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The Lady

A lyrical essay about Jess, (by Jess).

My name is Jess. Jessica Marie. I’m a stray Seattleite. Far, but cut me open and I’ll bleed a certain shade of evergreen. When I turned 18 I fled east and dug my nose into books and glued my eye to the back of a camera for five semesters. I made the brick-paved streets of Boston my home. I got lost in a thick of Italian cannolis, lobster rolls, and 2AM ballpark burgers in the shadow of Fenway. On the weekends, a bus to New York for the finest bagels, central park pretzels, and falafel a girl could know. For once my life was my own, but I left at the sound of pomp and circumstance to the call of fir trees. A north-westerner I was, or so I thought. Not soon after I returned to the familiar heartbeat of grey skies and emerald canopies, I tried to settle, but couldn’t. The city didn’t want me. Nor my body. Shattered, I was betray. I shed my gold like a coyote with mange, and quickly my identity was not my own. Stripped bald, raw, like a newborn in a crib. For three years, between days stale in sheets, and fallen hair, I tried to build something from nothing. I listened to every cry and whisper but my own. I drowned myself in the coffee that rained out of that city’s pores, and got to work. I sought to smother my depression with fresh Dungeness, foraged morels, and rainier cherries. All the treasures of the northwest dug up, caught, and picked by the chefs I chose to serve. But no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t pull the ache of betrayal from my gut. So again I flew, back to bean town. This time to recall my name, not define it. Had I left my life here the first time? I wasn’t sure, but it was different. I spent a summer in my own sweat-- In a leather chair I carried two blocks from where I found it. I taught photography to foreigners during the day, and went mad by nightfall. Writing. Reading. Soaking up every piece of literature I could get my hands on. I purged the life I’d known in a room overlooking a bus stop on Boston Ave. But Autumn came, and I felt a gust blow south. I journeyed to Texas, where I remain. I started serving locals who could smell my yankee and met a man with skin the color of caramel. He snuck me creme brulee’s in-between frying chicken steaks and thickening cream gravy. He lit a fire in me so hot, I might a well been Joan of Ark. To me food is sacred. A bridge between habit and culture. I’ll share it with you if I deem you worthy to live. It is medicine, it is will, it is instinct-- a meditation, a bandaid or a blanket. To indulge is to survive. In my pots and pans I see a canvas, a vial, a wishing well. Every boil I bring tells stories of earth’s gifts, farmer’s harvest, or a hunter’s prize. Chew carefully and you can swallow the wisdom of soil, the mercy of rain, and the brilliance of the sun. The endless lessons from my kitchen bring me a lifetime of poise -- too much salt can ruin a whole pot of stew, but add some milk, starch, and maybe a bit of spice, and you can turn even the saltiest stew into a weeks worth of nutrition. For so many years, I fought a profession I felt was undeserving of my name- cursed by the tongue of society, who sandwiched it between phrases like, “for now” , “and job before career”. But I am here now, before you, a Leo by my side. I can serve you a dish, and make your gut roar with warmth. It is, without question, my pleasure to feed.

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