The Last Good Tomato

I am confident two weeks ago was my last tomato sandwich, so I savored it appropriately by letting it drip down the front of my overalls and placed it to rest on the plate between bites, soaking up pickle juice and seeds before the next bite. I sighed when it was finished and said, “You never know when a tomato sandwich will be your last of the summer.” Then I rinsed my plate and waited for the leaves to turn colors while it was still 90 degrees and full summer in the thumb of Michigan.

I’m not in a rush for the new season. Of course I love fall, but this year isn’t the slow drag of praying for a breeze. This year, I only want to make sure that I have appropriately noted the change rather than waking up on a cold September morning and sleepily realizing summer is gone. I am hungry not only for tomato sandwiches, but to know that this is my last tomato sandwich. And if it isn’t, then I will treat the next one as my last.

That is to say, my richest grief these days is inextricably woven with my deepest joy, and I am comfortable in the strain.

My Someone and I are in the studio this week for a new record. Nashville in September is a favorite. It’s not a roll of colors and smells, yet, but it is the small gasp that escapes from a city that’s been entrenched in a suffocating heat for months. The relief is visceral, almost audible, in spite of the nearly unchanging landscape. The thermometer will still hit 90, but the sentiment has changed– this isn’t forever.

I am in a city I called home for five years, running the risk of running into who I used to be, which I am afraid will be who I still am. It’s impossible, of course. The less afraid I am, the less likely I am to run into old me. Old me is just an amalgamation of fear– fear of who I was, fear of who everyone thought I was. A ghost of shuttered windows, hiding indoors. I, too, am gasping in the relief from the stifling heat of fear and walking comfortably– that wasn’t forever. This isn’t either. I am appropriately savoring the last bites of who I was, letting the seeds drip down the front of my memory, and rinsing my plate to prepare for the next season.

Yes, but really. I say the last bites, but this season isn’t shook yet. A pleasant surprise and a burden to savor at once, on comes another last perfect tomato of the season.

Metaphorically, at least.

Our new record is one of noting the time without rushing to meet it. These are songs from a glorious and shit year. A little more than a year ago, I lost my Aunt– suddenly, without the option to savor last moments. And so, I have been savoring my grief. My songs for her didn’t come until months after her passing. Now, I paste them to time– to a click track, no less– and I am surprised to find a new wave of grief appearing at the back of the refrigerator. I am honoring it by carefully slicing it into an arrangement of verse and chorus, letting the instruments sop up the possibility of this being the last time to feel the loss in this way. This isn’t forever. It is painfully joyful work. You never know when a wave of grief will be your very last, when you might wake up on a cold September morning and have missed the opportunity to miss someone with the perspective of time moving abundantly beneath you.

As we began to wrap our first week of recording, I found another last tomato in the bottom of the fruit bowl. Not at all metaphorically. It had miraculously made the journey from Michigan to Tennessee, nearly unbruised, and warmly fragrant. I considered making another last sandwich, but the temperature dropped earlier in the evening. It was sunny all day, but the season has changed, and I was unable to capture its precise moment. That’s the way of tomato sandwiches. Even when you are sure it is your last, you won’t know until it has passed. I refrained from reaching for the bread and mayo, and began, instead, to boil a pot of water. I cut basil, minced half a bulb of garlic, pulled the capers from the cupboard. Then, I pulled what is likely the last good tomato of the season, and I chopped it roughly into juicy cubes. When we sat down to dinner, our ears still ringing from the work of listening all day, the pasta pomodoro steamed from our bowls.

“This is the last good tomato of the season,” I told my Someone.

“Do you think so?” he said.

“Maybe,” I said. And we ate as if it really was.

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