They look like little fireflies, all the lights on their copper string, haphazardly twisted and stuffed inside clear mason jars. In the garage since last winter, one set’s lights keep blinking. Maybe it’s the batteries, maybe it’s the hand that made them, mine; they are, after all, crafted inelegantly, imprecisely, using no one’s instructions. Maybe that’s the way I’ve always learned everything, first through the failure of my own hands. Then, again, when I kept trying until I got it right.
One year I bake four types of cheesecake with specialty crusts for someone because he tells me a story about not being able to eat the cake at his own birthday. I don’t really care about celebrating my own except in milestone years. I’m not into presents, nor that kind of attention. For years I combined my birthday with first one friend’s and then another’s as a way of fading instead to the background. But this man cares. Like my husband, whose birthday was four days after Christmas, who hated it when people would combine Christmas and his birthday together, cared. But my husband is dead and I can’t make a birthday special for him again, so instead for a week I spend each night baking something safe for this other man to eat. I don’t know what kind he’ll like, so instead I make eight.
Of these, two failures end up in the trash before the party while two mediocre ones get sent to work. Truth is, I can’t follow a recipe and baking’s the kind of cooking you most need to for. It takes me this many tries to get it right. The cheesecake that is, if nothing else. There is forgiveness in cooking. There, if you get the instructions wrong, you start over. And unless it is your job, no one cares how many times you started over as long as in the end there was food on the table and the food was good.
Below the television in my home on a red shelf there are tiny white ceramic houses and white bottlebrush trees and some kind of village I have made from them, and behind the tiny houses there are white lights on copper string in mason jars, one set flickering, and as I sit there watching them in the dark, I do not care that they are broken. I think that the flickering looks snow on all the small houses or maybe tiny, impossible stars, and it’s beautiful. I might fix them in the morning. Then again, I might not. Perhaps I’ll leave them instead as reminder, of how someday I’d like to be loved enough to be given the chance to keep trying.
Even if I never, not precisely, not exactly, not perfectly, get it right.