(I am no Drew Barrymore, though.)
On my last night working a closing dinner shift at The Kitchen, I waited for Zac to finish his closing managing duties. He was giving me a ride home, because we live together, because we are dating, and we have been living together since I've been back in Denver. My usual waiting spot is on the stairs leading down to the main dining room, because I like to watch the people on 16th Street and the music is still loud in that part of the restaurant at this time of night. On this night I chose to wait in the wine room. My gaze drifted to the door of the wine cellar, and I thought about the moment I had just a few hours before.
The door into the wine cellar at The Kitchen is ridden with mirrors. In the moments after pre-service and before dinner service began at TKD, I stood inches away from these mirrors and pulled my hair back with a hair tie that was stretched to its max. I reached into my pocket for my chapstick, and as I applied it I had a flood of memories of the past five months.
The cellar door has been my threshold between two lives I've had since November. It has been the barrier between the truth and my lies. At the start of almost every shift, I have wondered how much of my ritual of watching myself apply chapstick was habitual and how much was necessary. I scanned the mirrors and wondered if the door was one big mirror, or actually broken up into 8 individual mirrors. Underneath it, I’m almost sure, is one piece of glass, crafted to appear as if it’s several. My life had been like this mirror. I definitely had 8 little lies - at times it felt like 800, part of one master lie. At the time of my breaking point, three weeks earlier, I couldn’t keep track of them. I won’t know if that glass is one piece or eight unless I throw something at one of them and cause a shatter.We would either get one panel to shatter, or the cracks would spread across much of the door, and then we would finally know. I would finally know if ruining it would ruin just one part of the door, or if it would hurt the entire piece. I never did that to the mirror, but I did it to my life at The Kitchen. And it ended up shaking me harder than I thought it would. It ended up hurting my entire piece.
A few posts ago I wrote about the moment I told Giselle I was going to write a book. The sun had just set behind the mountains of Ouray and the breeze was unseasonably warm, and quite welcomed after our frigid nights in Crested Butte. The start of my relationship with Zac Sanders started moments after that. Truth lies in details, and though I’m not going to write about all details of the start of that relationship, I will share that he's the only person I kept in constant contact with when I was away, and he asked me to dinner the first night I was back in Denver. Four days later was my first day back at The Kitchen, but I had filled those four days with almost constant time with Zac, and an important coffee date with Alice, whom I had spilled my details to on a patio over a cup of coffee that got cold before I drank it, because there were so many "I know!" and "I'm so happy!" and "This is crazy!" and "...My wildest dream!" and "Oh my god." and "I knew it." Alice and I had always had an easy, close friendship from the very beginning, but that afternoon she became a pillar that I would lean on, cry to, and talk with me when I was sure I was going to burst at the seams, or when I was full of tears and wanting to go back to California.
I had a plan for moving back to Denver. I was going to build my car out and live out of it. I was going to be one of those not-so-dirty-dirtbag-climbers. I was going to focus on writing, I was going to get my climbing strength back and I was not going to forget any of the important things I had learned. But there I was, pushing the chapstick into my already moisturized lips and wondering why, in the past five months, I hadn’t written anything down.
Alice covered for me, and with me, for months. My coworkers thought Alice and I were roommates – that I’d stay with her when the nights got cold, and not in my car. There were stories that we made Christmas cookies on our days off and had TV marathons together because truth lies in the details. I don’t think I would have cared so much if I didn’t consider the people at The Kitchen my family. Sometimes it didn’t bother me, but most days I felt my throat crushing because I couldn’t talk about what I had done on my days off. I had to lie when people asked me what I did for Thanksgiving, and I had to listen with a heavy heart to Zac describe his holiday without mentioning me, even though that was my holiday experience, too. When I wrote that blog post about going back to Moab I had to take him out of my words, and I couldn't tell people about how we got a Christmas tree together. Several times I couldn’t stop it from building up to an eruption because to keep everything inside is not who I am. I couldn’t write about it directly, so I tried to write about it secretly. I tried to share experiences through my writing by just giving details and not the other parts of the truth. I wanted to write what I was really thinking and feeling standing on the corner of Seventeenth street with it's missing gold 'E'. But I couldn't give you the truth in those details. I wasn't allowed to. I wanted to write about how I didn't know if I was being a strong person or a weak person.
