i am both the baker and the cookie
WRITTEN BY MELISSA BOBERG
DECEMBER 6, 2O2O
from may to september, i made oatmeal cookies at least a dozen times. each time, i got dangerously close to burning them - almost as if each batch was more daring, tempting closer to flame than the last. only once, though, did i set off the smoke alarm.
i’ve always thought that june looks different every year. i remember telling you that, once - how june was the most unpredictable month - i could never tell if it was spring or summer. i remember how blankly you stared back at me, and how it was then that i realized: you were always one of those people who was unaffected by the seasons, who woke up everyday and it was fall or it was winter. it was all the same to you whether the sun was up when you ate dinner or not.
it’s june the day i set off the smoke alarm - it’s hot outside, but you still need a sweatshirt once the sun sets. i’m in the kitchen, and the cookies are in the oven, and i’m dancing around to songs i’ve always known. i’m in a sweatshirt and shorts - weather confused, you tell me, am i hot or am i cold? without answering your question, i try to tune you out through my headphones. sometimes i think it’s easier to play and replay the same albums - even if they don’t impress me anymore, at least i already know the words.
the oven is at 375, and the cookies are supposed to stay in for 15 minutes. still, when i check them at the 15th minute, they don’t seem done - they could handle a little more time in the heat, i reason, just to be sure. apathetically, i shrug and leave them inside the oven. those who are serious bakers will say that what you bake are little pieces of you - that you are inside of everything you make. i wonder what serious bakers would say about me, about why i let pieces of myself burn while i turn around and keep dancing to the same song.
i don’t realize that i’ve let things get too far until the smoke alarm starts blaring. why is it that i can’t recognize something is wrong until it’s already on fire?
i open the oven before i turn it off, so as i lean down my head is level with the cookies - i am just as hot as they are. why is it that i can’t trust the internal until i have external proof?
as i am there, squatting with my face just inches away from the cookies that i let catch fire, my face feels a burn almost the same as they did. i let myself get red with heat. i could stand up and walk away so that my face could cool down and take the batteries out of the smoke alarm so that my ears could get some relief. why won’t i?
why do i let myself burn to a crisp before i recognize that i’m hot?
i am someone who makes a big deal out of all things, and i spent a lot of time thinking that this was a negative attribute. now, i think it might be fair for me to scream when i find my skin is on
fire and the air fills with smoke and i’m standing there in the kitchen and i’m laying there on a rack completely exposed to the original source of the heat - it might be fair for me to scream when i have to do everything all at once and someone else is just standing there.
you come into the kitchen as the smoke alarm blares. you don’t turn the oven off, either. instead, you tell me i should’ve seen this coming. sure, i think, but at the same time, couldn’t you have warned me?
i’m still being serenaded by songs about winter even though it’s june. i chose to wear shorts even though it’s nighttime and the windows are open, so i feel somewhat cold even as my face nears dangerously close to the oven. sometimes, i think i am perpetually confused. at the same time, i think i always knew what i needed to do.
even though it’s after sunset, i’m daydreaming.
as it often happens, my daydreams lead me to think about how people will talk about me when i leave the room or when i leave the earth. i wonder if i’m still choosing to kneel in front of the oven or if i am laying on the tray. how long will it take me to just finally take out the cookies?
one day i’ll finally make the perfect cookie. i’ll take it out at 15 minutes even though i was never one to follow directions, or i’ll add the perfect one-cup scoop of oats even though i was never one for measurements. i’ll knock on all my neighbor’s doors, holding the tray of cookies, and i’ll offer one to everyone - like it’s a little piece of me.
these are different, you’ll say once i get to your door with the tray, and i know you’re the only one who will say this because i know you’re the only one who knew the cookies used to be on fire. i resist the urge to tell you again that you should’ve warned me. instead, i think about the day when the cookies will be perfect, and when you’ll be surprised to see me. you’ll tell me about how i never come around anymore, and then you’ll look down at the tray to see the golden-brown little desserts. plus, you’ll say that i don’t look the same as i used to.
after a few minutes, the smoke alarm batteries die. i reach over and grab a towel with which to remove the cookies without burning my hand. i stand up, and i turn off the oven. the cookies are burnt entirely. you find your way behind me, mumble something about them probably being fine, and reach over my shoulder to grab one.
i block your hand. instead, i pick one up myself, break it in half, and bring it to my mouth. as i expected, it burns to the touch, and tastes like it has been engulfed in flames. i chew it, and swallow, until it has just become an internal part of my body - just as hot as the insides of my stomach. when did we merge?
as often happens, i think about how my body is more of just a temporary physical coat for what’s inside. is it stupid if i wanted it to matter to you somehow?
you should go home, i tell you. they’ve been burnt before, sure, but i’ve never let the cookies catch on fire before. never before have i let them cross that threshold. you should go, i repeat, omitting the last word this time. i realize i don’t care where.
you blame me for doing it this time, and in a way i blame me too. at the same time, i’m the one on fire and you’re the one holding the match. was it my fault?
i’ve concluded that it doesn’t really matter who’s around to talk about me in the future, especially when it sort of seems like impending doom is lying above us. still, there’s sugar inside of a cookie even if you burn it. i’m still sweet, but i’ve also been on fire. at least while i’m here, i’d rather be the type of person who sets off the smoke alarm every night than the person who’s never seen a fire or never been warm. i think one day i’ll learn how to be warm without catching on fire. i think, also, that maybe i’ll exist forever as a little warm flame inside of whoever remembers me.