I know this is an odd post for the holidays but I am working on a personal essay for the BYU Studies contest and it is due Dec 31st. I was wondering if any of you would be willing to read over my rough draft and offer me some guidance, editing. Whatever you feel comfortable or have the time for would be great. I can email you the .doc if you would like. Just put your email in the comments section and I will send it your way. Thank you in advance.
Most everyone has heard this story. I have posted it in 2 different forms on this blog but this one is more personal and in depth than the 2 others. I love it. I think it is one of the best moments of my life. I hope I have captured it even a little.
(and don’t worry I don’t love it too much to be unwilling to have it critiqued).
How Spaghetti Changed My Life
The stack on my desk seemed to be screaming with each piece of paper “Go home” and yet the existence of the stack meant I could not go home. My boss Tanya had already read me the riot act about entering all the AP by the end of the day if you ‘can do something right’.
“I’m sorry. I will try” I mumbled. I had given up arguing with Tanya years before. She was convinced I was an idiot along with most everyone else in the office. If she had her druthers she would do everyone’s job because it would all finally be done right.
Normally I didn’t mind working late and doing the mind numbing work but today I had a reason I had to be out of there and the longer I stayed the more frustrated I felt. It was like each invoice was a slap in the face. I wanted to speed up but that would make for more mistakes so a slow well-done data entry was required. Ugh….
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Every now and then I would look at a photo of me at graduation and the excitement on my face would both inspire and confuse me. How had I ended up here? I wasnt supposed to be the girl with a stack of papers to enter and boss breathing down her neck, yet here I was
The truth is I looked around, interviewed and the only offer I had was to work in accounting for our corporate office. It was the last thing I ever imagined I’d be doing, balancing books and entering AP but it was a job and in 2008 you took what was offered and felt grateful.
It was never a great fit, but I worked hard and gained many new responsibilities. In fact, 2 people had quit and I had absorbed most of their work in addition to my own. This despite receiving little to no training and working with a manager who treated me like a bug she wished she could squash.
Somehow I had managed to last 2 years but each day I felt lower and more despondent about my life. It seemed like madness to quit my job and dive into nothingness but the staying was like one of those Roadrunner cartoons and I’m Wyllie Coyote getting hit with the anvils of misery and depression.
Indeed, God had told me to make a change many times. Prayer after prayer I heard the words ‘make a change’, but I set it aside as impossible. Sometimes I would ask God ‘how?’ ‘How does a sane person quit their job that has benefits in a recession? That’s nuts!’ but on the other end, ‘how does someone live life with a cloud surrounding their every movement, a cloud of stifled dreams and confusion that weighs you down until you want to cry.
So on this day, like many others, I continued down the pile until all the AP entry was done.
“There!” It was 6:30. I had worked overtime again but I had done it and at least Tanya knew that my 10 key was insanely fast, faster than hers, so if that’s how long it took me that was the fastest it could be done.
Of course she didn’t praise my speed but offered me a curt goodbye.
Like a prisoner getting a pardon, I grabbed my bag and raced home.
You see there was particular urgency to get home tonight because I had a meal to prepare. Most of the times I was too exhausted to cook, but when I did I loved to make a big to go of it. There is nothing grander than the large pot of soup simmering for hours or a turkey with crispy skin on the outside but moist meat on the inside. Yum! My roommates and I lived in the tiniest apartment in a basement with basically a bar-sized kitchen, but I could make masterpieces when given the encouragement.
Luckily such encouragement had come a few months before. My ward did a service auction every year to raise money for sub 4 Santa. It was something I had spearheaded many times, even in high school, and I would have liked to this year but I was too busy at work, especially in the busy holiday accounts and end of the year reconciling. January, the month of my birthday, was even worse. I thought about it with a shudder….
At the auction I didn’t know what to donate but I knew that many knew what a great cook I was so I offered up 3 meals of your choice made by Rachel Wagner. The bidding started and it was pretty brisk than Darren came through with the win. I must admit I groaned. He was the last person I wanted to win. Not because he wasn’t a nice guy but he was so boring. I had tried so many times to start up a discussion and nothing, no opinions or thoughts on anything! It kind of made me nuts (and not a nuts you kind of like him nuts, just nuts!).
After the auction I met up with Darren and I asked him what meals he would like.
“Well, whatever. I’m sure it will be great”
“No, it says your favorite 3 meals?” I pressed him further.
“I don’t really have a favorite”
“Ok. Is there something you don’t like?” I asked
“Mustard. I don’t like mustard”. I was honestly proud of the boy. An opinion had been shared for the first time in 2 years of our friendship. The boy didn’t like mustard! But that really doesn’t help me with my meal.
“Well, if you aren’t going to decide than I will. I will make my favorite 3 meals without mustard, which is basically all my favorite meals!”
