May 29, 2024

I Hurt, I Suffered, I Conquered: Welcoming Back Sweetness after Grief.

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I have not had a croissant in almost a year—not that I can remember—since we parted ways.

Since I was a child, a good quality butter croissant used to be such a big, rare treat for me. Something your mum brought home on a beautiful Sunday morning.

I always found it odd when people lathered extra butter or jam on, or worse, in it. It is perfection on its own. Just as it is. The delicate butter flavour. The crispness outside and the softness rewarding you.

I remember the first time I observed you eating one in front of me.

You turned into a little boy right before my eyes, breaking it up, dunking a small part into your cappuccino, and on the first bite slightly closing your eyes to savour that all-important first taste—the only one that really counts when you eat something wonderful. Then you wiped the little crumbs and the milk foam moustache off with the napkin and resumed your grown-man posture and tales of business expansion, as if you had been reminded by your mother to sit up straight and answer the question.

When I dunked a small piece of croissant into my coffee in the small café in Nice, you said “You know, us French don’t really do that. I just like it that way.”

And that way was nice.

I began to reserve the joy of a croissant for the times I would have breakfast with you. They were rare and both felt like a treat, perfectly matched to each other. Like a dress for the occasion.

Wherever we were, there was always a croissant and always a coffee and always a conversation that was so unusually different.

In Berlin, your childhood and wounded little-boy soul.

In Paris, how your PhD was struggling to take shape.

In London, how you secured your real estate partnership and how well things went for you.

But it was always all about you. And I did not mind. I do now, but back then I did not. I loved listening and watching you whilst I was breaking up my croissant, dunking it, and dropping in and out of your views of the world. Probably just as much as you liked hearing your own voice sharing your views of the world. But I did not mind.

And then, finally, on a cloudy Paris morning at the Gallerie Vivienne. Such a beautiful place, such a beautiful croissant stuck in my throat with heartache on my pallet.

It looked perfect but it was big, tough, and almost hollow inside. Or was that just how you felt to me?

You loved it. You ordered a second; something you had never done before. “I am okay, thank you,” I squeaked out, wounded from your spikey words piercing through my armour like sharpened spears.

The last time I saw you, in Berlin, I breakfasted without a croissant at all.

And that was it. I don’t think I ever had a croissant again after that.

I remember weeks later at La Fayette, I must have looked at the exquisite pastries so intensely that my friend asked me “Would you like a croissant?” “No, thank you.”

When my colleague brought them in to celebrate her birthday, they seemed small and sad. Ten of them squashed in that big brown paper bag, and I did not want crumbs all over my keyboard.

Some occasions felt plain, others felt unjustifiable for the amount of calories involved. One time, I was with such a good friend that I just wanted to see her indulge in it. That gave me joy.

And then I got ill. Not seriously but for a couple of days. I lost my sense of taste and generally felt miserable and sorry for myself as one does when battling one of these colds or flus that befalls us from time to time.

When I eventually slouched into the kitchen feeling better, I saw I had been gifted one. It lay on the table in a little see-through pouch. Just one perfect little croissant—just for me.

I looked at it. Then I made a tea and left. And then I thought, “Someone who cares about you and loves you buys you a croissant and leaves it for you. Such a lovely gesture. They know you well.”

“Otherwise, they would have left maybe a flower, or a packet of potato chips, or a Vogue.”

Eventually, I went downstairs again. I made a coffee. I opened the bag and listened to you. And I broke a bit off and dunked it into my coffee, your voice sounding out the room. And it tasted divine. It was the first thing I tasted since wondering what life must be like if my taste were to never come back and I would forthwith eat only for survival or out of frustration and never again for pleasure.

A smile hushed over my face and you said, “What’s so funny about it? I was quite annoyed when they gave me that project.”

“Thank you for the croissant,” I said, washing it down with my milky coffee.

Sometimes reconquering what’s ours looks like a loud, dramatic battle, guns blazing and hairs flying. And sometimes, it looks like this: unnoticeable, unassuming, and easily missed.

We all deal with grief and disappointment in different ways. Expressive or undeclared, the journey, in the end, will always have to be an internal one.

But whichever way you emerge from it, and emerge you will, there will be that one moment: that bite of a croissant, or that first real laugh that catches you off guard, or the first ease of the spring sun shining on your face that will show you you have reconquered something that was yours to begin with.

Reconquer those little moments that give you joy and take your time with it. The sweetness will come back.


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