In 2010, I found myself in the most unsuspecting of places: alone.
“You’re not alone,” my therapist says. I can tell from her tone and expression that she is disappointed to still have to make this statement despite months of weekly visits.
“You have a supportive family, plenty of friends you spend time with. That’s not alone.”
“They don’t count,” I reply, not appreciating those who are obligated to listen to my lately incessant complaints.
I walked out of my appointment on 78th street and as I approached Madison, I saw Lady M Cake Boutique. Keep walking, I tell myself. Then I stop. I am right here. I should just go in. It is after all a famous bakery. And it’s even better than a bakery⎯it’s a cake boutique. I can’t just pass it by. I’ll just pop in for a second. Just to look. I won’t get anything. I’ll just be able to say I went in. I will mentally taste everything, then leave.
“Hello, may I help you?” says the smiling sales clerk.
“No, thank you,” I say smiling back.
I give the smile that all strangers get because there is no reason for them to know how unhappy I really am. And I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
The first time I was heartbroken was with my first boyfriend in high school. The day it happened, I was visiting Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, where I would eventually decide to attend college the following year. I arrived at Love Field, the irony of which does not escape me, to catch a Southwest flight home from Dallas to Houston. My face was red and puffy and even my over-sized sunglasses could not hide the fact I had been crying.
I was going through security with my shoes on. It was January 2001. September 2001 wasn’t part of history yet. As I placed my purse and overnight bag into a bin, a little Indian man in his fifties looked at me with a toothy grin. He softly and kindly said, “Smile.”
I have always been grateful for that stranger and the smile that he encouraged through all the tears. Even if it was forced, it made me feel better. It made me feel hopeful. This stranger reminded me to care about my own happiness. I made sure going forward that when I was sad, to the outside world who didn’t need to receive my negative energy, and probably had bigger problems of their own, I would smile.
And so ten years later, to the sales clerk in the clean and crisp, white cloud that is Lady M Cake Boutique on 78th St., I gave my smile.
“I’m just looking. Nothing for me today!”
Ten minutes later, I am sitting at a table with my Milles Crepes, a cake made of layers of the thinnest and flakiest crepes your tongue will ever bear held together by a crème custard, and served on Limoges china. I realize that choosing this signature dessert was the most difficult decision I would make all day. And for that, I should feel grateful. I was in New York City, sitting at a world-famous “cake salon.” When it was featured on Food Network, there was certainly a little girl watching in a small town somewhere that said to herself, “I want to live in New York City when I grow up. And I want to eat Milles Crepes.”
Of course, this little girl has the pleasure of not being affected by calorie count. She is only eight and can eat anything she wants. And she has all the room to dream.
My second bite re-emphasizes the fact that I should feel really lucky. I am living this small-town eight-year-old girl’s dream. I wondered what I dreamed of when I was eight.
By my third bite, these thoughts converge to feel so heavy, as though I am swimming in this thick custard I am eating, unable to get through. Or get out. I am the most ungrateful girl in the world. I have so much to be thankful for. I am mad at myself for not looking at my skim cappuccino as half full, and all I can think about is how in this moment of my life, I am having dessert alone. And I am about to spend the first birthday in three years without Him.
My custard cake is made of “no less than 20 crepes.” There’s no chocolate, but even with something I love missing, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s perfect just as it is, and chocolate would change it entirely. I have to start appreciating what I have without considering what—or who— is lacking. And to get there it will take the same kind of patience it took to intricately layer twenty freaking crepes! But the end of that journey led to powdered sugar perfection. And all the good stuff is in the layers in between. Cheers to the journey.