by Anna Koppelman
This is what I want: bread. And I want it to be warm. Warm, and golden, with lines running through the top of it. Good bread that crunches when you bite into it, that reveals itself soft. Soft, and warm, warmed ideally in a panini press—leaving it just the right amount of charred.
I want to hold the bread in my fingers and pull it apart, feeling the savory crumbs on my fingertips, placing a small piece in my mouth, letting the texture unravel itself. And I want that bread to be dripping with butter. Lots of butter. Gooey, warm butter, on flaky, soft, crunchy, bread. And I want to eat a loaf of it while watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy—Lexi Grey era Grey’s anatomy. And I want to be having sex, perhaps in between the slices of bread and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
Bread, I miss bread. I haven’t had bread since I broke up with my 8th grade boyfriend. Oh, Max Kleinberger, with his then-slightly-chubby body and his nose, which got bloody little too often. He asked me out while I held a tray of cupcakes and told me he loved me on the corner of 76th and West End. We sent emoji hearts back and forth for a few weeks.
Like any tragic breakup, ours could be told from two points of view, which basically simmer down to some key facts.
Fact one: I got pneumonia, and he said he still wanted to make out with me—a gesture that I now look back on as the epitome of romance, but at the time, I saw it as him clearly missing the point that I had pneumonia and couldn’t giggle without serious pain being inflicted on my chest. Fact two: this whole incident caused us to begin to fizzle out.
Fact three: He stood me up, and tried to use the lame excuse that his babysitter wouldn’t let him out. In retrospect, it is plausible that this was true.
Fact four: my mom told me I had no other choice than to break up with him. And then, of course …
Fact five: WE WERE IN THE 8TH GRADE.
It was dramatic: I cried, he cried, we both accused the other of being the bad characters in Taylor Swift songs. Did I mention we were in middle school? We moved on; it was semi-peaceful, I gave him chocolate covered pretzels as a final parting gift. Old wounds die hard. This all went down around two years before he proclaimed I was too ugly to touch in front of my 9th-grade physics class—an affront my therapist told me to “throw a funeral for” about 200 insurance claims ago.
Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked from the initial focus of this essay, which is bread. Bread, I loved bread. Just like Oprah. But there was this rash, on my face and arms and stomach. It wouldn’t go away. And it itched. The rash, plus the stomach aches, plus the fact that this was 2014 and I live in New York City. Everyone told me it was time I went gluten-free. It was time to give up bread. So I did.
I want to make it very clear here that bread is not a metaphor for Max Klineburger. I see why it may read that way—after all, both bread and Max won my prepubescent heart over just to abandon it. But only one of them gave me a constant rash and diarrhea. Luckily for both Max and me, I am talking about the bread. And yes. I just made an STD joke about a middle school relationship where I made the guy wait a month before we kissed because I was that kind of girl.
Ah, my first kiss. It was the perfect combo of awkward, slobber, and romance. We were on a park bench. It was nine at night. I was wearing strawberry lip gloss. It was some titillating stuff. Max was my first boyfriend, and first ex-boyfriend. He was also the first person who ever truly hated me. Or at least disliked me enough to tell people not to invite me to parties, who mimed throwing up while I performed a slam poem, who would make jokes about me just close enough so I could hear my name and everyone else’s laughter.
There was a moment in time when he sat with me while tears fell from my eyes over middle school mean girls, and then he transformed into the bully himself. Which is why when I met a girl at a party, and she asked where I went to school and I told her, I was so surprised when she made the connection. It was an hour into a conversation on mean guys. She laughed, she had met Max; he had told her about me. He said I hated him. He was telling her about this girl at his school who writes. Who hasn’t been able to forgive him for the shitty things he did to her when they were in 9th grade. He said he was awful to you; he said that he has grown, he says you would never be able to understand that.
That’s how I ended up thinking about bread. Everybody likes bread. Maybe, if Israelis and Palestinians could sit down next to each other and first discuss how great bread is, peace could begin to be brokered. If someone thought to sit the Capulets and Montagues next to each other with a loaf of bread between them … maybe no one would have had to die. Which is what I almost said as I stood next to him in front of the elevator:
I want bread. Biologically, we all want to eat bread, and to have sex. I’ll admit maybe Grey’s Anatomy is a personal preference.
But I didn’t. Because, how is a teen boy expected to respond to a teen girl telling him she wants to consume carbohydrates and fornicate? But mainly, because, just like forgiveness, bread is something you do for you.