A Bittersweet Taste

August 10, 2020 / Valeria Chavez

Peeling away the layers of an old Greek myth and finding my philosophy for love.

I am my mother’s daughter. Upon first glance, the features of my face might hint at some resemblance. But after some close observation, you would notice the gifts Mami bestowed upon me: her smile, her laugh, her gift of the gab, and a more recent discovery, her inability to stay awake during movies begun after 10 p.m. She taught me how to be disciplined. She’s the reason I carry floss in my backpack and wear sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy. She taught me that if you stand up straight, smile, and treat people with respect, you can get almost anywhere. There’s only one thing my mother tried to teach me, but never could: how to toughen up.

Sensitive is an understatement. I feel everything, even when I wish I could feel nothing at all. But I have found strength in my soft nature. It will surprise no one to learn that I’m the kind of person that frets often about finding love. Yes, it’s awfully cliché, but I can’t help it. After many years of running away from my tender heart, I’ve decided to own up to my status of being a hopeless romantic. Or rather, I’m a hopeful romantic with really bad luck.

My Mami has dated two men in her life: some tall guy that looked like Luis Miguel and my Papi. She met her husband when she was younger than I am now. I don’t go to her for dating advice, nor does she ever try to give me any. She’s aware of the fact that she got lucky. But being her delicate and, at times, dramatic daughter, there are occasions I question if love really exists and if I am doomed never to experience it. When Mami finds me in my room, wrapped up in blankets, my face red and blotchy, she’ll lie down next to me on my bed and stroke my hair. She reminds me that I’m still young, there’s plenty of time, and says all the usual unhelpful things less sensitive people say when they don’t know how to help a crying person. But Mami is a smart woman; sometimes, she imparts some wisdom that not even she realizes will have a profound effect on me.

“No te preocupes, muñeca. Simplemente no haz encontrado tu media naranja,” she says.

You haven’t found the other half of your orange.

Before Aristophanes became the Father of Comedy, he was a student of Plato. To challenge his pupil, Plato invited Aristophanes to participate in his Symposium, a banquet where each invitee would give an improvised speech in honor of Eros, the god of love. After many glasses of wine and dances, Aristophanes was moved to tell a story about the origin of soulmates.

When the world was new, humans came in pairs of two. One big head with two faces, looking in opposite directions, four arms and four legs, and two souls sharing one large, round body. The humans could roll and bounce and move in any which way they wished, like oranges. They regarded themselves to be children of the sun, the moon, and the Mother Earth. Humans were happy to be sharing their bodies and roamed the earth, doing human things. They created art, made music, and praised the gods on Mount Olympus. But to be human is to be curious. They began to question why they allowed the gods to rule them when they could very well rule themselves. One day, the humans decided to climb Mount Olympus and usurp the gods. Zeus came down from on high and sliced all the humans down the middle and scrambled them around the Earth. Now they were half of what they once were, with only two arms and two legs. Never having felt incomplete, for the first time in history, humans became depressed. They stopped making music and art. They ceased all celebrations and only longed to be complete once again. Zeus saw how sad the humans were and made a deal with them: if one could find their other half, they could be reunited and returned to their original form. Ever since, humans have spent their lives searching for their other half — so they can be big and round and happy once again.

As much as I love Aristophanes’ myth, it has one major flaw: Oranges don’t come in halves. They come in slices.

Lying on my bed, my breath slowly returns to its natural rhythm. It occurs to me that I don’t have a soulmate. I have several.

I met someone who could never be my friend on paper, yet we’ve never had an argument that couldn’t be solved with an honest conversation and late-night trip to P. Terry’s burger stand. She is a reluctant leader and the fiercest person I know, which is the least you would expect from someone who has five planets in Leo. She makes the shoebox we dare call an apartment feel like home.

I met a boy who gives out his love like it doesn’t cost a thing. But if it did, he’d probably have a little jar filled with his weekly allowance, and it would be empty by Wednesday. We take turns telling each other our life stories in an empty dive bar. He encourages me to write. I try to make him proud.

I met someone selfless to a fault and whose presence feels like a wool blanket around my shoulders and a mug of tea in my lap. He is far too passionate about children’s movies and lets me sleep on his shoulder when I doze off, missing his favorite part. He reminds me of what it’s like to feel comfortable. I haven’t felt that way in a long time.

I met a girl whose eyes rivaled the beauty of the earth and whose laugh is the sound of happiness. She is joy incarnate. I have never seen her sad for more than a second. Even through her saddest moments, she tells me stories with shining eyes. During our fourth consecutive year apart, she gifts me an agate bracelet. She says, “When I see this color, I think of you.” It’s too big, but I wear it anyway.

I think Aristophanes would’ve liked Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe they would have shared a vodka and curaçao, and compared the old Greek’s orange myth and the American’s theory of karass. Vonnegut believed, in line with other old religions and bodies of thought, that certain people are connected spiritually, chosen by God to fulfill some goal. I don’t know if it’s God’s will or red thread or orange slices, but I believe they’re right. Even if they aren’t, I would still choose to believe in it, because as an unreasonably attractive, fictional priest once said, “Why would you believe in something awful when you could believe in something wonderful?”

With two months left before my college graduation, I’ve found myself the happiest I’ve ever been. Soon enough, all my slices will be pulled away from me and strewn throughout the world, looking for their own happiness and success, and maybe they’ll add some slices to their own orange. I used to be sad, but if I found my karass once, I’ll inevitably find them once more. It’s only a matter of time before I am big and bouncy and happy once again. ■

By: Valeria Chávez

Layout: Adriana Torres

Photographer: Leah Blom

Stylist: Courtney Fay
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