If you ask any normal person, they would tell you that making a chocolate chip cookie is fairly easy. Simple ingredients, simple instructions, simple cookie. But if you’re a people pleaser, like me, then you would argue the opposite. Because the thing about chocolate chip cookies is that everyone likes them a different way. And even though I believe that baking these cookies is a stress inducing process that will likely lead to me spending way too long contemplating how long I should put them in the oven, or whether or not they’re fully baked, I also believe that there’s something to be learned from chocolate chip cookies. Maybe that’s a stupid thing to say. Maybe in most people’s lives, cookies hold no special significance at all. Nevertheless, chocolate chip cookies are the best- and the worst- things that have ever happened to me.
Now, it sounds like a truly horrible thing to say, but I have no memories of the day I met my best friend. It’s not that I try not to remember, it’s just that there was nothing particularly interesting about the day.
I got up in the morning, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got on the bus, and went to school. There was a new girl in first hour (that’s her), but other than that, nothing went wrong, neither did anything special happen.
Later, she told me the story of how we became friends. She forgot a pencil her first day, I let her borrow one of mine. She forgot her pencil again, I let her borrow one of mine. A third day with no pencil, and I made some sort of joke. She laughed and just like that, we were friends. It’s really not an interesting way of meeting. Millions of other people have probably met in the same way. But when it comes to me and her, we have a different memory, one that only we can claim to own.
There are three things to know about my best friend before I tell this story. One: her name is Callista, which means 'most beautiful,' which is true, but she doesn’t like it, so I, along with everyone else, call her Calli. Two: tying in with number one, she is super pretty. I’m talking boys stopping her in the street and asking for her number, fake modeling agents telling her they can make her a star, real modeling agents reaching out to her, all that kind of stuff. And three: she’s in love with life. There’s this quote by Marilyn Monroe that says “Keep smiling, because life is a beautiful thing and there's so much to smile about.” That quote perfectly describes Callie’s view on life.
So maybe I lied. Maybe there are four things to know about my best friend. Number four: she’s perfect. She always has been. Little things- like her unfortunate habit of forgetting to bring a pencil, or her laugh that is sometimes less of a laugh than a series of snorts- don’t count. A wayward brush stroke in a beautiful painting doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
So now that you know these four things about my best friend, I can tell you about our memory. More specifically, how it connects to baking chocolate chip cookies.
“How do you like your chocolate chip cookies?” Calli asked.
I shrugged. “Normal? Why?”
“I’m going to make them and I want to make sure you like them,” she answered, then she frowned. “What do you mean by normal? Do you like them crispy? Soft? Gooey in the middle? Small? Big?”
“I didn’t realize there were so many ways to make them,” I laughed. “Just make them however. I’ll like them.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “And what if you don’t?”
“A cookie’s a cookie. I’ll like them, I promise.”
“Fine,” she relented. “I only wish you’d make up your mind about how you like them like everyone else.” I had no idea that everybody else knew how they liked their cookies. Now that she said it, it seemed so obvious.
“I’m sorry,” she said, even though she had nothing to be sorry for. I wasn’t upset. “That sounded mean. I’m going to go home and make them, to apologize.”
I wasn’t completely sure what she was apologizing for. Did normal people always make a
whole dessert for saying something slightly mean? I was having a lot of new revelations about what other people did that I didn’t.
Calli got on her bike- she rides her bike everywhere- and rode away. I remember watching her go, her hair blowing away from her face, each long strand flowing perfectly behind her. Everything she did was like she was the main character in a movie. Even riding a bike.
I sat under the tree in my yard for fifteen minutes before I got bored and went inside. I flipped one of the cookbooks open to a page about chocolate chip cookies.
Preheat oven to 350°
In a medium sized bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Beat until well combined. Beat in two eggs separately, and then stir in vanilla.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift into medium
sized bowl and mix. Stir in chocolate chips.
Roll into balls and bake for 10-12 minutes.
10-12? Was that what Calli meant? Did some people bake them for ten minutes, others for twelve? Did they bake them for eleven minutes, so it would be just the perfect amount of time?
Suddenly I was glad I wasn’t the one baking the cookies. There were so many opportunities for it to go wrong. Take the butter for example- would it make a difference whether or not I melted the butter first? Whether I melted it over a stove, or in the microwave? I closed the cookbook and instead did what I did best: laid on the couch and watched television. At some point, I fell asleep, and woke to the sound of slightly frantic knocking at the door.
I stretched out my legs and squinted in the bright light of mid-afternoon. At first, when I peered out the side window of the door, I didn’t recognize the girl standing there. Then I realized it was Calli. Her long black hair was cut around her chin, but it was all uneven, as if it were done in a hurry, or by a little kid.
I opened the door and she stepped inside. With a start, I realized she was shaking slightly, and she smelled like smoke.
