Cosmina used to keep a small glass Mason jar on the kitchen table filled with dried fava beans next to a carafe of cheap wine that my mom almost spit up one day – mistaking the cool red liquid for Kool-aid – in a moment of un-relinquishing thirst and heat. But Cosmina had made a promise to herself. She vowed that every time my grandfather would saunter in late at night or not come home at all, she’d take a bean from the jar. The level of beans didn’t seem to change very much over time – until one day the jar was empty. And so was their love. My grandfather never asked about the beans, but I’m sure he understood as I did later. Cosmina would just smile at him and remove a shriveled bean from the jar while sitting alone in her kitchen, adding to the collection already tucked away tightly in her apron pocket.
I see this story now, as I did hearing it growing up, as some sort of undefined or ill-perceived punishment that was surely going to come my way if I didn’t behave. I never met my grandfather; he passed away long before my sister and I were born. But the lesson of the disappearing fava beans stuck in my head. It was a subtle but effective way of keeping score, establishing boundaries, and discovering the tipping point. I guess it might have been a little about patience and understanding as well, perhaps even forgiveness. The latter I learned with great difficulty. I carried that “bean-counter” mentality into the future, nurturing every petty grievance wrought against me until I too had no more beans left. Those beans were my judge and jury. My defense. My witness.
Yep, I counted beans – kidney though, that way you could fit more into a jar. It was a form of extended tolerance I guess, an extended warranty against major break-ups and difficult realities. I kept mine in the sock drawer, tucked in back, under a pile of tighty-whiteys. Had a bad day at work, a fight with my girl – any minutiae or injustice would do. I felt vindicated. A thorn lifted from my side. The thing was the beans started to disappear at an alarming rate. No returned voice mail, hap, a bean removed; missed dinner date, hap, another one gone; too many bills to pay, hap, hap, hap, three more tossed. I was on a roll. It felt good – ineffective, but satisfying nonetheless. Then it happened, as it did to Cosmina: my jar was empty. I had even less to commit to as yet another plate of unrequited love was served up and rejected, sent back, as my front door closed awkwardly behind me. Oh well.