This weekend I’ll be making a Boston Cream Pie to take to a friend’s home for Easter. I’ve made this particular cake a bunch of times. Both with really good results (I still feel thrills when I remember my sister in law saying it was the best birthday cake ever made for her) and bad ones (The sloppy mess I took to our friend’s home in RI when I was 8 months pregnant. Usually I’m a baking perfectionist but that day I didn’t give a crap and told them don’t worry about looks, it would still taste fine). And every time I head into the kitchen to make something more complicated than chocolate chip cookies I think of Elinor.
Back in the early 2000s I was speeding towards an emotional breakdown. I’d gone to college for acting and yet I only went on three or so auditions after graduation. Was I unbelievably lazy? Well, maybe. I was also completely paralyzed by fear and anxiety. And over time this paralysis extended to other parts of my life until I was well on my way to being a house bound agoraphobic. Not surprisingly this put a tremendous strain on my marriage, and on all the other relationships in my life.
During that really terrible time I started to cook and discovered I really loved it. My cousin was going to culinary school and thought about externing with a small bakery that made high end wedding cakes. Turns out it wasn’t for her, but she called me and said I should look into it. I started interning about two times a week and I loved it. The woman who owned the company loved that I was a hard worker. After a few months she offered me a part time job. I explained to her that I was dealing with a really bad anxiety problem, there were days I couldn’t leave the house, I was medicated etc. etc. etc. She said I seemed fine to her and it wasn’t a problem.
Eventually I was splitting time between her and another small bakery. I gave the same speech to the owner of the second bakery when she hired me and she too, seemed cool with my situation. After a few months the first woman couldn’t handle my anxiety fuelled absences and she let me go. It was the first and only time I’ve been fired. And it ended up being a pretty soft firing. Some of her equipment was at the second bakery and she still needed me to roll cookies out for her on her sheeter. Every time I rolled them I felt a huge sense of shame as I thought about how I had let this woman down.
I was spending more time at the second bakery as my life was really falling apart around me. Zeke and I were not doing well at all. But Elinor was giving me more and more responsibility at work. She traveled to Israel for about a month twice a year and when she was gone I ran the tiny little company. She trained me to do everything in her absence. There were really bad times when I called out a lot. I’d always tell her she should fire me, I was worthless; I was going to end up causing her a lot of trouble. She totally shouldn’t have trusted me; I mean no one trusted me at that point. Zeke didn’t, my friends didn’t. I was completely unreliable.
I think back to that time feel sick to my stomach. All those acquaintances I had who surely thought I was a terrible person have no way of knowing I got better. I think of the wedding ceremony for friends of Z that I missed, although I was able to get there for the reception. Or another couple who wed during that period-never even responded to the invite. Or the close friend that got me a freelance job that I completely fucked up. Z’s friends thought I was dead weight and felt bad for Z because he had to give excuse after excuse for my behavior. When I did venture into public I tried really hard to appear completely normal, so many of these people had no idea that I was a suicidal anxiety-ridden emotional wreck. They just thought I was a loser.
Through all this crap, the worst time in my life, Elinor would tell me again and again “I believe in you”. It blew my mind. I would try and convince her she was wrong. I didn’t believe in myself. Zeke didn’t believe in me, or even like me anymore. My parents didn’t believe in me. My friends didn’t. Again, no one trusted me.
But, when push came to shove, when she was in Israel and I was the only one there to get stuff done I didn’t let her down. I still don’t understand it. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it didn’t. I’m not saying that Elinor single handedly got me well. There was the medication and the battery of therapists, but I do believe she was a huge part of it. Because when I didn’t let her down I realized I might not be completely worthless.
I suck at keeping in touch with people. When we moved to RI I was spotty about returning her calls (residual anxiety stuff, I’m still bad with the phone) and eventually she moved back to Israel. But I think about her all the time. I miss her. I love her and will always love her for what she did for me. Heck, I even look up to her a great deal—she is awesome. A kick ass Israeli who did her time in the army, jumped out of planes for fun, is drop dead gorgeous and very fashion forward, skinny as a rail, smoked cigarettes like her life depended on it, she is the kind of girl other girls want to be. And on top of it she is kind and trusting. She has faith in people. Thank God I was lucky enough to cross paths with her.