"They seemed to carry much more power than cooked tubers to pair with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar for tomorrow’s salad."
A year ago, I roasted and peeled some beets, and became a man.
I am not certain what that sentence means, but it’s been circulating in my head ever since. My son, Alfie, was four months old (he’s 20 months as of this writing), and I swear he was allergic to sleep. The moment occurred during one of the rare times in the night when he was actually sleeping and I should’ve been too.
But instead, I was prepping vegetables.
When I did finally go to bed that night, I peeled the sheets back and climbed under, knowing it was only temporary. Soon, flushed with heat, I pulled one leg out of the covers and laid it over the other, shuffling my torso like a deck of cards until I found the ace.
On any given night, there are a number of reasons why I can’t sleep. On this night, perhaps one was because I’d noticed, after slipping the skin from deep purple vegetable flesh, that a bowl of cooked beets looks like a bucket of hearts waiting to be airlifted.
I held each one carefully, still warm as breath. They seemed to carry much more power than cooked tubers to pair with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar for tomorrow’s salad. For someone who often describes himself as 85 percent vegetarian, I’d never felt more powerful and carnivorous.
My hands were stained for days.
A few nights later, we lost power during an unseasonable ice storm. The ice froze onto branches that hadn’t fully loosed their dying leaves. The ice pulled each branch down, each an eyebrow drooping at the realization that things were ending before they should, before the promised decay of December. We were asleep when it happened, but the darkening woke all three of us up immediately, not because of any noise but because of the complete death of noise that audibly waned inside the walls, a blackened silence taking over that my son had not experienced since the womb.
Recently, we found ourselves again under threat of an impending New England blizzard. As usual, I don’t start worrying until someone says, “we might lose power.”
Here’s how I respond to this threat: I don’t.
The night before the storm, I text Natalie, “Should we be doing anything about this?”
“Probably,” she writes. I ask co-workers how they’re preparing. They tell me they’re going to the supermarket. The only thing we seem to know how to do before a storm is buy more food. I think about the positions of trees outside our house in relation to the windows of our bedroom, our son’s bedroom. With a bleeding-red chivalrous heart, I envision this scenario: a limb falls and only hits me, sparing the woman and child. “Save yourself!” I’d yell to Natalie, muttering something about extra batteries and bottles of water.
Why is it that every discussion of modern manhood inevitably circles around to power?
I keep coming back to that beet skin sliding over the cooling flesh, and it frustrates me that I can’t tell you why this is so important. The meaning is still in the soil of my brain, trying to work its way from the inside out. Sometimes thoughts are just the roots of action, knotting their way underground, Escher-like, and never breaking the surface.
When beets lack enough of the chemical element boron, they suffer from a fungus that decays from the inside out. We call this “heart rot.”
Every night I want to stay up late. Often, sleep feels like giving up, a reining-in of the kind of power that can roast thoughts, can peel them into the slippery, full hearts that I want to save and feed to each one of you.
bryan parys teaches writing at Gordon College. Weirdly, now that his son sleeps through the night, a lot fewer beets get peeled. He would like to recruit Brian Glenney to conduct an experiment on the philosophy of sleep deprivation and its effects on the preparation of local produce.