When I hear someone reference their “salad days,” I envision a younger, successful version of that person. Or, in terms of lifetimes, I think of a bygone era of upright, suburban subdivisions filled with well-adjusted families, nice lawns, practical cars, and financial security. I might envision my own idyllic childhood.
However, today I am thinking of a particular and brief period of my life filled with far less love, home, or security. It was filled with actual salads.
Nearly 30 years ago, I left home, moved to another state, and shared an apartment with my boyfriend. It was a nice place but expensive. Not long after arriving, I had to pick up a second job. I worked 60 hours a week just to earn enough money to cover my share of the bills. I had no extra cash for luxuries like concert tickets or dining out at the local burger joint. And my reality was so much better than those who were living on the street and unemployed. I just wasn’t prepared for such a dramatic change in my life, and I had no understanding for how much in my life that I took for granted. I was overwhelmed. So, while mine were just #firstworldproblems, I soon found myself exhausted, stressed, and looking for a way out.
In fact, I ended up looking down the wrong end of a gun. A huge gun. I think it was a .44 (but it could have been his 9 millimeter). Honestly, I wasn’t focused on which model my boyfriend was pointing directly at me. I was begging for my him not to pull the trigger. Without going into detail, let’s just say that whatever caused the showdown, it did not validate the brandishing of a loaded firearm. I had no weapons and was physically disadvantaged. I had only my wits and a strong bladder. Leaving alive was the only other option provided at the time, and I took it. That very night.
Newly single and in a town with no family, no friends, and too proud to return home. I soon found myself living paycheck-to-paycheck and week-to-week in a large residential hotel. I paid my rent in cash, weekly, to a creepy guy on the first floor. While I had no view, it was relatively clean but spare. My room had a bed and a sink. There was no kitchen and “no hot plates allowed.” I shared a bathroom with everyone else on the floor. I was the newbie and quickly figured out the order of things. With no seniority, my bathroom privileges meant that my showers were late at night and luke warm at best.
But I had a roof over my head. I was sober, focused, and healthy. I had a job on the night shift at an ice cream shop near campus. Best of all, I had a new chance at life.
And, for a few months, I lived on only one meal a day. I could afford one, fresh, healthy meal. So, I made it special. Each afternoon before my shift, I would walk to Cafe Intermezzo and order a salad.
This was not just any salad. The broad bowl overflowed with a healthy mass of vegetables tossed in a delicious house-made poppy-seed dressing and was topped with a hearty slice of freshly baked whole grain bread. I considered it the food of the gods.
I enjoyed those meals. Usually, I sat near the window to watch people going about their lives. I believed that my life could only get better, and it has. Now is the period when I have felt the most loved and secure. Now I am blessed with a home where I can prepare a meal for my loving family.
“Hey there, Steph! This is …” began a voicemail that grabbed my attention as I recognized the voice immediately.
“Fred* called?” I pondered. “Why now?”
Once a boyfriend and now just a “friend” on social media, Fred had a special place in my heart. He was my first. My first love, my first…well, you know.
Listening to the recording, I struggled to decipher the rest of the message to only pick out portions, “I’m sorry…. I should’ve told you months ago…..Bye.” No matter how many times I listened, I could not hear what he had to say.
I thought, “Well, that was a fine ‘how do you do?’” followed by “Seriously, after all this time why would he call me?”
While trying to figure it out, I got lost thinking about our shared history.
Our relationship had been brief and awkward. He had a life of privilege filled with material wealth. My life had neither. The only thing we had in common was where we attended school. Even that was due to his transfer from the public school in his neighborhood to that in mine.
If I remember correctly, that is how we met.
Every morning, on his way to school, he drove through my neighborhood. Most times, he would pass me as I walked to catch the bus. After a couple weeks of this routine, he tapped his horn as he passed. A simple “beep, beep!” from a teenage boy seemed like an innocent “hey, there!” to this naive girl.
Eventually, his daily greeting included a smile and a wave and an actual “hey, there!” hollered out his window as he drove by. It didn’t take many more passes before he stopped and offered me a ride to school. There begins our story of an odd-alcohol-induced-but-basic version of boy meets girl.
I now realize that whole scenario sounds creepy now, but in the early 80s it was the stuff of idyllic teen dramas. I’m not one for reliving my teen angst, so I will spare you the drama or even a John-Hughes-like version.
It’s just the backstory. Now, to the reason for his call…
I doodled “Hey There!” using ArtRage on laptop. This graphic is simple because my hands are swollen and cramped this morning. Trying to draw using a clunky old mouse is bit painful. Typing out the story? Not so much.