So he agreed and I made a couple of unmemorable if tasty meals and tonight was the coup de gras- my favorite food period: spaghetti and meatballs with homemade marinara sauce.
This was to be a meal never to be forgotten. A sweet and spicy sauce with tender meatballs, spaghetti, parmesan cheese. Perfect.
I had done all the shopping beforehand but by the time I got home I had an hour to make the entire meal. My roommate doubted if I could pull it off and kindly said:
“Maybe we should just go out to eat”
“No! I’m tired of mediocre food. I had promised this meal to myself (and Darren) and I was going to get it!”
“Ok. Let’s help. I’m mixing the meat and then we will be rolling meatballs. Can you fill the pasta pot up with water and get started on the sauce?” I asked my roommate.
At this point my hands were submerged in meat. Going against the grain I used pork, beef and Italian sausage (which I realize is pork but different). Veal was out of my budget but the sausage has a bit of spice and tastes great.
I had learned that both dry and wet breadcrumbs are key to a moist meatball and a cookbook I read also suggested putting a tablespoon or two of water when you are mixing. How can water not make something moist!
Eventually the meat mixture was done and I started rolling. It was already 7 by then and I had just started. The sauce was bubbling and smelled great. My phone kept ringing but as long as it wasn’t Darren I kept my head down and rolled as fast as I could. Finally, after what seemed like forever it was done and the raw beauties sat out in front of me ready to go into my Dutch oven for browning.
The meat sizzled as it went into the hot oil and all the spice and fat smelled delicious. I felt myself deeply breathing in the glorious aromas and my cloud of anxiety and depression went away for a few minutes. I felt lightness and happiness I hadn’t felt in many months.
Unfortunately as I looked up the pasta water had boiled down to nothing and our kitchen looked like a sauna with the windows fogging up. So I filled the pot again and literally waited for it to boil. It really feels like it will never boil!
Eventually we had pasta cooking and I moved the meatballs into the sauce to cook together for a time. Darren was there by now, and he was giving my roommate his normal annoying answers- poor girl.
I cooked with a form of devotion veering on madness. This one thing in my life I would do perfectly right. I was tired of screwing up all the time and having my boss remind me of each and every last time. Goodness knows she’s totally ignorant of all that I do and how to do it so it’s easy to criticize me for my flaws.
I took a deep breath and said to myself ‘I need to not think about her the rest of the evening. No more’
Easier said than done but I sat down in a dining room chair waiting for the meatballs to finish cooking. I felt exhausted. My whole body hurt. My brain hurt. I was ready to hibernate for months, preferably until summer. I was totally spent.
Eventually the water bubbled up over the pan so I checked the pasta and it was al dente. The meatballs were cooked all the way through and we had a light salad made on the side. It was finally done and only 1 ½ hours late!
So we sat down my friends and I and said a prayer over the food and then dove in…
The spaghetti noodle rolled around my fork for a few minutes until it was about the size of the meatball. I cut the meatball in half and it became the perfect bite. As I feasted on all those flavors I tasted acid, sweet, earthy parmesan, hearty pasta. The meatballs were light and full of flavor. Everything was delicious and I said to myself:
“This is the best meal I have ever made and I feel sublimely happy. I feel like I could conquer the world!”
And then in one of those moments of clarity we all have in life, I looked up at my friends and said
“Why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”. The question hung in the air like the steam from the boiling water.
Indeed, why wasn’t the rest of my life as good as this amazing plate of pasta? I had every life advantage and there was no reason to be miserable all the time. It was a question I pondered on for many weeks. Eventually I realized that I could either be keep being unhappy and have a true nervous breakdown (already had a panic attack so it was coming) or I could start having joyous experiences again. I could find things that make me as happy as that spaghetti.
So I quit. I quit and I’ve never looked back. It was the best decision of my life and it was all from a bowl of spaghetti.
6 thoughts on “How Spaghetti Changed My Life”
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That’s so nice of you to do especially on Christmas eve. Will work on making it more of a personal essay
I think what you’ll be doing with your essay may be something like an object lesson I presented many years ago during Primary Sharing Time, and subsequently repeated for a Relief Society lesson. I used a cookie recipe as an example of obedience to the commandments. Both demonstrations were successful, but more importantly, they were effective: Not only had the lessons held the attention of the children and the adults, but also behavior had been changed, as I learned later on.
It’s an interesting episode that I think can show how a new-found appreciation for a talent to make something good, and to make something good happen in your life, empowered you to develop your ability “to act for [yourself] and not to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14, 26).
BTW, after mailing you, I was inspired to get up and make a big pan full of meatballs and tomato sauce! My sons and I had it for supper tonight, with my recipe for gluten-free pasta.
I love that! Wish I had plate of that right now. Yum