Heart, Ajar

Annie Liza Bergen finds joy in exploring the infinite number of word combinations that can be written and read. She also eats too much Ferrero Rocher, but reads health magazines at the gym so feels it all balances out in the end.

It was the summer of 1998. All of my friends had internships in law firms and investment firms and other Very Important Places. I was an undecided major with no experience and an artistic bent so I applied to work at a bunch of art studios in New York City. On the cusp of accepting a somewhat dubious position at a soap-making studio, I got a response from an artist in France who needed a summer assistant – she was one of Andy Warhol’s “Underground Superstars.” Well that was it then. I was going to France. And that was the summer that I found love.

This isn’t a conventional love story, I’ll admit. The choice of leading man might surprise some, but the only thing anyone has to share is the truth as they have experienced it and this is my truth. I remember when we first met. The artist’s housekeeper took him down from the very top shelf in the pantry. There wasn’t much else up there and I’m sure he was well past his sell-by date. But I didn’t care. He was packaged love such as I had never found before and I was not about to be ageist. He was smooth, but sweet; quiet, but fun. He was never afraid of opening up and was only too happy for you to take more than you gave. He was chocolaty, hazelnutty love-that-could-be-bought. Just one spoonful of him made my soul sing and my serotonin do the cha cha in my bloodstream. Compared with the human man (at least in my book at the time) there was very little competition.

In theory, Nutella is a type of spread meant for bread, like peanut butter, but in reality, he is everything most women have been looking for in a relationship. And I thankfully had enough wits about me that summer to capitalize on the situation. After our first night together, I began sneaking him out of the cupboard when no one was looking and slinking out to the patio with a spoon. It started innocently enough. Soon however, things began spiraling out of control. I started buying replacement jars and putting them back in the cupboard when no one was looking. I became paranoid someone would notice so I eventually started buying my own supply. I went downstairs to the supermarche and found huge economy-sized jars on sale – buy two, get one free. Perhaps this wasn’t a delicate choice, but it was financially sound and as a lady abroad, I needed to keep an eye on my solvency.

We spent a lot of time alone together, Nutella and I. The two of us would sit on the beach all day reading Newsweek (to keep up with happenings States-side), in addition to soul-enhancing tomes like The Grapes of Wrath. We were alone, but we liked it. We liked the peace and quiet. We liked doing pretty much what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. Like any true and real love, all we needed was each other.

In the evenings, I would sometimes leave him at home for bacchanalian nights on the town. At first he didn’t understand why he couldn’t come, but after a barmate carelessly dumped him in the bin after too many drinks, he agreed it was best he stay behind when I went out. As I weaved home in the wee hours of the morning though, the boulangeries would begin baking their morning bread. Even with a tremendous hangover and questionable digestive ability, I wanted to drop at the baker’s feet and beg to be given the first baguette from his oven so I could run home and let it serve its God-given purpose – as a vehicle for chocolate hazelnut spread. Then I would narrate the story aloud as I walked home through the morning streets of Nice . . . and to avoid a scene, the baker acquiesced and she arrived home triumphant! Carefully placing the hot-from-the-oven baguette aside, she peeled back the foil under Nutella’s lid to reveal his silky sea of heavenly goodness. She noticed a little dimple where the mother machine had cut off his precious allotment. . .

I knew I had to stop. I was out of control. I stopped caring about friends. I didn’t care about dating or men. None of it mattered as long as I got my fix of him. I knew the situation was critical when I started staying up really late with him and missing morning appointments. But you need to understand. With Nutella, I always called the shots. You don’t get that with most ordinary relationships. I chose when and for how long each rendezvous would last. I controlled the way in which each meeting ended. And if he ran out of love to give and I got hurt, the wound could easily be mended by the time the morning came and the supermarche opened again. At times I even considered writing home to let my fellow lovelorn American women know that they could finally take heart – I had found the perfect man and there was plenty of him for all.

As with all love stories though, the honeymoon soon came to an end. I found myself unable to zip my jeans and my face broke out in an acne-fueled, teen-like rebellion. After much self-loathing and angst, I realized I had to let my love go. This wasn’t healthy. The relationship books told me this wasn’t love anyway – that it was an addiction and I should attend meetings for codependency. I didn’t go to any meetings, but through sheer will-power (and perhaps a little shame) I eventually made it down to just one jar per week –the normal-sized one too, not the economy-sized version to which I had grown accustom. From then on, I recorded in my journal how long I could go between jars, how many people (as oppose to jars) I had socialized with, and how many other types of food I had eaten. I slowly returned to human relationships. After the deepest wounds of loss had healed, I even indulged in a lovely affair with an Englishman. But he left at the end of the summer – and then my heart was ajar once again.