Thursday Nonfiction

NATASHA’S ENCHILADAS

I can smell the enchiladas the moment I walk in the door, and I am immediately hungry. Natasha has invited Marg and me to her modest apartment for the over-consumption of Mexican food this Sunday night. As I walk in and take off my coat, throwing it over the chair by the door, she is at work meticulously filling, rolling and stacking the small tortillas in a glass casserole dish.

I don’t really remember the first time I met Natasha. It was not very long ago, though it seems like we have been friends for many years. One of our early conversations involved weddings. She was recently engaged, and my wedding date was quickly approaching. From this common ground we both discovered the kind of compatibility that doesn’t come around often, especially when one is trying to make friends out in the “real world,” if the world of Borders book-sales can be classified as such. Natasha is one of those warm, friendly people who must be impossible not to like. Terms of endearment like “sweetie,” and “darlin'” never sound awkward in her mouth, as they do so often in my own.

Natasha seems a little bit wary as I set my notebook on the counter and grab a frosty malt beverage from the refrigerator. Profiling is not an inconspicuous activity, and I think we might both be suffering from slight performance anxiety. Before I arrived, Marg was telling stories about her recent contact from an ex, and Natasha was commiserating. This continues as Natasha brings out the bean dip, salsa, and scoop-shaped tortilla chips. As Marg goes on about the various situations she has been in with this old boyfriend, Natasha and I take it all in, contributing our own anecdotes and related tales of woe where appropriate. But since both of us are in steady relationships now, our memories of situations like Marg’s have grown somewhat fuzzy from the years. We sympathize with her, though, and consider ourselves lucky to be with our respective “better halves.”

Natasha unearths a massive pot from her lower cabinet and begins preparing the enchilada sauce. She takes her can opener to the big dented can of Las Palmas red pepper sauce, and as she pierces the top, a thick arch of redness flies across the kitchen in my direction. The three of us burst into laughter, baffled by the physics of the squirted sauce. I accuse Natasha of nefarious intentions toward my sweater, but after all the sauce has landed, only the floor and drawer are splattered, and there is still plenty of sauce in the can to continue.

In approximately two months, Natasha and her fiance will be moving cross-country from Alexandria, Virginia, to Temecula, California. She has expressed mixed feelings to me about the move. On one hand, she lived in California earlier in her life, and she has friends there and family close by in Utah. On the other, she was just starting to get the hang of Virginia. She has a job in publishing, which is rare for an English major, even if the job is low-paying and lacks growth opportunities. She has made some friends, which doesn’t come as easily to her as it might seem from her open and outgoing demeanor. She was even beginning to look into some graduate arts programs for photography and graphic design.

Natasha’s fiance is currently in training for his new position with the United States Border Patrol. This post is the reason for their relocation. He left for New Mexico right after Thanksgiving, and the training lasts six months, which means that over the course of the few months that have already gone by, Natasha has grown accustomed to a self-centered existence. Without someone to express distaste or handle some of the daily chores, her dishes are not always in their homes, the mail might spread to any available surface area along the countertop, and a variety of clutter or laundry might be glimpsed under chairs or in corners.

Tonight, though, I notice that the clutter has been put away or better hidden out of sight. The bed is made, and I don’t see any piles of clothes around. The living room reveals no stacks of papers, and the counter seems pretty clear. Natasha has cleaned. I have a feeling that it’s not for me, since I have already experienced the apartment in its more relaxed state, but for Marg, the first-time visitor, who has been in London for the past several months, studying abroad.

And because Marg has been away from us for awhile, her stories dominate the evening. We eat too many chips loaded with too much bean dip–which includes sour cream, tomatoes and shredded cheese. Marg is about to move to Kansas City, so she is telling us about how she has been trying to connect with some people in that area on an internet networking site.

“I meet so many dull people!” Marg laments.

“I’m dull,” replies Natasha. I am not sure if Marg hears her, but we laugh and continue gossiping about Marg’s lackluster internet contacts and fellow Borders employees that we all know or remember, dismissing Natasha’s comment with our refusal to acknowledge its utterance.

Natasha was surprised when I asked if I could profile her, and I think that many of us share her insecurity about our own ability to fascinate. The way I see it, she probably only considers herself uninteresting because she already knows her self so well. I don’t know anyone else like her, and I always feel glad to spend time with her. Not many of us would uproot our lives to be with the man that we love, and I admire her for putting her relationship first in that way. And even though she prefers sitting on the couch with a cross-stitch to parties that remind her of college and usually provide one with more conventionally “interesting” stories, I’ve heard that she sometimes makes out with her glasses on, I can see that she has excellent taste in earrings, she has just about kicked her caffeine addiction, and she most definitely makes a mean enchilada.

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