I went downstairs to let him in, though I didn’t know why. People who showed up at your house without calling first were terribly rude. What was even more rude about Brett was that he didn’t care if you had better things to do; in his head there was nothing better to do than him.
“Hi! Whatcha doin’?” He asked.
“Reading a book,” I said without affect.
“Want to get dinner?”
In this case, I actually didn’t have anything better to do, so I accepted the invitation; an invitation for torture.
Brett was an unfortunate boyfriend to have. He was strikingly handsome — taller than average, proportionate build, with jet black hair and eyes — yet socially inept and clinically depressed. I didn’t like talking to him; he had a way of manipulating a conversations into monologues that went on and on without a point. I was embarrassed to bring him anywhere out of fear he would tell one of his long, protracted stories about his sunglasses collection or using a memory foam pillow horizontally versus using it vertically. I wasn’t sure why I tolerated him; maybe because he was the only who could tolerate me.
Deciding on a restaurant with Brett was always a chore. He was a vegetarian and high maintenance on top of that. We once ordered pizza from Papa John’s online. He loved Papa John’s but said they were notorious for undercooking their pizza. He got many free pizzas in college for this reason. As he was ordering the pizza over the internet, he made a note to make the pizza well done. To make sure the pizza makers understood that, he called. He told them that he’d just placed an order over the internet and that he wanted them to put the pizza through the oven twice to make sure it was cooked all the way through. The pizza arrived burnt. It was an epically terrible meal.
For this outing, to make things easy, we went to the only restaurant that wasn’t offensive to him: Bite.
We sat down next to the window facing Western Avenue.
Brett said, “I’ve been sick for a full week. I missed almost all my classes last week. I’m finally better I think. I guess it was more like six full days. I had gastroenteritis, probably food poisoning from somewhere.”
This was a typical conversation with Brett. He didn’t care enough to ask about me.
“I’m doing fine; thank you for asking,” I said passive aggressively.
“I was about to ask,” he said and went on. “I finally felt better last night and my whole night was wasted on these assignments that my group had to do that none of the other clinical groups are required to do, so I could’ve been studying for my exam instead.” He continued on about himself, “And one of the clinical groups had their second day off from clinicals, whereas I’ve had no days off and won’t have any days off.”
“Uh huh,” I managed to wedge in two grunts.
“And they haven’t even done a single one of these assignments yet. I don’t get it. There’s no consistency whatsoever in this clinical class. It pisses me off. Each clinical instructor apparently does her own thing, and I got the absolute hardest one, hands down.”
“I’ll take a lemonade and I want to try the parisian gnocchi,” I ordered, hoping to get this over as quickly as possible.
“I’ll have the grilled cheese and a coke,” said Brett, completely unaware of my disdain.
“I think I’m going to do a century this weekend,” I tried to steer the conversation in a direction that might please both of us since we were both into biking.
“I ripped out all of the carpet from my spare room while Dirk was here,” Brett said, not acknowledging that I had said anything at all. “It was soaked with cat urine. Years of it. Including that couch. Going to get Nature’s Miracle and floor paint now.”
“Seriously?” I said, annoyed.
“Brett, how is it possible that you have that much to say without asking me a single question? You don’t care at all about what’s going on in my life,” I snapped.
“Yes, I do,” he whimpered.
“Brett. You don’t. You didn’t even respond to what I said about the century.”
“I thought you were done.”
“Brett, this is how it always is for you. You only talk about boring shit that only you are interested in and understand,” I spat back. “And you never ask me questions. It’s ridiculous.”
The server arrived with our food.
What was on my plate was a miniature landscape of heaven: perfect puffs of dough, glossy with butter and lightly dusted with parmesan cheese.
Brett, looking sad, said after the server left, “That’s not true. I care about you more than you know.”
“You could have fooled me,” I said callously as I took a bite of the gnocchi that made me swoon.
“I’ve been really busy. My school work is overwhelming.”
“That’s such horse shit. You’ve always taken me for granted. Two years in a row you did nothing for my birthday. Nothing. You didn’t even do anything to make up for it,” I said getting angry. Only the gnocchi could temper my anger.
“I am nice to you. I do stuff for you, you just conveniently forget,” he said bitterly.
“Like what? What do you do for me?” I asked as my blood pressure rose.
“It doesn’t even matter because you’ll forget,” he said.
“Bull shit. We’ve been having the same conversation for a year. You never do anything for me. I’ve brought this up a thousand times and you act hurt every single time. I don’t get it. I listen to all your boring stories, I hang out with you when you’re lonely even though I don’t want to. I asked you one time to go to an event — an event that was important to me — and you forgot. You demand so much of my time and energy and I get nothing in return. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.”
“I’m not well. I need you.”
I went on.
He didn’t respond. We finished our meals in silence.
We paid the bill and left the restaurant.
When the door closed behind us, I said, “I don’t think we should talk anymore. We don’t belong in each other’s lives.”
He didn’t look at me as we unlocked our bikes to ride home.
It was a forgettable night and a forgettable relationship but it was a meal I’ll always remember. I duplicated it the next day.
Parisian gnocchi is amazing because it’s not made of potatoes (though potato gnocchi is pretty awesome) but there’s just as much work involved — and it’s totally worth it.
Parisian Gnocchi for One (adapted from Jacques Pepin)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 TB butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 2 TB grated parmesan cheese + 1 TB for serving
- 1 TB finely chopped chives
(to make this authentic Parisian gnocchi, I think you have to add nutmeg, but I don’t like nutmeg so I leave it out)
In a small sauce pan bring water, cream, salt, and one tablespoon of butter to a boil over high heat.
Add flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the dough dries a bit and starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Set aside.
Beat egg into dough. Add 2 TB parmesan cheese and chives. Stir until all is combined and the dough is smooth.
Transfer dough to a large pastry bag with a large tip.
Reduce heat on boiling pot of water to a simmer.
With one hand, squeeze 1 inch of dough from the pastry bag over simmering water. With the other hand, cut the dough into the water with kitchen shears. Repeat until the pot is full. The gnocchi is done when it floats to the top of the water. With a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the ice water. They sink when they’re cooled.
Drain gnocchi. Over medium-high heat, heat enough butter to coat the sauce pan. Being careful not to overcrowd the pan, add a portion of the gnocchi and toss them around a bit to heat them up. I like mine to be a little bit crispy so I brown them a little. Transfer the gnocchi to a plate, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea of eating only food that I love; if it’s less than wonderful it’s a waste of a meal. I resolved to apply the same idea to relationships from then on; nothing less than wonderful and only someone I love.