It was a hell of a fall season. I had been living with my boyfriend for about a year, a move I made to nudge him into what I considered real commitment, a move which never works in any relationship. Unsurprisingly, things had reached their end. The break up itself was civilized and decent, just a regular conversation in the kitchen of a less-than-ideal apartment I thought was going to be my home for many years to come. It was an apartment I was thrilled to be living in because it meant cheap rent and living with the person I loved. We hashed out the details of ‘why we don’t work’ in that same kitchen I had painted two different shades of red to cover up the hideous half-completed sponge paint project a former roommate had started and abandoned halfway through. A red kitchen to match all the other loud, bright colors in the apartment – a mustard yellow bedroom, a cobalt blue living room, red kitchen. I called it the Primary Color apartment. It was in that red kitchen that, without knowing it at the time, I had my first real glimpse of who I was to become.
I had been feeling this coming for many weeks as I tried to get my partner to open up about what could be wrong, what IS wrong, and how do we fix it. I may have expected this but it did not make it hurt any less. The days and weeks that followed the break-up were one that tested me in every way. I was fired from a volunteer position for not committing enough time to the endeavor. One morning as I went to drive to work, I came out to see my car’s windshield had been smashed with weights, lying on the sidewalk next to my car. I rang in my 30th birthday in that red, red kitchen, four weeks after we had broken up, because you see – we were still living together. NYC real estate being what it is, I didn’t want to be locked into a terrible lease in (another) terrible apartment, this time with who knows what kind of terrible people. Or so I thought at the time.
I eventually found a beautiful place not too far from where we had been living. This apartment had lots of natural light, polished hardwood floors, and freshly painted cream walls. I accepted within 30 minutes of viewing it. I had only ever known Astoria, Queens to be my New York City home and no amount of personal heartbreak was going to change my love for the neighborhood. I settled into my new apartment as I also settled into two new jobs I had started around the time my relationship was ending. Everything in my life was new and nothing was the same as it had been just months before, including my love of fall baking. How could I feel inspired to create and bake when I literally did not know how to define myself anymore? Not only that, now I had no one to share it with. No friends (his friends remained his friends), an apathetic roommate whom I did not know, and no real desire to do anything except figure out what life was to be now.
Time went by as it does, and I started figuring out my new world and my place in it. It was fall again, and I had a year’s worth of growth under my belt. I had a lovely new roommate. Work had been going well and I was looking forward to starting another school year teaching private voice lessons. Most importantly, I was baking again. That’s how I really knew I was getting back to myself.
I had grown up in a household where baking was at the center, specifically chocolate chip cookies. These cookies went everywhere with us – to my dance classes, to my Girl Scout meetings, 4-H meetings, play rehearsal – I mean everywhere. There was not, nor is there now, a person in my small town that has not had one of these famous chocolate chip cookies. Baking and sharing was just our family way. It is a part of my DNA, just like those cookies that are referred to by everyone as our last name – Heitmann Cookies.
The problem with two fall seasons worth of baking pouring out of you at once is you end up with a LOT of sweets, more than one or two people can really eat on their own. It occurred to me that I hadn’t visited the local deli in a while, a while being a year, and the reason being because it was one of my ex’s favorite spots to grab lunch. I reasoned that a deli like that knows and appreciates good food, and would appreciate if I were to share some of my baked goods with them.
Can you really know when something is going to change your life? I certainly had no idea that a simple act of kindness would shape the rest of my life in ways I’ve never imagined. I shared those mini pumpkin cheesecakes with the people who worked there. I came back and shared pumpkin bread, and butternut squash soup, and of course, chocolate chip cookies. I got to know the people who worked there and had a small exchange with one employee that changed the way I view my fellow human. My sharing gesture had made a difference to her life. My eyes were opened to a world of kindness possibilities, all because of a cookie.
I knew this couldn’t be the last time I felt this rush of goodness. I had made a positive impact on someone and knew I wouldn’t be able to stop; it felt too good to make someone else feel lifted up and thought of. It made sense to me that I would continue connecting with my neighborhood by using the best conduit I knew of – a chocolate chip cookie. I had a taste of what my life could be, and I decided to chase after that with all I had. Single Girl Cookies was born.
And so the start of my new life came only with the death of the old one. With flour on my cheek and dough on my hands, I was rebuilding who I was. Back in that colorful, loud apartment I shared with my ex, I felt smothered, quieted, as if I had to shrink myself to be digestible and likable. Don’t rock the boat, be agreeable. But in this new place with its cream walls, streams of sunlight – I could be loud and colorful and vibrant. I could make mistakes. Not enough flour in your cookie dough and they’ll be flat. Too much flour and they’ll be overly dense. I could create baking masterpieces or disasters and share them with the world. And it didn’t matter which it was, because each batch, be it a masterpiece or disaster, was sending out an invisible thread connecting me to my community and those around me. Each cookie and cupcake and baked good was a new piece added to my new puzzle of who I was becoming.
Now when fall comes around and leaves are dying on the branch, I don’t feel ‘the end’ of things. I feel their beginnings.