It started innocently enough: one simple can of pumpkin. I had graduated from college a few months earlier, put all my worldly possessions in the back of a truck and moved to Chicago to start Grown-Up Life. This Grown-Up Life involved moving in with my boyfriend and two housemates. Each weekday I’d get dressed in one of two mix-and-match Gap suits each morning to go to my temp job du jour. I was playing the part, and I was not giving a stellar performance; there was a constant possibility that my understudy might be called upon in the hopes that she’d pull this off better.
Our housemates were old hands at this maturity thing — they were already planning their wedding and saving for a house. They shopped at Budget Grocery, and since they seemed to have adulthood down cold, I figured it must be the responsible place to shop. I have no idea what else I bought, but it was autumn so pumpkin was everywhere. I spotted the can and thought, “Adults do things like baking! If I have pumpkin, I can make pumpkin bread!” And into the cart it went, after which it took up residence on a shelf in the kitchen.
The housemates got married (in a fiscally responsible ceremony), and my boyfriend and I moved into and out of two more apartments. We decided to move to New York City for better work opportunities. The can of pumpkin moved with us. My boyfriend thought it was weird, but we were still in the stage where he found oddity charming, so he added it to the box of spices and other kitchen debris, sealed it up and that was that. The pumpkin went right along with us to New York City, tagging along on our first move together to a new city.The pumpkin stayed on a shelf in the kitchen, a canned goods version of a domestic deity promising my adult potential.
Then, suddenly, we were buying an engagement ring. We got engaged. We crammed everything into two rooms and a galley kitchen which, fortunately, had just enough room for a can of pumpkin.
I finally accepted a job with health insurance, one that didn’t pay in cash under the table or require me to submit a weekly invoice. We moved again, this time to an apartment in the next neighborhood over with twice the space and no club-music-loving 14-year-old in the unit above us. The pumpkin stayed on a shelf in the kitchen, a canned goods version of a domestic deity promising my adult potential.
“That’s still hanging around?” my now-husband asked. I thought about lying and saying it was a different can, but we were in the stage where I still wanted to be completely honest, so I admitted it was. He rolled his eyes and forgot about it.
Or so I thought. A few weeks later, I saw him take out a black Sharpie and head for the kitchen. “What are you doing?” I asked. He smiled and took out the can of pumpkin, applied the marker to label, then turned it to show me his handiwork. It now read (in very large letters): DO NOT MOVE. I was indignant.
“I’m going to use that pumpkin!” I told him.
“Oh, really?” he said. “And when will that be?”
“When I make pumpkin bread.” Then I didn’t talk to him for a couple of hours because he really didn’t need to laugh that hard.
I got pregnant, and we decided to move back home to D.C.
“Don’t you put that can in there,” my husband said warningly as he saw me putting together a box of kitchen items. He held it up so I could read “DO NOT MOVE.” Yeah, yeah. I put it in when he wasn’t looking. I was pregnant and, therefore, it was not at all unreasonable to think that I might crave pumpkin bread soon. We both knew I was hormonal and more than a little crazy, so we pretended that the pumpkin hadn’t stuck with us. But it had. I made sure I was busy elsewhere when my husband unpacked the kitchen.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice this,” he said, pointing dramatically at the can that was now in its sixth residence in three states. The expiration date was two years in the rearview mirror. It was time — both Gap suits were gone (one to Goodwill, one to a fire at a New York drycleaner). The engagement ring had come and gone, too, replaced by a wedding band. No one was using that damn can of pumpkin, and I finally had to admit it.
“Yeah,” I said. “Go ahead and toss it.”
My life had shifted and adjusted and then shifted some more while I waited to grow into the kind of person who would use a can of pumpkin. It took throwing it away to realize that I was okay with that transformation never happening.