31. Remedial Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soupThis was the week we decided to get input from the kids about what they want to eat. It was criticism I asked for, but it was still nerve racking to send out a survey. We had to bribe them with cookies to get them fill it out.

On Friday, they all came back. I didn’t look at all of them right away but after I did, I needed a drink. At six o’clock, I met Theo out at Savoy where they had a proper mixologist who could make toxic cocktails.

Image Source: JetpacApp via Flickr/Creative Commons

I had never been to Savoy, but it was a cute place on Milwaukee.

Theo was already there when I arrived.

“Hello there,” I said as I peeled off my scarf and coat. 

“How are you, my dear? It’s the end of another week in the kitchen.. How hot was it in there?” he asked. He was flamboyant, though his romantic endeavors suggested he was straight. His tone was always dramatic and he almost always treated me as if I was teetering between mild depression and certain suicide. I felt like such a drag when I was with him, but it beat being alone. 

“Oof. I dunno. I’m stressed out.”

“Oh no why? Let’s get you a drink.”

“Well, we sent out surveys to the kids about the food.”

“Ahh!!! What did you do that for? Anyone will tell you that feedback from that age group is the least reliable that you can ask for.”

“Yes, well, it’s still hard not to take that personally.”

“Oh my god, you shouldn’t.”

“I know. I mean they want junk food and we can’t serve junk food.”

“Of course not.”

“And I hate whole wheat as much as they do, but that’s what we have to serve.”

“Don’t stress out about it. Just drink your cocktail and we’ll have fun.”

Five effective cocktails later, we stumbled out of the restaurant. I walked home stopping once to buy cigarettes and a second time to buy potato chips.

I was hammered, but not so hammered that I didn’t remember thinking, “I am way too old to be getting this drunk,” as I shuffled home at 8 o’clock. It did, however, temporarily relieve me of the anxiety from work. 

Saturday: the amount of alcohol I let violate me the night before would have been lethal to most women of my age and stature, but it just hobbled me for a mere 24 hours. I did not leave the gentle clutches of my couch the entire day.

Image Source: MA1216 via Flickr/Creative Commons

Sunday, I turned down Theo’s invitation to dim sum, but I was in good spirits after Friday’s night of spirited poisoning, and agreed to meet him at Emporium — the beercade on Milwaukee –for afternoon cocktails. Sunday Funday, indeed.

Burton was, as he told me, still working the most insane hours he’d ever worked so I hadn’t seen him since Monday. We made tentative plans that night for after he talked to Liam about his failing relationship with Grace.

But Theo started planting seeds of doubt in my head.

“I’m sorry. I know, I’m too busy for a girlfriend, but you haven’t seen him since Monday?” He said this as if I believed he likes girls. 

“No. He just launched this kickstarter and has to have an e-commerce site done in a month and that’s not even his job. That’s in addition to his regular work.”

“But still. He’s not spending time with you.”

“Yep. I know. You’re right.”

After two whiskey sodas, I went home to eat soup from a can. It wasn’t very satisfying.

I folded laundry and went to the grocery and did chores until I got the 30 minute warning that Liam was to leave Burton’s house.

At the grocery store I bought a giant bottle of Jameson to bring to Burton’s. Buying in bulk was always cheapest.

Image Source: Google Maps
Image Source: Google Maps

It was the coldest it had been in two years. I thought about taking a cab, but it seemed too close not to walk, so I did.

I had forgotten how dark and frightening Chicago Avenue could be at night, particularly on a Sunday before a holiday. It was deserted.

I turned the corner at Noble Street. I still had to walk past the corner where there was a murder over New Year’s Eve, which was unsettling. When I got to Erie, I crossed the street where the bar was well-lit and people were standing around smoking in the cold. I almost felt safe.

I got to Burton’s door and presented him with my gift of whiskey.

“Aww. Thank you. Do you like screw drivers?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You can have that now that I’ve got whiskey.”

Image Source: Yoshitomo Oda via Flickr/Creative Commons

“How was Liam?”

“Not good. I told him to stick a fork in it because he’s done.” Oh how I wished he’d picked a more clever phrase.

He showed me the project he was working on for Chicago Energy. It was amazing. He’d done a map of Chicago based on how much natural gas was used in each neighborhood. It lit up like a light show.

We sat and had cocktails and smoked cigarettes. It was kind of disgusting.

Then he dropped the bomb.

“I’ve spent some time with my ex in the last few days,” he said. And that’s what Theo could tell me but my instincts couldn’t.

“OK,” I said feeling the walls close around me and crushing my heart. I don’t think I heard anything he said after that. I got up to use the restroom. I went in and buried my face in my hands and repeated to myself “What am I doing?” until I could gather the courage to face him again. “I should leave,” I thought as I walked back to the living room.

