blood orange

"You are a source of wisdom and strength to those around you."

- fortune cookie with a twisted sense of humor

I'm not sure if all this is scaring me or if it's giving me hope, or if this sudden feeling is what it's like to recognize my own backbone for the first time in a couple of years.

Bravery is what other people have, that nebulous 'other' who are glimpsed on the street, in novels, from a nearly-blinked eye as they escape from view around the nearest grocery store corner. It's not a quality you see in yourself. Bravery is seen as an obstacle faced without fear, with an almost reckless disregard of calamity or consequence. Those of us who can't work up a full head of bravery have to settle for stubborn.

Luckily, most people have a tendency to mistake one for the other in the people they know.

I've been trying to ignore the calendar reckoning as the days of February have trailed away. It's so painfully easy to look down at the bottom of any recently-posted entry and find myself remembering where I was two years ago, knowing then, as now, that February leads into the memories of March, memories that still taste of ashes.

Two years ago I felt life running through my hands, as clearly as the ticking of a watch and as impossible to stop as water. One year ago I mourned and said little.

Things change this year.

* * * * *

I chose to see it as serendipity, a moment I needed in a day that I didn't. It was nothing, really, just the smooth hand-over-hand motions of a right-hand swerve in a parking lot, but the difference was there in a way that even I, the master of denial, couldn't deny. A simple muscle twitch, but suddenly there were differences.

I parked the car and touched my arm, first gently, then with pushing, determined fingers. Muscle tissue. Simple changes, but ones that were suddenly obvious, even from the tiny slice of rearview mirror. A more square shoulder line, a feeling of solidity in my neck muscles, biceps, triceps.

With it was a thought, so sudden and clear it was almost palpable: I can do this.

I've had so many days in the past six weeks in which I've doubted whether I'd ever be able to say such a sentence with any degree of credulity. It felt strange to look in the mirror and see what my friends have been calmly waiting for me to see for myself:


It was the first time I'd looked in a mirror, seen the nondescript blue-gray eyes I inherited from some family member or another, but also seen something else. Fire. Determination. I looked in the mirror and saw a woman who wasn't beaten, who was still standing and who was absolutely determined to stay that way.

I liked her.

She shows up every now and then at the gym. Most days it's just me, Amy, who always walks in with a smile and says hello to whoever is sitting at the gym's front desk. The headphones go on, and I blank out the rest of the world.

Except once, this past week, I looked straight ahead, into the mirrors whose existence I daily try to deny, and came face-to-face with my own reflection. The image in the mirror pleased me no more now than it ever has, but it was the expression that caught my eye, as if seen on the face of a complete stranger: determination.

How had I managed to forget that my family once described me as being one of the most stubborn members of a legendarily-stubborn family?

I wondered where she'd gone for so long.

* * * * *

Serendipity day led me to the grocery store, with the mundane weekly list of depleted items. For the past six weeks, my scrawled grocery lists have included the code word "veggies." The word references no specific item, but reflects the truth in my difficulty in finding food that I'm capable of eating. More often than not, a grocery trip involves my standing in the midst of the produce aisle, scanning items one by one and asking myself, "If I took this home, would I eat it?"

More often than not, I walk the aisle, staring but rarely touching, and ending up with only a few items in my cart. My reliable stand-by vegetable, the artichoke, is temporarily out of season, leaving me to scramble to find other vegetables and fruits to substitute in its absence.

I found myself in the citrus aisle, staring down at the early-spring fruits that were finally beginning to make their way to Alabama. Oranges were giving way to tangerines and nectarines, and on the far end of the aisle were the rarest of them all - Moro oranges.

Blood oranges, they were called, before growers began to realize that calling any fruit a blood something-or-other was not likely to increase sales. Their rinds are not so aggressively fragrant as standard oranges, and the interior is a deep, dark purplish-red. They are not so aggressively tart as standard oranges, with a taste more reminiscent of a raspberry.

I love them, but they are difficult to find, and almost always expensive; as a result, baked chicken with a blood-orange sauce is a rare treat for me.

When I realized that I was not just ambivalent about eating them, but intrigued by the prospect of making one of my favorite recipes, I put several of the oranges in my cart. With the exception of the past two days, finding ways to get my daily calorie count up to 1600 is difficult; finding food that makes me want to go home and cook has to be celebrated.

Some victories, no matter how small, must just be taken at face value.

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I have been praying and waiting for this to happen for you. I cannot tell you how happy I am that it has.