“Two old-fashioned glaze!”
The woman said it as if it were my name.
“Hi! Yes, two old-fashioned glaze please,” I said, smiling. I eyed the only other patron sitting in the small donut shop. He was skillfully dismantling a crueler and flipping through yesterday’s Examiner.
“You sure you don’t want third?” she asked.
“No, no, two is great, thanks.”
I could have eaten the whole damn shop. I was tempted to hand her my credit card, instruct her to fill as many boxes with as many donuts as possible, and tell her that she might as well go home for the day.
She plucked two decadent, plump, cake donuts from their racks and placed them into a paper bag. My tongue swelled and my stomach grumbled in anticipation. I handed her two dollar bills, took my change, and turned to leave. As was our routine, I bid the woman a good day.
“You hear we closing?”
How dare she.
“We closing.” Her careful simplification of the phrasing accentuated her Chinese accent.
“She must have meant to say ‘we are closer to getting you a lifetime supply of our magical donuts,’” reasoned my inner optimist. I know what it’s like to communicate in a second language. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.
That was the best I could do.
“What?” I tried again.
“Don’t know. Have a good day. Okay, next time!”
Her unwavering joy filled me with rage.
I walked down the sidewalk, shell-shocked. How could this happen? Things were going wonderfully. I had arguably the world’s best donuts minutes away from my house, and I had painstakingly built a rapport with this cheery donut woman, linguistic shortcomings and all. Now, all of that was slipping between my sticky, glaze-covered fingers.
Sure, there was hardly ever anybody in the shop, but this wasn’t about questionable business operations. This was about me. And to be more specific, this was about my impending struggle.
As the waves of anger turned into denial and ultimately shifted to panic, I could feel it, deep down in my core, bubbling to the surface, placing my logic in a chokehold and causing me to swallow my second donut whole. My inner hoarder was emerging, and with him, came the words: “buy them all.”
This isn’t the first time that I found myself feeling this way, as I am certain that hoarding tendencies are genetic. Case in point, my grandmother.
Since the dawn of electricity, my grandmother has had a freezer sitting in her garage. The current model is roughly eight feet long by three feet wide and the thing stands at least four feet tall. It’s massive. And despite its voluminous proportions, the freezer is filled to within one millimeter of its lid.
Police detectives and conspiracy theorists alike have wondered, on more than one occasion, if Jimmy Hoffa’s body is tucked between those frozen layers, and a Danish geologist specializing in Arctic ice sheets nearly received National Science Foundation funding to study grandma’s freezer.
Amongst the bags of frozen vegetables and the ice cream sandwiches, you’ll find Depression-era Brussels sprouts, a deer shot in the mid-1970s, and the world’s first ever freeze-pop (fondly flavored “blue,” for those of you who care). Besides food storage (read: preservation), we’ve decided as a family that my grandmother also must be incredible at Tetras.
It’s not just grandma, though. Growing up, we had three freezers in our house, all of which were quite stuffed. I can’t exactly explain my family’s strong urge to freeze things, and for a long time, I thought I was fine. My nomadic lifestyle hadn’t really afforded me the luxury of having access to a freezer. With the stability of my San Francisco residency, however, came a tiny freezer more than sufficient to appease my apparent hoarding instincts.
In the weeks leading up to my cherished donut shop’s closing, I did two things. First, I ate an ungodly number of old-fashioned, glazed donuts. Part of me reasoned that if I quadrupled my patronage, then maybe the shop would be able to keep their doors open and their vats of oil bubbling. Unfortunately, donuts are laughably cheap and my efforts did nothing more than to quadruple my daily caloric intake. I didn’t hate it.
Second, I made the conscious decision to freeze as many old-fashioned glazed donuts as possible. Why? I’m not sure. To save for later, I reasoned – for a bad day, a special day, the Apocalypse, I wasn’t entirely certain.
