Today, I filled up my gas tank for twenty dollars and fifty cents. Where I live, the price of a gallon of gas is hovering close to the two dollar mark. Two dollars. I have the odd and gripping feeling that I am going back in time. Oh the days, the happy, care free days of dollar fifty gas! When a bag of Lays sour cream and onion potato chips were a dollar ninety nine and they did not pretend that there were wholesome potatoes inside. No, they were greasy, addictive and highly caloric snack foods with no redemptive value whatsoever but, on occasion, irresistible and messily consumed.
Near the gas pumps was a Korean restaurant that I pass every day on the way to and from work. Suddenly, in that one moment, I knew that I would have to stop. I would have to go in and order food. Partly this was due to the fact that, before work I eat a bowl of instant oatmeal and then nothing else until two in the afternoon, when I get out.
But mostly it was because I had a sudden, visceral memory of bimbobab, set before me in a steaming iron bowl, while outside the window rose the vertical cacophony of neon signs. They lit up the swirling eddies of young people that rubbed shoulders in the cold winter air, tinted their faces with shades of blue, yellow and red. And my ravenous hunger, the heat of the food and the atavistic satisfaction of mashing everything together with the thin, metal chopsticks and the abiding satisfaction of rice.
Along with this, my body's complete exhaustion; how I slumped in the chair and the smooth, kind face of the very young man opposite me, the cold air around my feet and the heavy, smooth wool of my coat, the scratchy scarf that I unwound, loosened, along with strands of my long dark hair.
"Do you have that soup...I don't remember the name...but you know...the rice is cooked traditionally in an iron pot and then scrapped out into a bowl and boiling water is added to the iron pot...?"
Her face lit up, first with recognition and then a kindly amusement.
"Yes, I know that soup," she said. "But we don't serve it here. Koreans cook it at home, it's not restaurant food."
I shrugged off the loss, not really expecting to find it, but somehow longing for that taste, so unexpectedly comforting, in the way that bread and butter is. I was happy to return home with two mysteriously large Styrofoam containers that when opened, revealed a delightfully colorful and appetizing selection of foods.
There was the vibrant red and yellow and sour sharp smell of kimchi, two kinds. Various picked vegetables, a small square of egg casserole and tiny dried fish, still with little gleaming eyeballs the size of pin points. That was all in addition to the bimbobab.
Yesterday, Larry the good neighbor (I still don't know his last name) came over to change the furnace filter, only to discover that we had not, after all, bought the new filters. He told me that before Keith had bought this house, it had belonged to another military family, and Megan, that wife, had also lived here alone while her husband was deployed.
I liked that history, to know that the house itself was used to the ways of solitary women. After Larry left, I realized that he was the first person to enter the house besides myself, since Keith left.
Even now, I have to think back to see if that could possibly be correct, if I could have been that isolated. But it is true. No one but myself and the dogs have set foot in the house since Keith left.
I remember once, one deep winter, I was driving home late at night. There had been a car in front of me for a little ways before the car took a right and I continued straight. Turning to look, I noticed for the first time how the headlights of a car make a bubble of light, while all around was inky black, and how, as the car got farther and farther away, the light grew faint and the darkness to loom.
Until that point, I hadn't realized how the darkness encased my own car, how it must be all around me, pressing up to the sides of the car, settling down behind me after the headlights went sweeping, briefly, past. It was an eerie feeling, somehow, and I felt the same sensation to realize how alone I have been in this house.
Being alone has never bothered me, in fact, I will search it out if necessary and I am so self absorbed that I seldom raise my head to notice my surroundings. I've been going from room to room in a little bubble of thought.
Until now, I didn't think about how, right now, the rest of the house is empty and dark and quiet and how the faint echoes of the music from my computer must drift up from this one, partially lighted room and how I will lie down alone in a small cast of light from the bedroom lamp and when I turn it out, all will be dark, all the rooms settle down quietly into the night.
I lifted the salt shaker and saw that it left a perfect circle of dark on the dusty stove top. Maybe that's why I feel compelled to clean every week; I must simply go over every surface and room of the house, as though to reclaim it from the atrophy of a self absorbed, solitary woman.
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