Candy Hearts

Julie Peterson on Love, Loss, What She Wore -- and What She Ate

Chow Bella has a valentine for you. For the rest of February, we're handing out Candy Hearts -- stories of food and love from some of our favorite writers. Enjoy.

In a decent childhood, someone feeds you routinely, from the very first day. How can there not be at least some love associated with being fed? And we remember love.

See also: Laurie Notaro's Dish of Death

I love and remember food, often in conjunction with clothes, which, despite how I dress, I also love. I remember not just what I was eating but also what I was wearing (or, at least, shopping for) at most of the key moments in my life. Or were they key moments? I have a feeling life tricks us by making things memorable when they aren't necessarily important. If the important things were the most memorable, would we screw up as much as we do?

So I still remember the dainty necklace and jute-wrapped wedge sandals I got at Los Arcos Mall on a birthday outing with my parents when we ate at Pancho's buffet. But was it that important to turn 14? No, it was not. Not even at the time.

I remember that on my first date with my first boyfriend, at Pointe in Tyme -- and I swear I'm not trying to search-engine-optimize this ish -- he had a seafood salad sandwich on a croissant and I had Key lime pie. (It was late at night, after he got off work, so I'd already had dinner.) And I wore one of those cotton dresses from India with a tight shirtwaist bodice, a full, gored skirt, and about a million buttons down the front.

I remember that during one of our conversations about him breaking up with me (it took several, because I'm stubborn), I was working my way through an order of fried clams, even though I was crying and had a knot in my stomach. They must have been good clams. And, as I've told hundreds of people, I knew it was over on an evening not long after that, when he asked me for money for my half of the pizza. Sometime in the ensuing months, a good friend had me over for brunch. We moved in a circle of friends who appreciated overdressing, and so I wore a Watteau-backed bridesmaid dress in burgundy polyester brocade. I was suffering from breakup-related-grief-induced diarrhea and lack of appetite. He gave me some Imodium and I passed out face-down on his bed from a combo of bacon, drugs, and champagne. Things were looking up.

On my first date with a man who would become my husband, I was pretty nervous and I put a lot of thought into my outfit: turquoise corduroy jeans and a purple velour pullover sweater with a skinny lavender belt around the hips. Yes, it was 1984. I was too nervous to go to a real restaurant, so we agreed to have fast food in the car and talk. I had a Jack-in-the-Box Chicken Supreme. I wish they still made that sandwich, and not just because it makes me think of a zaftig hen in a beehive hairdo and a fuchsia lamé gown.

I have learned that everyone perceives and defines the romantic love thing differently. That doesn't mean lovers aren't wrong to deceive or betray each other. It doesn't mean there aren't great big jerks in the world, or that, even in a committed relationship, you have to put up with everything. But it does make understanding and forgiveness easier, when you're ready for those things. It also means that when you're growing old with someone, a shared fondness for coconut may play nearly as vital a role as trust or communication.

My first boyfriend died in 2000. I continue to have mixed and bizarre feelings about both him and his departure from the world of the living. I've found that a tangential, clueless-white-girl participation in Day of the Dead helps me with this. Each Halloween, as trick-or-treaters swarm our driveway, we have supper outdoors with another couple, an annual meal that's an ephemeral altar of foods my ex enjoyed. Thousand Island dressing is gross on salad, but I like it with corn dogs.

And our two guests have birthdays right around then, and one of them also really likes Key lime pie.

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Julie has written for the Night & Day events calendar section since 2005. As a student at Arizona State, she received the Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout Creative Writing Award and the Theatre Medallion of Merit.
Contact: Julie Peterson