In her mind, she sees her life on the shelves. A display piece. Various conversation starters. It’s categorized. Organized in its dishevelment. Each phase confined with bookends. Hidden corners of her consciousness, loves and hatreds represented in LPs, foldable geographical maps, bound recipes, Steinbeck novels, ticket stubs, boarding passes, turnpike receipts, strayed packets of vanilla sugar, pressed flowers, napkins with various notes written on them, mailed postcards. Each oddity associated with memory; each memory evoking the recollection of a million different conversations.
She pulls piece by piece from the black bookcase in her living room and places each item in one of the small cardboard boxes she’s collected over the last week from friends, friends of friends, coworkers, the side of the dumpster by the craft store just down the street. She’s labeled some of the boxes. “Kitchen.” “Baking.” “Clothes.” “Bathroom.” She thinks of all the labels people have given her: “Low Life.” “Accomplished.” “Cold.” “Empathetic.” “Cowardly.” “Courageous.” “Weak.” “Strong.” Each ironic in its duality. Contradicting in its nature. All somehow simultaneously true.
She tapes up the small box and carries it to the couch a few feet from the front door. The floor space is already occupied by stacked barstools from the breakfast nook, luggage from the closets, a desk piled high with pillows and comforters. A walkway exists to the door and to the record player. Simon and Garfunkel can be heard through the speakers, despite the corner of the mattress somewhat muzzling them. The three-chord progression on acoustic guitar—Bookends’ opening theme—seems fitting in its finality. In her head she sings the chorus that doesn’t yet follow in the introduction. Time it was, oh what a time it was, it was, a time of innocence, a time of confidences. She steps back over boxes packed full of Sylvia Plath, Timothy Ferriss, Susanna Kaysen, Heston Blumenthal, Allen Ginsberg, Edna Lewis, and Jack Kerouac, languid in the task of packing up the rest of that particular bookcase.
There are more empty boxes in the bedroom and as she heads to the back of the house to grab another, her feet sound slightly heavy on the floorboards. Had her father still been alive, he could have explained every detail of how the acoustics in a room shift with its contents. The walls barren of all the art she’d collected and framed photographs she’d once hung seem to amplify the placing of one foot in front of another as she nears the shelf again. It’s weird seeing the house so lifeless where she’s spent the last decade. Nearly a third of her existence held within its walls. A sanctuary and torture chamber. A place of growth and backslide. The ground beneath her feet after too long spent hopping from one shitty apartment to the next every few months. A space for regained consciousness after years of oblivion. For healing after death. In front of that bookshelf—sometimes pow-wowed on the floor, sometimes relinquished to her chaise lounge—she had bookended spats of depression between heroin-addicted companions and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Save the Life of My Child.” She had bookended previous heartbreak between an empty bottle and a newfound love of traveling blossomed from money saved in sobriety. She had bookended the most previous phase of her life between trade school as a chef—with its subsequent job at Ludivine—and the lyrics: When she goes, she’s gone. The girl does what she wants to do. She knows what she wants to do. And she’s no longer faking it; she’s really making it.
She pulls down the bookends holding upright her collection of atlases and travel paraphernalia. The distance from Oklahoma City to Austin: 388 miles. Austin to New Orleans: 511 miles. New Orleans to Pensacola: 202 miles. She pulls down her binders full of recipes and notes. Past down wisdoms of flavor blending. The best recipe for chicken and spinach veloute. The secrets for properly preparing salmon en croute. The atlases, travel paraphernalia, her amassed cooking bible, however, will not be boxed for storage, but left readily available in her backpack.
The gentle humming of Simon and Garfunkel—the opening of the album’s fourth track—warmly fills the room, and for a second, she feels flush. It’s one thing to long hold a dream, another to execute it. One thing to look at the cracked-road behind you, another to willingly carve an unpaved path ahead. She takes a long breath and while exhaling sings the last line of the song’s first stanza, a hint of timidity in her voice: I’ve come to look for America. She thinks about the guest chef spots she’s already booked at restaurants in three different states. She thinks about camping out of her car and trailer hitch for a while, just like John Steinbeck did in My Travels with Charley. She thinks of all she’ll learn about the culture of creole food in New Orleans and fresh seafood in Florida. She thinks about how she’ll become rounded as a chef and a person, meeting new people, absorbing different traditions, interacting with those unlike her. She thinks about the millions of different backgrounds that lie ahead, the diverse stories, those who have overcome obstacles of a different spectrum, an entirely new color palate of flavor. A melting pot. A stew, they often call it. She imagines digesting it all deep in the belly of herself.
Around her, she sees the boxes and stacked furniture of her past. In her mind, she sees a future of sharing a love for diversity with each dish. The Simon and Garfunkel song crescendos into its climax and she sings louder than before: They’ve all come to look for America. All come to look for America. All come to look for America.