“I burnt the cookies,” she whispered. “I burnt them. They caught on fire,” her lip trembled and she looked at me with round, desperate eyes, “I burnt them and then he got mad at me.” I almost asked her who, but I stopped myself. She wasn’t in any state to be asked questions.
“He got mad at me so I got mad at him and I cut off all my hair. He always liked my long hair. It made like his perfect little daughter.”
She was talking about her dad, I guessed. Only, I thought I knew her dad to be a lazy, happy-go-lucky sort of guy. He didn’t really care what she did. Maybe I had been wrong.
“That made him really mad. Cutting off my hair. I thought-” she was crying hard, barely being able to get out the words between sobs, “he was so mad I thought-” she stopped abruptly. “I ran away. Not for good, I don’t think. Just until he calms down.”
“Do you want to sit down?” I asked, the first thing I had said to her since she showed up. She nodded, and when we reached couch she wiped away the tears and curled up.
She looked really different without her long hair and smile. She had always been beautiful. But before it had been a sort of flowery beautiful, full of light and innocence. Even with her tear stained cheeks and puffy eyes and impulsive haircut, she was still beautiful.
The way I though about it was in terms of poetry. There were two types of poetry written about girls. The first is the type written by those who are in love with a girl. The girls in those poems are elegant, and soft, and lovely. That was Calli Before. And then there is the poetry meant to inspire. Poetry written by girls about who they would like to be. That is Calli now.
“Can we go somewhere?” she asked.
There were a hundred other questions I wanted to ask, but in that moment I knew there was only one Calli wanted to hear. “Where?”
“The airport,” she said with a sort of finality that didn’t allow for comments. “But there are a few things we have to do first.” I liked the way she said ‘we.’ “First, let’s stop by my house.”
As we made the short drive there, Calli stared out the window. There was something distant about her, like she was busy in her own little world where no one else existed.
When we pulled up, she got out of the car immediately and went inside. Ten minutes later, she came back out with a suitcase and a plastic bag. She looked a little shaken up as she put the suitcase in the trunk, but when she got back in the car she was grinning.
“Here are the cookies,” she said, holding up the bag. Inside were a bunch of charred clumps. She handed one to me and took one for herself.
I grimaced at the cookie but nodded.
“One… two… three.”
We both bit in. Our eyes widened and we held each other’s gaze for about ten seconds before rolling down the window and spitting the cookie out.
“That was pretty much the worst thing I’ve ever tried,” she said.
“Your words, not mine.”
We were both laughing. In that moment, I understood why Calli had fallen in love with life. There was something so remarkable about the feeling of pure joy after a strange day, like a rainbow after a storm.
“What’s with the suitcase?” I questioned.
She looked back at it with a sigh. “I think I’m going to leave. I told my dad. He- he said it was a good idea. He didn’t want me around the house looking like I do anyway,” her laugh was a bitter, dry sound that didn’t belong to her, as if her father had planted it inside her along with his words. “I don’t want to leave you behind, but-”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” And I would be, even if at the time it felt like all the joy in my body was draining. I didn’t want to be the reason Calli held herself back.
She hugged me.
“You smell like burnt cookies,” I told her.
“And now so do you.” Her expression became more serious. “I’ve always wanted to go somewhere. I guess this was just the perfect excuse.” She didn’t really need an excuse. She was eighteen, almost finished with high school, legally an adult. But for most people,I supposed, they needed some motivation to leave behind their perfect lives and go into the unknown. Calli was the sort of girl who loved the unknown. It was a part of life. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that something like a burnt batch of cookies would be the push she needed.
For some reason, though, it did. Calli was just so perfect- remember, that’s one of the four things to know about her?- I never even considered she could be at all unhappy. What a stupid thing to do. At least it wouldn’t be a mistake I would make again.
When we got to the airport, Calli hugged me again. “I think I’ll see you again,” she said, biting her lip. “And if I don’t…” she shook her head, “I will. You and I, we’re special like that. We have an unbreakable bond.”
“Unbreakable,” I echoed. I wasn’t sure if I was agreeing, or just saying it to say something.
“Thank you for being there for me,” she said. “When I see you again-”
“I’ll bake the cookies.”
She smiled. I could see the tears on her face and I realized I too was crying.
“Goodbye.” And then she turned and walked away. I remember thinking that she still looked like the main character. Only that maybe now it was a different sort movie. The one where a girl leaves her old life behind and discovers herself.
“Goodbye, Calli,” I whispered.
And so maybe our story is so unique that no lesson at all can be drawn from it. Don’t let your friend bake cookies, because she might burn them, and then she’ll leave? That’s stupid. As my English teacher would say, a lesson- or theme- must be universal. Applicable to multiple situations.
But if there’s one thing I learned from Calli and her chocolate chip cookies, it’s that anything- even something as small as a burnt batch of cookies- can teach you how it feels to loose someone, rethink the truths you thought were infallible, and fall in love with living all at once.