By Callie S. Blackstone
You initially tried sushi at the first credited sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. It wasn’t your choice; while you could drive you didn’t have a car on campus and your crippling anxiety prevented you from using public transport. When the ex-girlfriend of the man you were obsessed with suggested you meet up and you agreed, you were at the mercy of her car.
You had done what you considered to be the right thing–the girl code thing. You approached her and shared that you were interested in the man whose apartment she had just moved out of. You had asked her permission to accept his invitation for a date. You weren’t old enough to understand that when most women say it’s fine, it’s anything but.
She picked you up and drove you to the restaurant and you realized it is a bizarre date in and of itself. The city unfolded in front of you and your body thrummed with excitement as you passed a laundromat the future you would utilize before moving out of your own shitty boyfriend’s apartment. Laundromats, corner stores, little delis–and you, with a girl from your state college’s art circles. You were young, hip in your black clothes–modern and feminist. You were hungry for the future and ready to discover what life carried for you.
At the restaurant, two things unfolded: an interrogation about the man’s lips and their techniques and tray after tray of sushi. You had only extensively kissed two boys and quite a few girls at that point. You had not kissed the man in question and found yourself wondering why he had not made a move. Your dinner date absolutely gleamed, seemingly positive that if there had been no contact there would be none.
And she’s right–after a year of obsessing and sending care packages to the soldier once he deployed, after a year of your own questions, you would not be. Your self doubt began over tray after tray of sushi. A grocery store California roll would have been exotic to you, but this restaurant’s fare was particularly foreign–brown rice, vegetables, locally sustained seaweed. You would hear rumors about the owner for years, how if you encountered him at the docks at just the right time, he would take you out into the boat to source the seaweed and the fish from the filthy sound.
Despite the foreign setting and the realization that not all women appreciate the girl code, you were able to eat–you have always been able to eat. The exotic food was surprisingly approachable, most of the bites surprisingly neutral. You avoided the ones she warned would be spicy; you still lived with one foot in the bland home you were raised in. The rolls remained dry, you were too weary of the salty sauce that accompanied them.
It would take you a decade of trying before your questions found answers: you are desperate to be desired, to be fulfilled, to be totally possessed. You are desperate for the emptiness inside of you to be eradicated. You will realize that your expectations are too high or the men you are attracted to are too low.
She sent you home with several unfinished rolls of vegetable sushi after she deemed that you were not a threat.
Was that really the first time you ate sushi? Or was it your friend that first introduced you to the dish? It would have been at a small restaurant in a strip mall. That is the typical way to experience international travel in a dying industrial town, right? And if we’re being honest, that’s probably why you valued the stuff: your mother had married a man that was so white bread Republican that he feared El Paso taco seasoning and the beef went bland, even on your birthday.
So you dressed in black and whatever accessory you had shoplifted from Hot Topic that week and you went to the local strip mall and ate California rolls and felt incredibly cool. International, even. Sophisticated.
The one time you convinced your mother to go you ordered for the both of you. You somehow selected a special roll covered in eel and drenched in spicy mayo. You played it off but inwardly were just as repulsed by the fish as your mother.
It probably didn’t hurt that something about sushi felt measurable, under your control: six to eight pieces, each relatively bite sized if you stretched your mouth wide. Protein, vegetables, a seemingly minute amount of rice. You had not delved into deep-fried or indulgent rolls yet; you ate ones with probably six ingredients, tops. This was the time in your life when you feared that splitting a movie theater popcorn with that same gothic friend caused you to gain 10 pounds; when you cried after the cafe put mayo on the half sandwich you ordered, despite your telling them to do otherwise; that there were days the only calories you consumed existed in one can of coke and several cups of applesauce. Sushi was not only international but it felt safe in your body, so you indulged in a roll here or there.
You ran your car over the curb of the restaurant because you were still new to the city and because you were running late. By that point you were thin, the thinnest you would ever be, but instead of taking several hours to preen in front of a mirror before your date you spent the time ruminating over the table with a friend, who, unbeknownst to you, loved you. Instead of staying and finding comfort in her embrace you fled her kitchen for the date. Your hair was short and thick and unruly; you wore a black dress that hugged at your waist and highlighted your breasts. You were off to eat sushi with a man who knew all about it. You were off to eat sushi with the man you hoped would fill a void that seemed to have started growing the minute you were born.
You didn’t find him particularly attractive; in fact, anything but. But he was there and he talked about sushi as if he knew things about the world you had yet to access: rice seaweed vegetable and you had a feeling this man could unlock everything for you if you stayed by his side long enough. He was the glowing one out of his friends, many of whom had pursued you.
One date turned into several and you eventually decided to give him your virginity despite experiencing no real attraction because you felt at twenty it was probably time–better late than never. Despite eventually identifying strongly with progressive politics and becoming well known on the local scene, he will spend your early twenties doing things to your body you’re not sure you consent to; and when you confront him, he will tell you doesn’t matter, had sex.
Twenty dollars for the all-you can-eat-special. It becomes your go-to spot.
You hung on to this man despite the unwanted appendage in your orifices, despite the lack of respect for your boundaries. Sure, you tried to leave plenty of times and at first it was his charisma that drew you back in, cajoling you under a tree on a sunny college campus. Later on your attempts would lead to incredibly hot makeup sex, his cock hard and ramming into you with all of his anger. And after that, your efforts became deflated as you lost even more confidence in yourself and your ability to escape.