I knew that it was tradition for newlyweds to freeze a slice of their wedding cakes, so I knew that preserving delicious baked goods was possible. I also knew that the interwebs were chalk full of useful information from seasoned DIYers. After extensive research, I selected my methodology: wax paper wrapped in more wax paper wrapped in aluminum foil wrapped in more aluminum foil placed in a plastic freezer bag placed in another plastic freezer bag.
Initially, I planned to freeze a dozen donuts. But that seemed excessive.
That was a lie. I actually ate ten of them.
And then I ate one more while I was wrapping the other.
Did I mention that I’m a stress eater? This wasn’t an easy time for me.
There, on my kitchen counter, sat one lone donut wrapped so securely that you would have thought that it was about to participate in a NASA launch.
“Dear International Space Station residents,” I’d write on the attached card. “Don’t eat this – it’s mine. But please do hold onto it for the time being. Thank you! Kisses and hugs, Shane.”
Reflecting on my beloved donut shop’s closing, the tears that were shed, and the larger meaning of life, I carefully scrawled the words “Shane’s Happiness” on the foil before sealing the sole survivor in a Ziploc bag and tucking it into the back corner of my freezer.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks faded into months. Eventually, I forgot about the magical donut. This wasn’t like me. Usually, I obsessed about the food that I hoarded.
I recall before leaving for Peace Corps, a favorite professor told me to take a bag of Swedish fish with me.
“For when you’re sobbing and all alone,” she not so delicately told me. “At least you’ll have something from home to eat.”
Wide-eyed and unsure of the developing world, I headed her advice, carrying a bag of Swedish fish with me to Cameroon. As soon as we were issued our metal footlockers, I promptly threw in my bag of candy, along with my most prized possessions, and shut the lid.
“I’m never going hit a point in my service where I’m going to need to eat these,” bragged naïve Shane, fastening the combination lock. “I’ll carry these with me all the way back to America.”
Five months later, I was sitting on my bed wearing nothing more than my underwear, inches away from the fan that was tiredly blowing hot air in my face, sobbing and taking bites out of one singular, rectangular, gelatinous Swedish fish.
“C’est la vie,” less-naïve Shane whimpered.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was rummaging through my freezer searching for God-knows-what, I came across an odd-looking chunk of ice: my forgotten donut. Something in my soul lurched and I had to grab onto the refrigerator handle to prevent myself from collapsing onto the floor.
Brushing off the ice crystals that covered the small package, I could still make out the words “Shane’s Happiness,” written in black marker.
There was a part of me that wanted to bury the donut again, to place it in the very back of the freezer and to surround it with ground venison and frozen blueberries. But there was another part of me, a stronger part of me, that said, “why in the Hell do you have a frozen donut in your freezer?”
If you really think about it, it doesn’t make that much sense.
When we tuck emotions away from ourselves and place them out of reach, we restrict ourselves as humans to feelings that we would have otherwise experienced naturally. In Cameroon, those gummies that I was saving for the lowest point of my service were in a way setting me up for failure because I became fixated on some ineffable crash and burn, yet refused to let myself process and cope in the moment.
The same is true with the donut that I hid in the freezer. However innocent that decision was to scrawl “Shane’s Happiness” onto a piece of aluminum foil, I was, in some way, limiting myself from the fluidity of the emotional spectrum.
No, I didn’t consciously cryofreeze my life’s delight, but, now that the donut was out of the freezer, I did take the opportunity to do some reflection: about vulnerability, authenticity, and, obviously, happiness.
I still eat old-fashioned glaze donuts on a (startlingly) regular basis, albeit from a different shop, and I have forged a (cordial) relationship with another Asian woman. Life moves on. In some ways, I feel like some ice has also been shaken off of me, that I too have been removed from a freezer.
You may be wondering what I did with said donut, post discovery. First, I let it defrost. Then, I ripped through the pastry’s armor – layers and layers and layers of aluminum foil – and meticulously devoured the bastard.
What does happiness taste like, frozen and thawed, twelve-months later?
It didn’t taste as good as I’d remembered.
But it tasted pretty damn delicious.