Almond Milk

An essay on grief, memory, and the choices one can make in their life.

by Kristyn Potter

Death is an interesting thing; one day you’re walking down Bleecker with a coffee from Blue Bottle in one hand and a Bushwick musician holding the other, and the next day you’re putting a friend in the ground. Musing about gentrification while walking around the Village, you find yourself trying to remember the name of that great Cuban spot by Washington Square Park, none the wiser that the silent chokehold of death is slowly creeping its way into the bedroom of someone you love. Distracted by the gratifying moments with a new lover, this conversational dance plays out over time and the more realistic topics are never brought to the surface. When you’re both old and gray, or if a sudden circumstance sweeps one of you from this realm, what color coffin would one want to be placed? Should the accent be gold or silver and who would help with the floral arrangements? I still remember the smell of peach roses surrounding my grandmother's coffin. The flowers are the most significant part of the funeral; smell never quite leaves your memory.

Distracted by the gratifying moments with a new lover, this conversational dance plays out over time and the more realistic topics are never brought to the surface.

New Yorkers spend their whole lives in search of the perfect apartment—Cobble Hill or Park Slope, Bushwick or Bed Stuy, Manhattan or Brooklyn—putting great care into where they will spend the next 60 or 80 years. Where is the plot in the ground where we will spend eternity, who makes those decisions, and why are they in charge?

Six feet below the surface it’s wet, hard, and cold; like being trapped in a forest, surrounded by soaring evergreens and a strong sense of abandonment. The ecosystem of insects surrounding the ten thousand dollar box both protects your treasure trove and becomes symbiotically attached to you like a partner, a lover, or a best friend. I’ve never liked creepy crawly things on my wrist or legs; I often avoid picnics whenever invited. The dance we perform with insects is both unnerving and anxiety-inducing. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing what is on me and when it could strike. On warm spring days in Manhattan, everyone south of 14th street reaches for woven blankets and fancy cheeses from Murray’s, and heads to Central Park to bask in the sun, their Bluetooth speakers blaring and fixed gear bikes piled in clusters. Instead of joining the jovial hoi polloi, I decline the invite—avoiding the inevitable feeling of perpetual dread as I laugh slightly quieter than my friends and fidget slightly more. I'll only accept an invite if the picnic blanket is wide enough to protect me from the creatures below; I don’t like the unexpected.

I don’t like that the last thing I said to you was about my upcoming move to London. I don’t like how selfish I can be; how alone in my thoughts and words I frequently am. ‘London, I love it there but New York is better,’ you responded. I left the Facebook message unread despite the invisible olive branch you were handing me, the peace treaty you were hoping I would sign. I can still remember the drunken night we shared on Christmas Eve all those years ago, although I use my power to push these memories to the back of my brain to keep the pain concealed, as if locked in a small wooden box reserved just for my guilt. I can still recall the way you leaned in for a kiss at the dimly lit wine bar; I intimately recollect the way my body pulled back from yours. I was 27, you were in your forties, and it all too quickly became apparent that what I thought was youthful coquettishness with a coworker was nothing more than me being a tease. Our final words in comparison to that drunken moment are nothing more than small and incomplete. The right words can never find us until it’s too late and really how hard would it have been if we both just said sorry?

The right words can never find us until it’s too late and really how hard would it have been if we both just said sorry?

New York she is beautiful, she is the queen of the universe that we both shared, if only for a fleeting moment; she wasn't so pretty the night her waves swept across your body and captured your soul. Your working class Russian accent still plays notes in my mind and I keep thinking I’ll see you at an unmarked dive bar in Brooklyn at 2 am, hoping we can finally say the things that are now forevermore left unsaid.

I don’t like the face I make when I cry; I hate having things to cry about. Sometimes I am burdened with the deeply insurmountable fear that we are born with only a hundred crying tokens and I have already used mine up.

There are only so many decisions that can be made surrounding death, but life is full of options. We can choose oat milk or almond, hazelnut or vanilla, and feel like we’ve made an accomplishment for our body and mankind. We have only two choices to make when deciding how our physical form spends the afterlife—being placed in an urn or inside of a box.

We have only two choices to make when deciding how our physical form spends the afterlife—being placed in an urn or inside of a box.

When I was a child, a girl named Ashley lived down the street from me. We would play for hours in my backyard, her blonde natural highlights streaming in the Midwestern sky. The sound of fire trucks and ambulance sirens woke me and I recall my mother's voice telling me that she died in a basement fire; it still haunts me. Twenty years have passed and I’ve yet to light a match. The thought of being incinerated grips my insides, my mind turns mindless when imagining one's flesh and bones dissolving to nothing more than a pile of ash.

In life, we are taught the only constant is change and it’s the one thing I hate. We go through the motions, avoiding life’s big changes, and seek refuge in little decisions that make us feel powerful and safe. Oat or almond milk? Hazelnut or vanilla? That’s how we get through the days—blissful in the minutiae, hopeful in the unknown, ambivalent to oblivion. You find yourself spending $168 on a coat because that lessens the blow of thinking about the hard questions. The ones like, silver or brass. Chestnut or oak. Quarantined in a cocoon of our own making, we live life gently and without much tragedy. We are all avoiding the unexpected, hoping someone brings an oversized blanket to the picnic. The unpredictable can be a nuisance; the unforeseen can be unforgiving. It’s aspirational to tie up loose ends, close doors softly, and make sweeping declarations of closure that rock you softly to sleep like a soothing lullaby. Sometimes doors just close, conversations abruptly end, waves wash over the innocent, and sheets are placed on the fallen. What we do between those moments is up to us to decide—one warm breath at a time.

The beauty and mystery of death is that it mirrors life’s great question—what will happen next? Almond or oat? Soy or whole? Closed doors or open endings? Paper or plastic? Pine or marble? And should you get braces, or will the dreams about your teeth go away on their own? The only constant is change and that’s the one thing I fear the most—lying awake at night wondering if I’ll be ready to accept it when it comes.

Kristyn Potter is a New York based writer and founder/editor-in-chief of the music and culture site Left Bank Magazine. Her musings, memes, and puppy photos can be seen on her Instagram.

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