But I found secrecy and solace by slipping into the wine cellar.
It's a greeting of cool air, the dim light and idea of being surrounded by bottles of knowledge that I know I will never fully grasp. My situation felt as impossible to understand as every aspect of every bottle, and it was a comfortable place to let go and give up.
For a long time I would be leaning against the door, arms crossed and telling Scroggins that I “just can’t do it anymore” and “it’s too hard” and “no one understands” and “I’m so fucking sick of lying to everyone” and “I feel like people would be happy, though?” and “I can’t feel like this anymore” and “what am I doing here?” and “Scroggins I’m so sad” and “what am I going to do when you leave?” because Scroggins and I knew each others’ secrets long before anyone else.
On New Year’s Eve, Kirsten dragged me by the arm into the wine cellar and we talked about her breakup and she urged me to kiss my boyfriend at midnight. We giggled and almost set him up for it, until I panicked and remembered that Zac didn’t really know that Kirsten knew we were dating, so I scratched the whole plan. Instead, I'd stand with a glass of champagne at midnight and feel more alone than I had in a long time - on my favorite holiday, nonetheless. Stepping out of the wine cellar I took a deep breath and checked myself back into the role of just-another-server. Every time I did that I felt my Self being chipped away, and a wild range of emotions.
Some time in February Kirsten and I were given an order of burrata that was extra, and we hurried it into the wine cellar and managed to eat it in roughly 30 seconds, with a riveting conversation of:
How are you?
Because those are the kinds of conversations servers have to have. And with the concealment of the wine cellar, Kirsten knew what my shrug meant. And I knew what her "Same." meant.
A few weeks later it’d be one of my last shifts with Scroggins, and I’d be eating part of his sandwich in the wine cellar and Caitlin would come in, and with a startled look, say “What, are you guys just eating in here?” and Scroggins and I would look at each other, shrug, and say a synchronized “…yeah.”
I once had the wine cellar to myself and was, for lack of a better term, losing it. Through the window I saw Zach Byers striding toward the wine cellar, most definitely on the hunt for a certain bottle. I slipped through the second door in the wine cellar to hang out with the white wine and cross my fingers that he was going for a red. I have to assume he had, because he was in and out in a flash. I exhaled relief, and shortly followed his exit. Some people are easy to lie to, but Byers wasn’t, not for me. It ripped me apart every time I did it, and a part of me still hates myself for it. That night I took two bottles of white wine and held them to my eyes, the chill settling down the puffiness from tears, because I couldn't be on the other side of that door and be who I was.
Sometime before that I’d be standing at the computer in the Chef’s room with Scroggins and my hands would be on my hips, and I’d be staring at a light fixture and he would ask “How many people know?” And I would tip my head back slightly, rub my moisturized lips together, hold my tears in my eyes and say “I don’t know.” And we’d lock eyes and without words he would say “…Fuck.” And I would say “I know.”
Like its exterior that is broken up with the dark blue wooden trim, the life of a lie that I was trying to present had to be broken up with bursts of truth that came out on the other side of its door. The door to the wine cellar is actually striking. Though it’s broken up into several panels, the image it reflects registers in the mind as one beautiful whole. And that’s what we all want, right? For people to see our lives as one whole piece, put together and reflecting us in a positive way, despite the rigid interruptions. There's the argument that life is beautiful with those rigid interruptions - perhaps it needs them to be beautiful. I doubt that door would be as striking if it was one piece of uninterrupted glass. But that's an idea that doesn't come to fruition until your rigid interruptions are smoothed out and consecutive. The difficult part is that you don't know when that will be. In fact, the absolute time it happens is generally undetectable.
And I’m here – I’ve always been here, in this small corner of the internet – to remind people that you can know what goes on, what went on, behind that closed cellar door.
As I sat there, staring at the mirrored door, I felt alone. Zac came around the corner with "Ready, baby?" I smiled very small and nodded, even though on several levels I was not ready to go. "What are you doing in here?" A valid question, as I was just sitting by myself in silence and dark. I responded with "Nothing", and as he did a final lap to check all doors were locked, I wondered if the door to the wine cellar was ever locked. It must be, some of the time. You can't always flutter between two lives.