Chopping Onions for Anthony


I'm mourning you, Anthony Bourdain. What happened? Where did your joy go? You could taste or see or do anything you wanted, things I'm still alive for. Remember the oyster you wrote about? The world had become your oyster. How was joy not enough?

I remember my first oyster. I was 25 and living in Seattle. I had gone with a small group of friends to a fancy steakhouse, The Brooklyn. One of them was a rich Microsoft guy for whom oysters (and dinners like this) were no big deal. He offered up a shell from the platter of ice, surprised I'd never had one before. I wondered how to do it delicately; I realized it was a pivotal moment and decided not to care. I slurped, then fell out of time and into a lost familiar heaven. It was the ocean.

The ocean filled me like I'd spent the whole day at the beach and my hair was stiff with salt and sunscreen. The ocean filled me like I'd been jumping waves for hours, been dunked a bunch of times, saltwater everywhere in my nose, my throat, my lips, the roof of my mouth. The ocean filled me like it had just dried tight all over my skin as I stood dripping in the sun because my towel was too sandy. I could see the rainbow of all my childhood bathing suits, feel the cold of the ritual foot shower before our salt-bodies were allowed back in the summer house to bathe. A decade of summers came on that half shell. It filled me, and a single drop tracked down my cheek, a libation back to the ocean. An oyster changed my life too.

The second time that happened was in Thailand, in a place you would have loved, a tiny seaside open-air shack on a sliver of sand between the water and the road, in an area where only locals lived. An expat American friend who spoke Thai took us there; he'd been there before. A woman brought us bowls and bowls of food. I sipped one of the soups, and everything slid sideways. My knowledge of what was possible on earth experienced a full kaleidoscopic revolution. There were trumpets and angels and blossoms in my mouth. I forgot who I was. How many times had that happened for you? How was it not enough to live for? Tell me. Please. I'm listening.

You could have retired and disappeared to a little island and spent the rest of your days collecting and hiding shells, eating fruit and fresh fish. You could have been there for your daughter. Where did the joy in your daughter go? There must have been an awful lot of pain, to eclipse the joy of a child. Many days I've only stayed alive to watch over mine.

What about service? What about the good you could have done with your name and money and knowledge? You could have fed legions of people, as so much more than a TV chef. Did you believe it was hopeless? That the problem was too huge? Did the children crying overcome you? The pictures of them wearing war dust?

Or is it the coral? The coral are a big one for me. Something that immense and ancient dying right before our eyes; so few people care, and no one in charge is trying to stop it. It makes me unbelievably sad too. That we could let this happen, and not care as a society, not care about our planet. I understand how the coral could be the final straw. The bleaching of hope. The terror over the sheer lack of sense. The willful destructiveness, and then your producer wants a quip. It could be too much.

Maybe disappearing while being alive was no longer an option. Or maybe it really was the heartache over what we're doing to this sacred place. It couldn't have been for lack of pleasure; which means as lovely as it is, pleasure alone is not the savior—though that's half my bucket list. (I'm 44 and haven't had a raw oyster since.)

I thought for sure we would meet someday, hitting it off immediately in a blaze of soul recognition and one-liners and intensity. I remember 10 years ago, when we were both in between marriages, how my friend Julie said you should be my next boyfriend. It was a fabulous compliment. She was right; we would have been great together. Certainly, we would have eaten oysters.

You became a shadow lover for me then, and everyone was measured against you. I had a good time, but they weren't as funny as you. The sex was rockin, but not what it would have been between us, the crazed and gymnastic tangle of skinny people who like food. (I'm not skinny anymore.) We would have made the stars blink out, then flicker back on. There would have been a universal power surge.

We would have talked about all the deep things: spirituality and world hunger. I could have said anything to you. I had been doing that all along, after all. I could have told you my theories about God and waves and time and seeing. We could have laughed endlessly at dirty jokes. We could have tasted olive oils and wines until our stomachs begged us to please just use our noses.

We could have. I still can, for myself. For the 'us' that is now dead—as the husband I had is gone, as I find myself a wife/girlfriend alone again with my own thoughts and touches, as I return to my original lover again, this world, itself—I will keep asking about the joy in living. I'll map its presence around the world, a cartographer coloring in its appearances, teasing out habits and patterns from the data. I'll try with all my beating heart to posthumously document an alternate answer to the question you answered this week with no.

Life sucks but an oyster is enough, for me, for today, at least. I think of you when I fry bacon, whisk cream, or chop onions. Maybe someone will put that on my tombstone. And tears taste like the ocean too, of course.