I hear a bell ding as I slip through the glass doors of a Jewish deli nestled in the rolling hills of Westlake Village.
About 10 minutes after I order, a steaming bowl of chicken soup is plopped on my placemat. Inside the golden broth, a fluffy matzo ball cheerfully bobs up and down.
It is around 10 a.m., and I am surrounded by people who would have been strangers if not for sorority recruitment last fall. As scrambled eggs and burnt toast overtake the delicate scent of my meal, I close my eyes and am immediately transported back to the taxi I sat in 10 years prior.
Marlboro, New Jersey 2012
Traffic on the Verrazano Bridge rarely eased, especially when rush hour coincided with the incoming red-eye we always took from San Francisco. The cab driver jerkily made the transition from boroughs to townships as my stomach lurched in the backseat.
I would always take notice of the Modell’s that I bought my New York Giants championship gear from, that is, before Eli Manning decided to throw more interceptions than touchdown passes.
We were five minutes away from a place I could trace as easily as the back of my hand.
But it wasn’t the bridges and buildings that made me feel at home, it was the big ladle of chicken noodle soup that was almost instantaneously placed in front of me upon arrival at my grandma’s house.
Leander, Texas 2019
The longhorns typically sat in shaded pools of grass under large oak trees. My dad liked to call this area “the sticks.”
Country roads unfurling from Austin’s city center were spotted with tiny town squares along the way. Leander was no different. Besides the large H-E-B located off of Hero Way, this land was completely foreign to me.
My dad told me I could select a room I wanted to call my own, so I chose the one furthest from any commotion. The room smelt of fresh paint and coarse cotton sheets. There was nothing soft about this place.
Placed in front of me the next morning was liquid gold that beckoned the Texas sun to seep in through the window and soothe the stiffness of my surroundings.
Los Gatos, California 2020
I wish I didn’t know who Dr. Anthony Fauci is. It’s not that I don’t admire his work in immunology, it’s more the fact that his relevance represents the premature end of my high school experience.
I watched core memories ebb and flow from the sidelines. I danced through junior prom with the cast of the CW’s “All American” and attended backyard kickbacks with the Pogues of Netflix’s “Outer Banks.”
Snagging toilet paper rolls and pocket hand sanitizers became far more valuable than receiving a limp corsage or cold drink.
Familiar smiles found in family photos that lined the hallway became snickering jeers. Stuffed animals came alive to crowd my conscience and trap me in rooms that used to be places I escaped to.
Dark days of December, however, were highlighted by tracks from Taylor Swift’s Evermore and the distinct chopped carrots and parsley that swam around the matzo ball soup.
The warm broth seemed to melt a hole in the impenetrable barrier that marked my isolation from the outside world.
Berkeley, California 2021
A makeshift DJ booth was created right next to the bike lockers. Even the loud music blaring through the thin windows couldn’t be heard over my guttural tears.
A wheezing teapot, salt and vinegar chips and oddly shaped pizza with corn and olives acted as fuel to my homesick state.
Orientation whittled down my will to continue acclimating. I made use of the Clipper card that served as my get-out-of-jail-free card. After intently studying the bus schedule, I boarded the 51B and arrived at a yellow stucco building in Elmwood.
A couple minutes later, I was handed a soggy paper cup accompanied by a flimsy white spoon. A dimly lit area with a singular table called my name and I sat down.
After removing the lid, I was greeted with the smell of home. Contained in that cup were East Coast strip malls, cowboy hats in 100-degree heat and homemade face masks made from linen freckled with various dogs.
Inside that cup was chicken soup for the lost soul.
My eyes open as my train of thought is interrupted by the sharp sound of a Venmo request making its way through my phone.
It is time to go, we have a flight to catch in the afternoon.
After today, the warm hug of Brent’s Deli will eventually fade away into the distance as my Southwest plane heads north. But as the plane bobs over coastal winds and rugged mountains, I reflect on my mid-brunch epiphany.
Whatever the future may hold, I know I will always have a 12-ounce cup of liquid luck by my side.