And if you’re honest, sometimes his lack of respect thrilled you because actual affection made you feel seen and your largest goal in life was to float through without being grounded in your body, undetected. You certainly floated through the relationship and lost yourself completely: the short hair you used to wear eventually hung to the middle of your back because you were too depressed to cut it, your body stretched and filled with rippling fat. You struggled to find work or maintain any kind of sexually appealing shape while he entered the start up world, did keto, and slowly merged from neckbeard into hip overnight. No one could have predicted it, his success over yours.
The only thing that really fulfilled you after years together was getting him to take you to expensive restaurants. You collected Food Network Star experiences (at one point, you even saw Emeril even though your boyfriend didn’t initially believe you.) Your boyfriend was most excited about going to Morimoto’s. It was there you get drunk off one drink very easily (oh how he hated when you drank, he loved reminding you that he smelled liquor on you.)
You started with the Kobe beef and although you would never tell anyone, you likely did it because it felt expensive and money was the only thing that filled you. A quick sear of the meat on either side until the smell of dead cow flesh filled the air; it was extremely meaty. A sprinkle of the provided salt. You were shocked, it was one of the only steaks you ever truly enjoyed in your life. Sometimes when you went out with him you ordered a steak, just to say you did: just to say that you were linked to a rich man, because at that point in your life, that was all you were. The music you used to love had slowly slipped through your fingers and you had certainly stopped writing. Sure, you did things you used to enjoy but was there any pleasure anymore when the days were beginning to fill with bickering and he barely wanted to fuck you anymore?
A huge platter of sushi arrived: there was no price limit. If you’re honest, you have never even liked raw fish. You legitimately enjoy a good veggie roll and will destroy tamago, but this extravagant experience was likely wasted on you. If asked years later he would likely agree; after this hellish relationship finally ended he moved to Portland to role-play as a very progressive man and he tells you that he doesn’t regret being with you because it “got him where he needed to be,” aka, it inspired him to enter the field he is in and make all of the wealth that he makes.
You were very drunk by the time the sushi arrived and you placed a piece in your mouth and the rice slowly unfolded and there was something very wrong, the flavor was off and very unenjoyable. It didn’t matter, you kept stuffing yourself despite being the largest you have ever been. Food and liquor and the periodic degrading sex were likely all that was left that thrilled you. When you finally murmured about the taste he clarified that all good sushi comes with real wasabi on it, and this was likely the cause of your disdain: whether it be the green dyed horseradish or the actual wasabi root, you have always hated anything labeled as such. You stop eating and allow him to finish. The chocolate globe that is melted as part of the interactive dessert is so incredibly bitter that it goes uneaten.
You went on a movie date with another man and you settled on the Asian fusion restaurant by the theater. This was the thing this man liked about you before you lost your new shimmer: that you went with him to movies, that you held onto his large bicep with both hands, that you began to sit through the closing credits because that was how he liked it despite your urge to flee before the crowd did.
He was not really an adventuresome or expensive eater like your ex was; both of your entrees came with miso soup and he asked what it was as he watched the limp seaweed float around in salty broth. You explained and he avoided the greenery, sipped at the broth, and pushed the remainder aside. He stared at the sushi on your plate and you did too: some veggie roll, crab stick, tamago, smoked salmon (he would always correct you, remind you the appropriate term is Lox, that any other term is an insult to Jewish people, an effort to erase their history.) Why did you even continue to identify with liking sushi? You really don’t. You had eaten the most expensive sushi locally and you had been treated to some of the best dishes in New York City. You don’t even strongly dislike it; you will and have eaten it, but it does not inspire any strong reaction. You just don’t like raw fish.
But you realized as you eat the tamago–delicate, fluffy, sweet, beautiful–that despite having trash taste, something about sushi was home and you were starting to realize (just as he was) that the man sitting across from you was not.
Now you are in your home, the apartment you spontaneously bought that has continued to produce more and more problems you cannot afford to fix. You still toy with the idea of poorly rating the real estate agent who hyped the place until after you signed the contract, when she turned to you to ask if you have family to help with all the problems (you don’t;) but you haven’t and you probably won’t. Voicing when people mistreat you has never been your strong suit.
But the cracks in the ceiling don’t bother you significantly anymore now that your movie buddy and his plebeian tastes have moved out; it’s easy to ignore when you aren’t forced to view everything through his hatred. The contractors are coming, and they’ll be replacing the old door that came ominously marked with an X; that old tenants and drug buyers still lurked around when you first moved in; that your ex-boyfriend still has a key to.
This is your home: no hip boy or abusive attorney present. Just you and the walls and the takeout that has been carrying you through the initial post-breakup period. The beach town you now live in leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to takeout, so you order from the sushi place 30 minutes away, grateful that Uber Eats has finally opened service in your area.
When the stir fried udon arrives it is still mercifully hot, and you slurp the noodles with wild abandon. Kitchen side options have always been your favorite, and udon is likely your favorite food in the world: the noodles are deliciously thick and chewy and stretchy, soaked in a salty sauce. The broccoli is still crunchy and fresh enough. You tear the shrimp out of the shells with your mouth, savoring the fresh seafood flavor. You allow yourself this delicious indulgence and find yourself happy to be alive.
Callie S. Blackstone writes both poetry and prose. Her debut chapbook sing eternal is available through Bottlecap Press. Her online home is calliesblackstone.com.