Squash Blossoms and Chess: On Identifying Fellow Sheep

“We are eating like thieves,” I told him as we polished off the stuffed squash blossoms and began on a spaghetti dinner that smelled like Western Pennsylvania church basement potlucks.  Earlier, we had been given our pick from a Rochester, New York’s church community garden after sleeping in their lot and playing their cool, dimly lit sanctuary the night before.  A bundle of kale and Swiss chard, a warty orange squash, and five delicate yellowy zucchini flowers found their way into our camper.  We made way for them after two rainy days that left everything we owned damp, the thin tapping on our metal walls lifting halfway through the night for a Monday morning cleaning.  The kale made its way to a marinade and has already gone through our systems.  The warty squash rests among the endless supply of cherry tomatoes my mother gave us– which rest among the endless supply of pastas and sauces and oils and vinegars and candies and other foods she gave us that we didn’t know til now that we couldn’t live without.  The chard is slowly wilting itself on our counter, but will be breakfast before noon today.

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But something about the squash blossoms, stuffed with the last fresh herbs of summer, fried in corn meal for a glistening golden finish, dipped in a velvet red sauce we didn’t pay for– we are eating like thieves.  We are eating like people who don’t know when delicacy will come again, or even how to define it.  We are eating like people who appreciate it, but appreciate it quickly, because who is to say that a loud bang on the door and a uniformed gentleman won’t take it away before we reach our last critical bite.  We are a queen and a king of alleyways and parking lots, hunched with our smorgasbord of collected crumbles, hissing at the shuffle of footsteps around us– we stole this fair and square.  

This was Monday night in the romantic buzz of the Syracuse Camping World parking lot lights.

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Tuesday morning, I woke to find an article in my inbox and a reminder to never check my inbox first thing in the morning.  That little science-fact-spitting-know-it-all-but-everything-could-be-his-if-he-wanted-it-smart-kindly boy I used to baby sit is going to prison.  He is a thief.  The 9-year-old that taught this former 18-year-old robbed himself a bank.

The article sounds just like him, even though I haven’t seen him in years.  He was the son of my former pastor– the pastor who asked me to leave the church after he insisted I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing because the 30-year-old worship pastor took advantage of my 15-year-old body for four formative and long years.  I have been clawing at the accusation since then, wandering into wolf’s den after wolf’s den trying to find my kind and ending up pawed over and partially devoured.  It has taken years to get the wool from my eyes, repeated shearing, and even now, I am more comfortable bleating and grazing in the garden just outside the doors of the sanctuary than among the other sheep inside.

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When I re-read the article, I realize that it sounds just like me, too.  I didn’t want to hurt anybody, I said.  The gun wasn’t loaded, he said.  He made off with over $20,000 in an effort to make something of himself– get an apartment, move on– after his father came into his room that morning and yelled at him to make a life for himself.  I picture his scrunched up brow and soap opera-esque stroking of his chin as he works out the problem on his chessboard.  I watch his apologetic conclusion as he moves and looks to me, checkmate.  

I’m giving up looking for wolves, even if they are ex-husbands or ex-pastors.  I think maybe we can assume the others are sheep, even.  Some as they are.  Some in wolves clothing.  Some in bank robbing masks.

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