Without any exaggeration, 2018 was the best and worst year of my life.
I vacationed to another country for the first time, I hopped on a plane to Puerto Rico for a destination wedding, I got engaged, moved to the beach, got married; even my brother got engaged!
Then I lost my best friend, my mother, my soul sister.
Jessica wasn’t my mother by blood and I have a wonderful relationship with my own mom, but I lovingly addressed her as my “new mommy” all the same. She would scoff at me and make a sour face but I knew that she loved it so I continued. She never wanted children of her own but my brother and I became those kids that she would have envisioned and wanted for herself. “Can’t get much better than you kids, so why even bother?”.
My dad had started seeing Jess when I was about fifteen years old; I was angsty and love sick and my brother had bangs that covered his eyes so no one would talk to him. She would always recall how we played Hungry Hungry Hippos the first time she met us and how nervous she was to not only make a good impression but to not swear. I don’t remember playing this Hippo game but I do remember an early interaction with her that has since stuck in my mind. I was going through my first big high school breakup and was devastated to be separated from my only truest love (we can laugh at this now, please do, it’s okay) and I would never experience such a love as long as I lived, when Jess caught my attention in the second floor hallway of my dad’s beautiful statuesque home in downtown Frederick, MD. She said to me, “so this boy doesn’t want to be with you anymore? Is that right?”. I was trying not to fall apart and shook my head, yes. “Well fuck that guy!” her voice then dropped to a sudden hush, “now, don’t tell your dad I said that”. And I never did.
Through the twelve years that my dad and Jess had been “my dad and Jess” we had minor tiffs and arguments but mostly we had a damn good time. We would stay up all night on weekends until four or five in the morning, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine and talking shit and discovering our ambitions. We would play each other music and funny videos and complain that the new movie coming out wouldn’t meet our high cinema standards. We acted in plays together and worked on short films and movies, I went to her comedy shows and she came to my first burlesque performance; and all the while we became more and more attached at the hip.
Around Christmas three years ago, in 2015, Jess was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. There were no warning signs, she simply had cramps in her legs that became chronic and lead her to go to the doctor.
After three years of hospital visits and driving over three hours to Philadelphia for specialists and second opinions and chemo and oxygen and experimental medicine and medical marijuana and surgeries and rashes and thinning hair and tumors spreading and needing a walker and palliative care, it was done. She passed quietly in her sleep on December 20, 2018 surrounded by my dad and her sister and she was no longer in any pain.
There is nothing that can be said to explain the loss that I feel. There are no words to address the pain in my body and the clench in my chest when I think about how I’ll never see her again.
The weekend before she passed, my husband and I tried to have a relaxing weekend at home to recharge after driving five hours to and from Pennsylvania the weekend before, when Jess had gone into palliative care. I realized that I had never baked for my husband before! I knew that he would want chocolate and peanut butter so I created the Ted Bundtie Cake and boy, was he happy! I finally felt calm that day. I was focused on every step of my baking and didn’t think about anything else while I did it.
I didn’t realize it at the time but baking became my meditation. It was something that I could focus all of my attention on and not be distracted by what happened before or what happened next, I was just present in the moment. I am notoriously horrible at meditation and at trying to “turn off” my brain even to go to sleep.
With your broken heart, make art.
I rediscovered my love of baking at the perfect time, when I needed it most. I needed the patience that I didn’t feel like I was getting at my day job, I needed the focus that I had lost from pulling myself in too many different directions and thinking it was normal, I needed to understand my recipe and what was required of me in a way that I felt that nobody could reciprocate, and I needed to channel the creativity that had become a lesser priority but, I’ve learned, is essential to me feeling fulfilled as a person.
It’s not really possible to think that I’ll ever get over losing Jess and I may even get sad when I bake, but what is important to me is that I’m channeling my pain in a positive way that makes myself, my husband, and my friends and family that get to enjoy my creations, happy for just a moment, no matter how fleeting that moment may be.