I didn’t really know where this blog was going for awhile.
I wanted to write about my life from an outside perspective, about my time as an ex pat (but not really feeling like an ex pat, because, let’s face it, Britain is not the most exotic place… unless you count the really questionable curry shop five minutes from my house). I’ve lived abroad for a little over a year now, but I’m still continually surprised by mind’s inability to accept certain inescapable qualities of not being in the USA.
Yesterday, a very nice man gave me a fish. He was the type of weathered and red-faced English fisherman that every freshman creative writing major dreams of; the pulsing image of English apathy, gruffness, and unquestionable faith in life to always be “just enough.” I loved him. Ninety percent of this was me projecting every Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or James Herriot stereotype onto the poor unsuspecting soul, but it was with golden threads of elation and teary-eyed gratitude that I accepted a freshly caught cod from him.
I used to have a boyfriend who was vegetarian, and so I was vegetarian myself. It was, unfortunately, one of the less extreme things I did to try and catch that man’s attention. When we broke up I went to Asia and ate barbequed pork buns, sting ray, and chicken rice with relish. But in the past year I’ve made it more of a priority to convert back to vegetarianism. Not because my most recent ex also suddenly became a vegetarian, mind you. But because of how incredibly wasteful the meat industry seems, and how unsettled my stomach often feels after eating it. Plus I’m lazy and hate preparing it.
But I had received a cod fish. It wasn’t even stiff yet, that was how beautifully fresh and sublime this specimen of marine life was. Out of all the types of meat, fish has always been the hardest to give up. Seattle and Singapore being both my hometowns, it’s a part of my identity that I’m reluctant to throw away.
But it has been at least a decade since I’ve gone fishing, and god forbid, while I’ve seen my brother and dad clean fish, I have never cleaned one myself. So yesterday evening I slid the cold and accusing cod onto the biggest cutting board I had, and began.
With my phone opened to an about.com article on how to prepare ’round fish’ (as opposed to flat fish, obviously) I slid a knife along its scales, scraping them off with a noise that was not unlike nails on a chalkboard, if you could imagine that chalkboard having recently been a living breathing organism just hours previously.
I will not lie to you, dear readers. The next forty five minutes saw me covering the fish’s face with a paper towel to avoid looking in its eyes, muttered prayers, whimpers of “I’m SO sorry,” and at least thirty minutes of solid screaming.
But at last, the job was done. I almost cried with relief when I had finally, give or take a couple of annoying bones, separated the fish from all signs of its ‘aliveness.’ Now it was blissfully two ragged yet neat fillets, ready at last for cooking.
As I chopped up the potatoes, melted the butter, and shelled the peas (yes, I am that person), I thought about something my dad had told me. He always used to sternly tell my brother and I that we should never eat something that we weren’t comfortable preparing ourselves. I thought about the countless animals I’ve consumed over the years and I wondered if I would be able to do the same to them as I had done to the fish. Obviously if it was a life or death situation, sure, but if it was just to sit down to my dinner on a Monday night? I wasn’t too certain.
Perhaps almost as important as the environmental impact of my vegetarianism, I should also think about it in more philosophical terms. Mainly, could I kill and clean an animal for my personal consumption without inflicting any more trauma on my person? I’m writing this with the hands that, just last night, ripped a spine out of a fish. Take away the soundtrack of desperate prayers, muttered oaths, and personal promises to never touch a dead thing again, and it is a pretty gruesome and violent image (with the soundtrack, it’s a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino film).
When I pulled it out of the oven I have to admit, it was the most delicious cod I’ve ever eaten. An understandable combination of freshness and my own smug feeling of success. It reminded me of the moment I realized I had been living abroad for a year, actually. It was a gruesome journey and one that I didn’t necessarily need in my life, with its own trials and tribulations. But at the end of the day when I can look at my own battered and quirky ‘success’ of surviving the past 12 months, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.