Plant me in the garden
Don’t you let me roam
Cuz love is a feeling like a warm dark stone
- The Be Good Tanyas
The sun is setting, just. Below the sharp edge of inevitable summer fog, it shines white into my window. The month is August, but the cold is biting and the wind sharp. I’m warm with wine and there’s emotion and strings on the stereo, and I’m thinking of someone I love still, but can’t be with. It’s a peculiar sort of bittersweet joy, partly the music, partly the familiar smell of basil on my fingers, partly the wine. He taught me to appreciate music, wine, cities, and the magic of the garden – a city boy who couldn’t help but feel awe in the face of nature.
A year or so ago – last summer, it must have been – we made pesto, partly from basil I grew, partly from storebought plants, because my garden hadn’t yielded enough. He’s compulsive about many things (including alcohol), and making just the perfect pesto was one of them. All I could do was stand by like a surgeon’s assistant, handing him his tools at the right moments while he manipulated the blender the way an experienced sculptor manipulates the carving tools. I froze my portion of the pesto and still have about a third of the container left. I had some last night with a handful of the summer’s first ripe cherry tomatoes and a few fresh basil leaves. It’s good: rich and creamy with the parmesan that precludes the need to add salt, pungent with basil and garlic.
Now, when I see the peppers and the basil growing, I think of him. It’s inevitable, the way smelling the tomato plants makes me think of my mother’s garden when I was growing up. When I buy a pound of jalapeno peppers (as soon as I can make it to a farmer’s market) to pickle, I’ll think of his love for spicy things. I got my appreciation of peppers from him, too.
He used to talk about how his ex-girlfriends had taught him certain things: how to efficiently chop garlic, for instance. I think even the pesto compulsion came out of an old relationship, and now that knowledge, coming as it has from his past, is embedded in my mind, is part of my present and future, and will maybe someday be added to the store of knowledge of a future lover. I’ve often thought that what lovers teach each other is more important than what happens, in the end, to the relationship.
For each of my relationships, even the very short-lived ones, I can think of at least one thing that I know now that I didn’t before the relationship: How to make good pesto, a perfect martini, and appreciate hot peppers, Los Angeles, and psychedelics; the wonders of Fiona Apple, and that in negotiations for money, people respect you more if you set your price high; how to drive a stick shift, write simple HTML code, and where to go to get a drink in Milwaukee; how not to respond when someone just wants to get a rise out of you. These lessons have ingrained themselves into my brain and are a part of me now. I couldn’t imagine not knowing them, and they’re a testament to those people and relationships that have come along in my life.
An acquaintance yesterday commented that even when people leave – a room, a relationship, a town - their energy still lingers in the places they frequented, and it’s the same in our heads: the people who used to take up room inside our brains are still in there, in the knowledge and memories that are intertwined with our experiences of them. It’s comforting for me to remember that, even with all the mistakes I and others have made in relationships, the good things – the reasons we were drawn to each other in the first place – still exist, in a sense. That now when I smell basil or eat peppers, wander through the redwoods, hike a certain trail, or walk down a certain San Francisco street, these benevolent ghosts appreciate those experiences with me. I’m not so alone, after all.