Late summer blistered outside my third floor apartment that year, the sun canting through the western-facing picture window. And I was making a pie.
I had just turned 30. Startled by the new decade and the man with a sweet tooth I started seeing that spring, I decided it was time. Enlisting my friend Lisa, who can make a fluted piecrust that would make a food editor weep, we set up in my tiny galley kitchen, a flat of peaches from Colorado’s western slope at the ready.
As big as softballs and sweet as jam, Palisade’s peaches sell on street corners, at farmer’s markets, at greenhouses. Stores flog them in ad circulars. Stone fruit of legend, they are the Santa Claus of summer in the Centennial State, their corpulent, succulent flesh a treat that eases the sting of back-to-school and the coming earnestness of autumn.
We fold Crisco into a white nimbus of flour, adding just enough ice water, then blend it with a fork until it transforms into doughy crumbles. I am making the pie for Mitch, who has been backpacking in Wyoming for a week and who loves few things more than pie.
We roll out the crust on the round cutting board my grandfather made, his initials and date carved in the handle, balancing it on the sliver of counter in my kitchen. The glutinous crust sticks to the rolling pin, which I re-powder with flour, rolling and pressing and stretching it into an amorphous pie shape.
I am somewhat ambivalent about this pie thing; there is flour everywhere, the front of my t-shirt is dusted white. When I wipe the hair from my eyes, flour clouds my glasses. Lisa and I were sweating.
I did and did not miss Mitch while he was hiking in the Wind Rivers. My week proceeded as many had before he started coming to my apartment, opening the fridge to see what there might be to eat. What was he hoping for? Leftover lasagna? A full turkey dinner? Typically a six-pack of Diet Coke and a shriveled carrot greeted him, and maybe a jar of pickles.
The week passed. Work. Thesis, stacks of unruly papers and my little XT computer crowding my dining room table. Work. An aerobics class wearing a leotard. St. Elsewhere on TV. A call from an ex-boyfriend, whose advances I rebuffed, when I went to his place to collect a book.
“I’m seeing someone,” I said, allowing the hug but pushing away from the kiss.
“So how much do you like him?” he wheedled, trying to pull me onto his porch swing.
“Jeezus, I like him.” God, that guy was always so handsy.
“Is it serious?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
I left. I had a pie to make.
The night I met Mitch, he was wearing a Willi Wear jacket, his black curly hair touching his shoulders. He seemed hip and self-assured, like a successful filmmaker, someone who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable chatting him up. When he said he was a software developer, I was disappointed, “bor-ring.”
But he did give me the time of day, sticking close by me as the group of friends we were with traveled to a gallery opening then to a nearby dive bar. At the gallery, we held plastic cups filled with acrid white wine. I told him I had grown up with my parents and my grandparents. He mentioned how much he cared about his Papa Louis. I was tingling. This man had a soul.
He asked for my phone number and if he could call me. I gave him my card, simple, vertical, black and white. He was impressed. At the bar, I forced quarters into the juke box, punching every Frank Sinatra tune I could find, “Summer Wind,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “New York, New York.”
“Do you like the Chairman of the Board?” I asked, testing him.
“He’s OK,” he said, indicating that he favored the blues. He drove me to my car in his five-year-old grey Toyota Camry. I liked that he drove a reliable, anonymous dad- vehicle and not a flashy sports car.
He called two days later, and we made a plan. The night before we went out on our first date, a tarot card reader told me it wouldn’t go anywhere because my entrance requirements were tougher than Harvard’s. I knew she was wrong. This man was going to be my boyfriend. I’d already figured out he wasn’t boring.
Weeks later in the flush of new romance, Mitch showed me a handful of CD’s he bought for his collection, thinking I would like them. Patsy Cline. Ben Webster. The Neville Brothers. And I did. Like them.
He wasn’t a writer or an academic. Or an alcoholic. He wasn’t part of the male oeuvre I knew. He loved hiking, camping and backpacking. He read the business section of the newspaper and few books. He had a side t-shirt business. And he was direct to the point of bluntness. When I asked if he was a faithful person, he said, “Yeah, I’m pretty good at that.” I believed him.
One mid-summer evening, he came over to my apartment, the sun setting over the mountains, casting pink across the sky and purple shadows in the corners. He sat on the arm of my sofa.
“What are we doing here?” he asked.
My heart sank. But I didn’t know what we were doing, either. “I’m kind of waiting around to see if I fall in love,” I said. “What about you?”
We talked about our differences. I told him I thought I wanted someone more intellectual. He thought he wanted someone more athletic.
We sat there, the sky darkening.
“I just want to see what happens,” I said, tears stinging my eyes.
He said, “I think you’re a really good person”
We both pulled back a little. This didn’t feel like Ravel’s Bolero, rainbows and chocolate croissants. This felt like life.
I backpacked with him into the Indian Peaks Wildness area, a soft rain dripping off my old army rain jacket. The pack was heavy and unwieldy though Mitch carried most of the gear. We set up camp during a break in the rain; I saw how uptight he was about his gear. Cold and shocked by the enforced intimacy of a wet weekend in the woods, I hid in the tent, my nose in a book, afraid of bears, and him, and the future.
The summer began to wane, and we continued to spend time together. When he called, he asked questions about my day—the first man in my life ever to do so. He remembered what I told him. I introduced him to my parents over dinner and brownie sundaes at a restaurant near where we both lived.
After a mountain bike ride one weekend where I performed miserably and he had been nattering on about a move to Boise, our differences stood in stark relief. I burst into tears, gulping air and sobbing. He held me tight and asked, “Are you falling in love with me?”
I nodded, wiping snot from my nose, realizing for the first time how he had entered my heart and taken residence.
“That’s OK,” he said, looking at me. “I’m in love with you, too.”
So there I was on a hot Sunday afternoon making this kinetic, long-haired film-maker imposter a pie. Lisa showed me how to fold the dough into the tin, pressing it to the sides and trimming the ragged edges. We chopped the peaches, sprinkled them with flour and cinnamon and sugar and poured them into the dough’s embrace. We folded the edge of the pie over and crimped it. Deftly Lisa used her thumb and forefinger to create a decorative fluting.
I tried mimicking her actions. Where her fluting looked camera-ready, mine looked more like a pie made of mud. But as I pinched wonky edges around those glistening peaches, my heart swelled. Love is doing. Love is action. It’s a verb like play and trust and give. It’s opening your heart with your hands, putting them to work doing for another, for the sheer pleasure of his pleasure. It was so obvious. The noun of love was so beside the point.
We examined the finished pie.
“It doesn’t look so bad,” Lisa offered.
I slid the dessert into the hot oven. The pastry and fruit released their sweet-tart, bready scent as the pie began to cook.
It was far from perfect. That pie taught me more than how to make a proper crust.
Now 27 years later another peach season is upon us. Riding his bike home from work, Mitch buys them on sale, carrying them home in his panniers. In the morning when I get up, there’s coffee made and half a peach waiting for me and my cereal.