Being a Baker

Working at the Main Library has surprising advantages. Just now I stepped out of my office, walked five paces across the hall, scanned a badge, and walked under the civic center plaza to the elevator that stretches from beneath the earth up to the mayor’s office on the fourteenth floor. I didn’t have so far to go—just up one level to the utilities counter, where a sympathetic, amused woman named Sue shut down my gas payments. It took less than five minutes.

I finished packing up my kitchen days ago. My cake pans were in boxes sometime early last week. But as I walked through the underground loading dock on my way back to the office, I was distinctly aware of the finality of what I’d just done. I would never, from that moment on, be able to bake for anyone out of that kitchen.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of a certain identity, namely being “the person who bakes a lot”. I made a tiered wedding cake for some friends (because their original plan of buying a Costco sheet cake sounded fairly sad), princess cake for a Swedish friend feeling homesick, banoffee pie for my Irish friend who hadn’t tasted it since moving to the States over a decade before, pecan pie for another friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, maple bourbon pecan peach pie for another friend’s birthday, Canal House chocolate chip cookies for a dozen odd events, buttermilk breakfast cake for Saturday morning visitors, orange olive oil cake for backyard dinners, and so many cakes, breads, pies, cookies, tarts, tortes, and more for so many gatherings, celebrations, holidays, birthdays, and births past counting.

Packing has been hard. I’ve shed a lot of tears. This apartment, this kitchen, have meant a lot to me over the last four years. But as I walked away from city hall, realizing that my last baking project in that kitchen (two almond tortes) was now irrevocably far behind me, I felt…free. I am no longer the person who bakes a lot. I’m just myself.


At the close of nine years

I'm moving to Texas in less than two months. I've lived in Long Beach now for nine years. Already I have stacks of books covering my dining room table that I'll be reading for my PhD program in the fall. I've quietly begun the tedious work of sorting and cleaning everything in my little apartment. I'm scheduling all of my last days with friends, moving through my calendar in reverse order from when I expect to slip into my car and drive away.

This is the longest I've lived in one place, so I've never really experienced a leaving quite like this before. I remember the day I left Wheaton, closing the bedroom door on my best friend, walking down to Chaeli's car so she could drive me to the airport. (The greatest grace of Texas is that she will be there. Some friends we never lose completely.) I remember leaving California for Scotland—walking away from my mother in the Palm Springs airport. We leave people who have changed us, and we leave places that have witnessed us change. It's not easy.

And there's no coming back. I drive down Broadway on my way home from work, catch sight of the mural in the alley, and wonder if, in five years, the same sight will make me feel sentimental. Will remind me of what I left behind. But we're always leaving, even when we stay still. That's what time does. It perpetually moves everything from experience to memory. Where I was two years ago was also precious, and it's been gone a long, long time.
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