I have two homes in San Francisco, one in which I sleep and maintain a monastic silence; the other, which I go to, to escape the noise in my head that results from too much silence.
Luckily for me, the latter is one right, one left, and one more right turn away, a two-minute walk, or a 30 second scamper. I arrive often with a sigh. Or an exclamation, which is sometimes the same thing.
Crystal is usually behind the white kitchen counter, which is always remarkably pristine when she is behind it. Its ultra-clean blankness is particularly notable in contrast to mine, which is currently littered with: three books, not neatly stacked; one magazine, flipped open to the middle of an article; two cookbooks; my electricity bill; a tea cup stuffed with a bunch of cilantro, half of it snipped off—I'm keeping it hydrated; and a plate with crusty peanut butter remains. Tidiness is not a factor of self-sufficiency, but messiness can certainly reflect a lack thereof.
Today she is in the kitchen with a three-page letter in hand, a notebook with a bumper sticker that says “NO RAMEN NO LIFE,” and an open Mason jar filled halfway with an amber-colored liquid. When Jacob walks in later, he refers to it as a “healing potion” and asks if I need any, to which my heart says yes and my mouth says no.
“Jacob was feeling a little under the weather today,” Crystal says.
The “healing potion” is a mint tea tonic laced with peach-chili jam, which was made in this very kitchen yesterday, after twelve hours of chopping, stewing, and sugaring many pounds of peaches. They are sipping this tea tonic slowly, prolonging its life with more hot water.
Jacob is scanning papers, an adequately monotonous task for this grey day, and I am staring out the window, my legs pulled up into my chest, while balancing precariously on a wooden stool.
“Jacob, you are a consolation to me,” I tell him.
“A constellation?” he says.
“A consolation, which is something that makes you feel better when you’re feeling bad,” I explain.
“I thought a consolation prize is what the loser gets,” he says.
“So that they feel better,” I say.
“I like constellation better,” he says.
“Ok, then you’re my constellation,” I concede.
Jacob and Crystal, in this house, on this day, are the perfect confluence of people in a place at a time. I feel small today, trivial, and they let me talk, and they ask questions, and they are witty, funny, and nourishing. They make no caustic remarks.
Later Crystal and I walk to Local Mission Market to buy some bread for the jam. We are both condiment people. While Crystal is deciding between the boules and baguettes, I stand silently in front of the bowl of olive bread samples, eating one doughy cube at a time.
“Bread makes everything better,” I tell Crystal. “I feel better when I’m eating bread.”
Back at the house, Crystal slices the bread and lubricates it with a stick of butter. She looks like she’s giving the bread a belly rub, which is how Crystal interacts with food—elegantly, easily, gently. I like watching Crystal move around the kitchen—always deliberately, never haphazardly—a true meditator. Sometimes she whistles and softly sings—always in a barely audible, quivering tone—while washing the dishes, or wiping down the counters, and I listen intently. Her demeanor is delicate, her mien beautiful. She is one of the most thoughtful people I know. I watch Crystal pour boiling water on a fork to clean it, and then she begins reorganizing her jars, as she often does, checking on the ingredients of each jar as if they were plants to be tended to, which makes sense, because she is a gardener.
“Mama Crystal,” Jacob and I joke. Mama Crystal, who takes care of us, who prepares two plates of toast strips, two corresponding bowls of jewel-toned jam. We eat.