NOTE: I wrote this piece some time in February, while I was living in Durham. I’ve since moved back to New York. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t post this. I probably felt a little embarrassed. But I am posting it now.
The memories taste like poison. Let me tell you why.
Whenever I’m about to embark on a trip back to North Carolina, I pack three or four bottles of wine from my favorite shop. I drive 492 miles, speeding down the New Jersey Turnpike, crossing over bridges, passing the Pentagon. Those bottles travel from my Queens apartment to my house in Durham, and I wait until the weekend to screw off the tops and pour myself a glass.
Ruby, maroon, bronze, or goldenrod, the color of the wine is no different than it would be in New York. The flavors elicit in my mind the same strings of adjectives, words I pinpoint and rearrange in the order of a metaphor. A fistful of tannins in the mouth feels sticky and prickly no matter where you are.
But what overrides the wine’s taste and smell are the flashbacks, the mental photographs of moments I wouldn’t think about without some kind of prompt, forcing me into a state of reflection.
The moments I remember are ordinary and as brief as a single second. I’m leaning against the bar in my old restaurant job, sniffing a cork I had just pulled out of a bottle. I’m sitting across from my partner on the green sofa, swishing a mouthful of Sangiovese. I’m giddy and tipsy, seated at a round table crowded next to my friends, lifting a glass to my mouth.
Every gulp has a bite: the burn of the alcohol, the poison washing down my throat.
I’ve tried to write for this blog a few times since moving. I don’t get very far on a piece because I usually start thinking about my past life in New York, my new job in Durham, and I get too distracted to finish. I have tried to replicate the process I had followed before: tasting a wine, opening my laptop, typing what comes to mind. Motivation to continue beyond the first paragraph eluded me every time. In the past, I had tried the wines I would later write about with my partner, who I could talk to about the flavors and the smells. He’s not here with me.
Last night, however, he and I drank wine together on a Zoom call. I had a bottle of rosato from Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy. The grape variety was Cannonau, basically the same as Grenache. It was my first time trying the winemaker, Meigamma. No idea who they are.
I tasted a blend of raspberries, lemon juice and clay. The wine label was a graphic of a pink lawn-chair on what looked like an expanse of yellow sand, bordering the blue sea.
I felt the sand on my tongue. I remembered something: sun-bathing naked on the beach with my partner, who is lying beside me. Our blue and white umbrella shaded our bags, which were full of wine bottles and containers of crackers and cheese. Our butts baked in the heat. We sweated under the sun and sipped on red wine. It was the summer before the pandemic.
Poison washed down my throat. It was the taste of nostalgia. I savored every drop.