono met. At one of her wacky art openings, John reluctantly climbed up a ladder to look through a hanging magnifying glass. Sure that he would spy through it and see FUCK YOU or something absurd, he still looked. Instead, the ceiling said YES. He climbed off the ladder, found the artist, and met the love of his life.
As a teenager, I dreamed, fervently: I want that. Over time, I let go of most of the dream. Hell, no man had ever made me want to spend more than six weeks with him. Still, some small hope endured. When I got that tattoo, I knew that I was sending out a signal. If he was out there, he would know me by that story.
My blog had taken off, connecting with a wonderful community of readers, writers, and eaters, but all this joy in food made me taste my loneliness too. I wanted someone to cook for, someone to cook with.
So I had another go at online dating, which had never been good and... it wasn't good this time either. After months of meeting men who lied about their ages and/or actually being, you know, single, I decided to quit the service and dating entirely. Clearly, I was going to end up the woman with all the cats. Maybe I could be okay with that. At least the cats would eat well.
But just before I logged off, Danny "winked" at me. His eyes looked kind. I lingered over the photo of his face. Softer than the others had been. Real, not posed. I clicked on his profile.
Shit. He's a chef. I'd been almost hoping to give up. Now I have to go on a date with him.
But I knew it wasn't going to work, and so I set up the date for 11:30 in the morning on a Wednesday… and of course, we talked and talked, as comfortable and exhilarating as a morning coffee. I touched his arm freely. He hugged me goodbye and it had the faint taste of love.
Still, I didn't believe it. Let's see when it comes out that he's married with four kids.
A few days later, Danny and I walked down to Pike Place Market before he headed into work. It was full spring and everything smelled of lilacs. He held my hand and told me about the rush of dinner service the night before.
At the Market, we wandered slowly. We stopped into Beecher's and bought a trembly triple-cream cheese made nearby. From Sosio's we got a bunch of Muscat grapes, sweet with a small pop of tannic twist, adult grapes for a warm day. Rice crackers and salami at De Laurenti's. Danny reached for a small jar of white truffle honey, opened the top, spooned some into my mouth, and I sort of loved every single thing about him in that moment. (We bought the jar.)
We headed over to Victor Steinbreuck park, a small patch of grass just below theMarket. It should be beautiful—a rolling lawn with an expansive view of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains hovering in the distance. But really it's where clutches of hard-looking men drink 40s from paper sacks before passing out on the smashed grass.
We sat on a bench with peeling paint and old bird poop and ignored the drunk guys behind us. I popped grapes into his mouth until his cheeks were like a chipmunk's. We kissed and giggled and leaned into each other, happy.
Just before he had to leave, Danny sat up and pointed to the YES on my wrist. "Tell me about this."
And so I did. He listened avidly. When I had gone through all of the reasons, all save my secret inspiration of John and Yoko’s love, I paused, hoping for him to say something. I guess he doesn't know. A long pause, more waiting. And then I thought, "And really, why should he? Why would anyone know that story?" Besides, I was starting to think Danny was better than the story.
So I began, "Well, there is this thing about John Lennon."
"And Yoko Ono?" he said.
I gulped. "Yes."
He smiled wide. Then he asked, "The ladder?"
Danny rolled up his sleeve. And there, on his arm, was a tattoo of John Lennon.