“What does this mean?” I asked.

“Well, we’re going to see each other casually and see how things go.”

“Well, this makes me feel bad.”

“I don’t want you to, but you never want to hear about it, so I can’t tell you.”

“Well then tell me.”

San-Francisco“When I met her, I was all set to move to San Francisco in August,” he said. “And then ten days after I met her, I rescinded my request. I loved her. She was a good person. She made me want to be a better person. And I knew about her husband. She’s from a rural town where people marry their high school sweethearts and she married her high school sweetheart who turned out to be gay and then he cheated on her for five years. For two months it was really good and the sex was terrible but it didn’t matter because I loved her. But at a point it started to feel like a charity case and I couldn’t do it anymore. She didn’t turn out to be the person I thought she was and I changed my life plan for her.”

“Did you have sex?”


“What does this mean for us?” I asked.

“The same as it always has. We’ll take everything one day at a time.”

“I can’t compete with that.” I don’t know if I said it in my head or out loud. Everything was muddled together.

It only got worse. The night became a blur of whiskey and cigarette smoke. We went to bed and I woke up at eight o’clock with a searing headache, unable to go back to sleep. Burton was still sleeping so I stewed about the information he laid on me the night before. Not having processed anything, I sent Grace an email:

Grace– I know it’s totally random that I’m emailing you — and please don’t tell Burton that I’m coming to you — but I really need your opinion. I honestly have no idea what to do. With the knowledge that you have, if you were me, would you power through with Burton or cut your losses now? Please be honest.

Sorry, I know it’s wildly inappropriate.


I pestered him to wake up and have sex, knowing this would be the last time. Per usual, it was mind-blowing. It was hard to reconcile that the best sex I’ll probably ever know was behind me.null

We got up to get a bloody mary before Burton had to start working. We checked the weather before we left.

“It’s negative fourteen degrees?!” I said.

“No. It’s negative fifteen. Negative fourteen is the high,” he said.

We walked the painfully cold two blocks to the Twisted Spoke for a bloody mary. My head hurt and the conversation hurt even more.

“Are we going to finish our conversation from last night?” I asked.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to finish,” he replied.

I paused to work up the nerve to say, “Do you want to continue seeing me?”

“I thought we were just going to take things as they come. Day by day,” he said.


“But I’m also going to see Erica,” he said. “And that may or may not mean that we’ll end up back in a relationship.”

“Well that makes me feel bad.”

“You’re seeing other people.”

“I went on one date.

“It’s the same thing.”

image Source: monsieur paradis via Flickr/Creative Commons

“No it’s not. I didn’t have sex. And it wasn’t someone I used to be in love with.”

“How can you reconcile this?”


“I’m making you feel bad and I keep telling you that my head is fucked up over someone else.”

“It’s really hard.”

“I think it’s impossible.”

“This feeling only comes around for me once or twice a decade. It’s not easy to abandon.”

I put down my credit card to settle the bill. He gave it back to me.

I furiously put on my coat, hat and scarf and said as my voice cracked, “You make me intensely sad.”

We walked out into the cold. I was two steps ahead of him all the way to his house. We didn’t exchange a single word.

I got into his apartment, said goodbye to his cat and grabbed my cigarettes. I walked

back to the door, looked at his empty face and said “See ya later” before closing the door.

About a half block away, I texted. “This sucks.”

“It wasn’t my intent to make you sad,” he wrote.

“But you knew you would. And so did I.”

Image Source: Sudipto Sarkar via Flickr./Creative Commons

I smoked three cigarettes on my walk home. When I got to my house, I took off my stinky, cat hair-laden clothes and changed into my sweat pants. I sat on my couch with a steady stream of whiskey in my glass for the rest of the day. I wallowed. I texted people I shouldn’t have been texting. I emailed people I hadn’t talked to in years. I listened to sad music. Then I got the email from Grace, a response that was moot at that point.

“Hey Brooks: No worries at all. I’m so sorry that you’re stuck in this situation. I know that Burton met you when he thought that things were over with Erica. I know they recently reconnected and to my knowledge, I think he’s doing his best to work things out with her and to be honest to everyone involved. (I hope that’s the same thing you’re hearing from him.)

I’m not sure what to tell you…except I’d recommend letting that run its course, if you have the patience to see if he comes out on the other side.


I responded, “Thank you. This totally sucks. I really appreciate your honest input, though.”

“Take it for what it’s worth—only you know what the right thing to do is. Hang in there, Brooks. I’m so very sorry,” she wrote.

“It’s out of my hands now, but thank you. I really like him. As far as sucking goes, this takes the cake.”

