Did you eat? An erotic invitation into the romantic
By Julia Dunn
Djeet? Djeet? Now hold on, djeet? It’s a standard greeting, a melted drawl that lavishly spools from lips to ears across the mid-Atlantic. When focusing on the twang, visitors however can reverse engineer the sound and translate it back to English. Djeet = dije et = didya eat = did you eat?
It’s an invitation more than an answerable question, a two-pronged road leading to the same destination: A no will bring about a boundless list of options and a yes will be met with a stubborn, “Oh, are you sure you’re not hungry?” and then a boundless list of options. It’s an evocation of kinship, a sign of warmth, and the invitation to, as the saying goes, sit down and stay a little while. Just about anything can be waiting on the other side of djeet: candies, fruits, sandwiches, crackers, left-overs, and fixings are all alike to be conjured. No matter, some clattering around in the kitchen will provide regardless of the guest’s will. The warmth of, if not food, then of service, says nothing short of “welcome.”
While once a beckoning call home, the question of “djeet?” has only proved to unspool even more drastically the more I age. As promised or prophesized by a slew of think pieces, movies, and the cherished lamenting of many singer-songwriters, the dawn of my mid-twenties has made everything hazier, weightier, dicier. Romance and dating remain classic grievances and passions for the social circles in which I freely run. We busy ourselves around the questions of who is currently being seen, who will be seen no longer, who will see you no longer, what did they do, how did they act, what do we do? These are, admittedly, welcomed anxieties. Having long since drunk the Kool-aid, romance, its politics, and mechanics have long been a favorite pastime and topic of conversation. Still, the tone has shifted, or is shifting. At this second decade midpoint things have become less random, dates stick around, lovers become partners: The sands shift as we so boldly grasp toward them. On the periphery of even the most destructing of these surreptitious syndicates, some things are being built to last, if not forever, then for longer. The question starts to be voiced: “Where will I sit down and stay a little while?”
It was years ago in the rank humidity of a white-bricked community college, that a sociology professor, 5’11”, pencil thin, with even thinner hair, and thick-framed glasses sought to engage a group of ragtag, sweaty, and hormonal students: “If you’re going out on a date, there is nothing more sexy than sharing a meal. The warmth, the assured survival and satiation, if only for the night. It’s an invitation, it’s sultry, and if not nourishing, then filling. There is nothing more intimate than a dinner date” or something along the lines. It’s been no less than a decade since I heard these words, young, rag-tag, and indeed sweaty and hormonal. There was something there that stuck and then unstuck.Four years after that sociological introduction into the inherent eroticism of a dinner date and long since a curious explorer in the realm of romance, I found myself confronted with the humbling reality that there was something true in that tired woman’s rantings. Life had surely, securely, blossomed into the most pleasurable eating. There was, suddenly, fully, a new form of djeet? And the answer was, of course, no, but I want to.
Sure, there were dinners, of course, cooked meals, laughing in the kitchen. And, it was thrilling. Kisses tasted of wine, of beer, just as much of pizza, chickpea curry, soups, and Thai carryout. Romance was mapped with every forkful, punctuated with every leaning over a full plate, and solidified with each invitation to come over and try a home cooked meal. Admittedly though, the latter of which would often involve bad bottles of wine and long neglected sauce pots that would only earn attention once they were able to set off the fire alarm.
The two faux pas were easily remedied: Laugh deliriously and euphorically while shrugging it off with, “Let it air out for a minute, it’s not that bad.” The night, it felt, always continued on, rapturously.
It would be delightful if things could be so sexy, and so sure, all the damn time. It would be a dream. But, life is, very obviously, not two-pronged, and while there is only one-destination, there’s an impossible number of ways to get there. Just about each time, picking one thing closes ten other things off. A yes is yes and a no is no, and everything adjusts accordingly.
There was, one night, a picnic blanket and the Perseids. Notably, no food involved. We sat blanketed by fragile moving stars. The night flowed above us, as if we only needed to dip a finger in to disturb the stream, to disrupt the so unnaturally natural light, and return to the darkness.
The moment both lingered and slipped through our fingers.
As we walked back to the metro, his gaze was steadfast and his question direct: “When will I see you again?” I gulped, and shook, “Soon, I hope.”
He, himself, was something of an amateur chef: There was always bread being made, some old recipe being tinkered with, and a meal being hosted with friends. I have never been an intuitive chef, which makes for a particularly horrendous metaphor. There’s a certain clumsiness, a lack of attention I pay to the ingredients, a fine angle I refuse to chop at, and a boredom I easily succumb to.
For the vast majority of my early twenties, none of my apartments had a full kitchen in any sense of the word. It didn’t completely destroy me, but rather fed into my lazier kitchen habits: I often complained about my own ineptness without doing much about it. The man, the bread-maker tried to entice me: Come over, and I’ll show you how to make gnocchi with rosemary and sage. A friend and I laughed, and still do, at the absolute simplicity of it. But, maybe that was the point. He invited me so clearly, so eagerly into his world: Come, braid challah. Learn how to brew tea. Let’s cook for my friends, and make them our friends. Stay. It could all be so easy.
Two years later, we were still in the same dance: The nimble chef pulling and the sous-chef pushing. Enticingly he called, as the world shut down: “Let’s leave the city, we can forage for mushrooms and make a wonderful meal.” I knew he was serious. As the years went by, the meaning of the invitation only gained weight, and I couldn’t bear to look at it too directly. There was something so profound in it that still floors me to this day, as if nearly being hit by a car. But, not quite. I never came to dinner, I let pots boil over, and explored more esoteric fields of study far away from how people relate to each other. The same friend was happy when I mentioned he no longer answered my texts.
Much later, I unpacked a kitchen in a new apartment: It was full, with shiny countertops, a simple stove, and cupboards brimming with boldly colored pots. Surrounded by pasta, I wrote him to come over. By then, he had moved out of the city, out of the country and off of the continent. It’s not hyperbolic to say we both fell off the ends of the Earth, though in different senses.
“Want to hear something funny?” He wrote after declining my invitation.
“Gladly,” I replied, truly meaning it.
“I broke the oven at my last apartment, completely blew the oven door off while trying a new sourdough recipe.”
In another class long ago, a debate broke out over the stanza about a father making fire under the “blue-black sky” for his children. Some argued that the blue-black indicated a bruise, that the father was a threatening figure who threatened with fire. Others argued that the sky itself was the fearsome presence and the father a protector. Some, more defiant, argued that there was no symbolism, it simply was what it was, and the blue-black added a layer of visualization to the stark winter landscape of the poem. Eons away, I now look at djeet? a question that means both so little, so much, and then so little, and then so much again. Julia Dunn studies European Literature at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She is from the US and speaks English, German, and absolutely questionable French. (Insta: @eatonistic)