This is a hard story to write -- hard enough that it's taken me almost two months to even attempt it. I still feel raw about it, and I still don't know how to address the situation head-on. So I'll just muddle through it the best way I can.
On November 28, Mike and I broke up. It was a cold day, and I dropped him off at the train station so he could head back to Raleigh. Watching him close the door and walk into the station was like watching a movie, except that it wasn't fiction. I knew we were about to travel a rocky road, but there was no way to switch off the television, no credits to roll -- just the aftermath to clean up as best we could.
4,237 days (or 11 years, 7 months, and 5 days) earlier, I had just turned 15 years old. I was sitting in my room, looking out the window, and talking to Mike on the phone. He had something to ask me, but was obviously nervous: "If I were to ask you . . . something . . . what would you say?"
I helped him get to the point. Yes, I want to be your girlfriend. I couldn't have imagined at that moment where the next 12 years would take us. Who knows when they're 15 that they're embarking on something monumental?
Over the years, our relationship brought us trials, for sure.
It also brought me through high school. Sometimes I'd leave school and drive straight to his apartment to watch Star Trek and eat Hamburger Helper (my early attempts at "cooking for him").
It took me to college, coming home to see him every weekend. It took me off to the coast to study marine zoogeography for a semester -- I remember the strain of distance, calling every night on my newly acquired cell phone, and his visit out to Atlantic Beach to see me.
Our relationship saw me through my first teaching job, a tumultuous experience for me. In the first hopeful, idealistic days before I began, he came and painted every single one of my lab tables a deep green to cover the graffiti. Later in the year, when my administration decided to switch my classroom and everything went wrong, my clean tables were mixed in with others and his hard work was lost. He was still there, though, helping me pack up boxes and carry them down the hallway to my new room.
The relationship also saw me through my year as a research technician and, finally, to my position at Woodlawn, the wonderful school where I now teach.
It saw Mike through college at UNCC. He rocketed through in 3 years with nearly perfect grades. It also saw him move his life three hours north to a new city this past fall to begin graduate school at NC State. It saw us through celebrations, new beginnings, and difficult endings. I wouldn't trade a single day.
These Berry Crumble Bars were actually made at the very tail end of summer and are one of the only dishes I ever photographed at Mike's apartment in Raleigh. I brought them up to share with him and my little brother, who is an undergraduate at NC State. The bars are buttery, crumbly, slightly lemony, and bright -- almost cobbleresque, and perfect with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
The original recipe used only blueberries, but throwing in other berries or even combining berries is an easy way to create multiple varieties of crumble bars; I settled on blueberry and raspberry. Mike and I probably ate a billion of them over the course of my visit. I had a way of encouraging him to have dessert after every meal. I'm sure you're not surprised.
So what do you say at the end of a story about a breakup? I think in this case, thank you. Thank you, Mike, for being who you are, and for 12 wonderful years. Thank you, God, for the promise that all things are working together for good for me (Romans 8:28). Thank you, friends and family and lovely readers, for your support during a rough time. Here's to weathering loss and embracing the future -- and to dessert!
Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars
Recipe by: Adapted from My Baking Addiction
Yields: 9 raspberry bars and 9 blueberry bars
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a separate, small bowl, beat together the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut the butter and egg mixture into the flour to form a crumbly dough. Press half of dough evenly into prepared pan.
In two additional bowls, mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch. Gently mix blueberries into one bowl and raspberries into the other. Sprinkle berries evenly over pressed dough -- I did half the pan with blueberries and half with raspberries, but you could alternate or even mix the berries if you'd rather. Crumble the rest of the dough over top of the berries. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until slightly brown. Cool completely (and even chilling a little helps to ensure they'll hold together) before cutting into squares. These bars are fun because you can have two different flavors (blueberry and raspberry) or cut your bars such that you have a combination of both berries.