I went to bed at ten. I slept for exactly two hours. I woke up at midnight and laid there with ridiculous thoughts running in and out of my head.

And behold! The 3a.m. email:

“I’m not really sure how I feel about this now. I mean, it sucks. But I’m processing it and it takes me a long time to do that.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that you make me feel like a crazy person for having feelings for you and that it’s totally one-sided. With the exception of yesterday I always had a good time with you. You made me feel good. So yeah, I wanted you to stick around because I liked the way I felt when I was with you. It’s totally rare.

A week ago, I honestly thought that you and I were a possibility and you indirectly validated those thoughts. I’m sharing an exchange that we had that stuck with me. I don’t know if it was because you were drunk that you wrote these things and the feelings disappeared when you sobered up, but this exchange made me feel like we had something. And today you made me feel like I imagined all of it:

Burton: you’ve spoiled me beyond words. at this rate, we may eventually have to marry. not before you’re dancing to ice cube, though. pity, that. thank you.

Brooks: Just keep breaking my heart. I mean it. I will get silly and dance to ice cube if you just keep breaking my heart.

Burton: i broke your heart today? [be honest] for real?

Brooks: Yea. Duh. Just keep doing it.

Burton: that’s not even remotely fair. what did I do that was so bad? I thought we had an amazing day together

Brooks: We did. It was amazing. It was, hands down, some of the best sex we’ve had and we’ve had fucking amazing sex prior to today.



You don’t want to get over it. Just do your work. And I’ll do mine. We’ll both do amazing things.

Burton: hands down. you’re right. amazing. with regard to the rest, i don’t really think about it.

what i am thinking about is that i can still feel all that we did on the insides of my thighs and down through my feet. you’re so f’ing amazing. relax a bit, shake your ass to music and we might just have something. just don’t give ice cube anything you’ve not yet visited upon me from above. just. saying.

Brooks: Today was a good day. Just saying.

Burton: you always make it sad. why do you do this?

Brooks: How did I make you sad? I’m not sad. I feel good. We had really a good day.

Burton: we did. you’re right. and thank you.

Brooks: Burton, just so you know, I’m confident about how things will work out for us. Whether you’re in San Francisco and I’m here or I’m in San Francisco and you’re here or we’re both in one of the two, it will happen the way it’s supposed to be. Not to get all metaphysical, but the universe has a funny way of shaking things out for the best.

I want to be with you. There was never any question of that. You’re one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met and you inspire me to do amazing things. I absolutely can’t ask for anything more. Even if you break my heart.

Burton: you’re making me tear up, which i never do. i don’t know what to say. thank you for this afternoon, it goes w/o saying. you’ve become far more meaningful to me than i ever thought we had the capacity to for one another. my spotify playlist of your songs absolutely kill me. i listen to it constantly.

-that is what I couldn’t wrap my head around.”

I really shouldn’t be allowed access to communication devices between the hours of 10p.m. and 7a.m. But it was done. Out in the ether. No taking it back. And I didn’t expect anything in return.

I never went back to sleep. The next day at work was the most painful day I ever had at that job. I got there early and I stayed late. I skipped going to take care of my friend’s cat so I could go home to sleep. When it was all over, I realized that Burton didn’t give a shit about me, but I was fine. I’d let time take care of me emotionally and my tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich to take care of me physically. It’s the meal where pleasure and healing intersect. 

When the hangover finally subsided, it occurred to me that, without Burton, I’d never have a hangover again. Though booze wasn’t the reason things didn’t work out with him, it would have been. I could go back to the land of sobriety where there were no headaches and wasted days on the couch. I could go back to my regular exercise routine without pain and there would be no more breathless runs because I’d smoked too many cigarettes the night before. I was relieved to have a decision made for me. tomato-soup

Tomato Soup

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 10.5oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 10.5oz can of chicken broth
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

In a large pot, over a medium flame heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Add the onions and continue to cook and stir until the onion is translucent. And the tomatoes, broth and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. Grilled-cheese

Grilled Cheese

  • 2 slices white bread (you can use any kind of bread, fresh or stale, but homemade sourdough is best)
  • 2 slices of American cheese (the more processed, the better — especially if you’re hungover)
  • Lots of butter

Over medium heat, melt a pat of butter in a small skillet. Place the two slices of bread in the pan and let it get very warm. Flip over each slice of bread and quickly top each piece with a slice of cheese each. Put it all together to make a sandwich on a plate and reduce the heat to low. Melt another pat of butter in the pan and add the sandwich. Cover. Let it go for about a minute and the bread browns on the bottom before you flip it. Let the other side get brown and when the cheese is all melty, it’s ready to serve.


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