i walked to the coffee shop that makes matcha teas the way i like them (yes so bougie). and while waiting, i looked carefully at all the too-fancy glass jars of jam on the shelves. rose petal preserves, traditional quince preserves, organic fir honey, bergamot preserves (which is a type of citrus).
i reminisced about when people would still spend time in the kitchen to make things based on grandmothers’ handwritten recipes, and not just drink or eat ready-made things out of a plastic container. i remember the way my grandmother would cook meals in her tiny apartment in Tainan. it was always dim, they never turned the lights on (to conserve on energy bill). my grandfather always sitting at the small table kind of grumpily, surrounded by his calligraphy paintbrushes. his face was always stuck in a strict, mean expression. i was absolutely terrified of him.
when he was dying, i sat by his bedside at the hospital and stared at his white hair and sunken cheeks. the strong mouth i was terrified of because it was always saying too-mean things in Mandarin, it lay silent. when he did gain consciousness, he would tell me about my childhood self, not knowing i was the same person. not recognizing the adult version of the girl he talked about. he would ask me to fetch his paintbrushes so that he could practice his calligraphy, though he was too weak to even hold them.
i was overwhelmed at how it felt. i wondered how to treat this sudden lack of terror towards him. we tell ourselves that keeping the uncomfortable parts of someone’s presence would be worth it, just let us keep them. please, just let us keep them here by our sides on earth for the rest of this lifetime. “these are the things i would trade for him to stay,” we shout into the void.
at the altar where my elders’ photos hang, i felt the universe moving, adjusting to the loss of a soul. the fishbone that had been caught in his throat led to the discovery of other cancers that had invaded his body.
such tiny, invisible things that alter us.
such huge things that change us, that can in no way be contained or understood.
the mystery that hangs in the stillness between worlds, between us and loved ones lost.
i wondered what we could do, put their souls in glass jars, keep them safe, preserve them? mix them with rose petals and bergamot, pour in all the sweetness stocked up in ourselves that we saved up thinking there would be a better time in the future to say the necessary, come up with a new name for the concoction. give the soul-preserves a forever shelf life, and keep them present within every food we eat and at every meal we share.