if only, i would

When I was little, I thought that I would reach 27 and be magically transformed into a very specific version of myself. She would be blonde, married, have a dusting of freckles on her shoulders. That’s when I would know — I was Grown Up, I was A Woman. 

I look nothing like Tea Leoni, but Little Me somehow thought I would grow up to look like her?

Twenty-seven arrived and I was busy moving in with The Ex. She owned a house in the suburbs — all dark wood and open plan kitchen. Between 18 and 27, my average tenure in the apartments where I’d lived had been a whopping 10 months. I jettisoned a fair amount of my accumulated, thrift-store household goods in favor of her far nicer things when I moved in. In particular, I donated or gave away most of my kitchen — the sole holdouts were a white pot with a wobbly handle, my grandmother’s cast iron frying pan, a Springform pan, and a couple of ceramic mugs that had sentimental value. 

The Ex loved cooking, so her kitchen was well outfitted. It was the first house I’d ever lived in and I reveled in the space. There was room to store a dehydrator, a food processor, and a blender. There was counter space to have a toaster. When you move a lot, there are so many small corners you cut to make the moving easier and less expensive. Do you need a toaster if you can broil the bread? Why get a food processor when you have a little blender? Recreating a kitchen in a new place is expensive, and it always seemed, in those many moves, ridiculous to invest in the kitchen equipment I really wanted.

So in the year of 27 I wasn’t blonde or married or dusted with freckles, but I was living in a house. In the year of 28, though, it became clear that The Ex and I were not making one another happy and I started looking for apartments in Oakland again. 

I lucked into my current spot — affordable (kind of, for Oakland), access to a backyard for Rilke, close to work. Of course, when I moved in I had to replace the entirety of my kitchen. After the first-last-deposit check, I had very little to spend on all the things I wanted to have in a kitchen, so I bought only the bare bones. A few bowls and plates, some utensils, three wooden spoons. 

The first winter in this apartment was not quite dire, but it was sad. There was credit card debt from impulse purchases (books, dog toys, ambitious vegetables that wilted in the refrigerator). One of those impulse purchases was at a Target in San Leandro, late on a Saturday night after a day spent grading in a cafe. I had always — of course — wanted a KitchenAid mixer. “If only I had a mixer,” I thought, “I would bake more.” 

So often that kind of conditional promise limits us. If only I was thinner, I would be happy. If only I made more money, I would travel. If only I had more time, I would write that novel. If only…I would… As if the universe had created an inflexible set of prerequisites for the things that we really want. As if we need a deus ex machina to make us ready for the life we think we’re meant to be living. It’s fear of failure, that’s part of it right? What if I can’t actually write that novel when I have more time? What if once I lose the weight, it doesn’t magically make me happy?

Reader, I want to tell you that I bought that mixer, and I started baking more. (Much to the delight of Rilke, who eats what falls on the floor, and R, who eats what comes out of the oven!)

But the rest of my kitchen was…pretty sad. My parents unearthed a toaster oven from their garage last fall so I finally gave up toasting my bread in the oven (or in a frying pan!). As I’ve baked more, I’ve accumulated more cookie sheets and even — indulgence — both 8×8 and 9×13 baking pans. 

In the back of my mind, though, is the thought — If only you lived in a real house, if only you made more money, then you could furnish the kitchen of your dreams. After a $40 blender gave up on me, I gave up on smoothies. I split my pie crust recipes in half to fit into my tiny food processor. I thought: When I’m a real adult, when I settle somewhere for forever, then I’ll get the blender I want, then I’ll get a food processor, then I’ll replace my cheap mixing bowls. 

And then for the holidays, R and my parents conspired and bought me two of the appliances I had wanted most for my kitchen. There’s no more If only, I would. They were my deus ex machina. I am not a materialistic person, but I have to tell you, I lay in bed hugging a stupid kitchen appliance box and crying when R gave me her gift. 

I’m a few years past 27 and not even remotely like the woman I imagined when I was young. I think how I turned out is better than Little Me could ever have imagined. But a part of me still holds on to that idea that — some day I will just wake up into a different, more fully realized life. Will wake up knowing how to sort the mail, how to cook oatmeal without Googling it every time, how to navigate the mess of dental health insurance. 

This is so stupid, but having the kitchen appliances I’ve always wanted — it feels like the universe very gently and kindly saying, “This is your life. Right now. Not a faraway If Only Future Day.” 

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