oysters and pearls

i come from a family of adventurous eaters, but surprisingly, it took long time for me to call myself one. my childhood was filled with sunday trips to chinatown, live crabs from local fishermen crawling on the kitchen floor, and dingy hole-in-the-walls. my father would entertain us by telling outrageous food stories, like the time he ate live monkey brains from a live monkey. (wtf?! dad, is this true?!) clearly, they would stop at nothing for a good meal, and a good story.

while i loved my parents stories, i didn't always appreciate the food. i was 8 or 9 when i first encountered oysters, cautiously trying them out of curiosity over my parents delight in these alien, watery lumps that sat orderly in their silver platter. as i slid the oyster into my mouth, i was immediately regretful. my small mouth was full of briny, gooey, seawater. the texture was wrong, the flavor appalling, and the thought of enjoying it beyond comprehension. while choking the oyster down, i saw my parents through my tears, clearly savoring their own oysters. at that moment, the adult world seemed so foreign, unattainable, and confusing. would i ever become an adult who enjoyed these tastes and understood these mysteries?

it took me many years to eat another oyster. as the memory of that night faded, the repulsion i felt toward oysters started to fade as well, and was gradually replaced by the same curiosity i felt as a child. as i grew less repulsed, i grew more nervous, thinking that my reaction would determine my membership in the club of sophisticated tastes. finally, and with much fanfare, i tried another oyster. while not as repulsive as the first, it was nothing terribly exciting. the lack of fireworks was disappointing, i'd hoped that my tastes had miraculously changed. after that, i stopped thinking about oysters. i'd eat them when available, but wasn't too terribly excited. and then slowly, i began to like them. their raw oceanic taste morphed into something no longer gross, but sweet, clean, and evocative. a good 15 years later, i'm an official oyster lover, fully initiated into the club.

what is most fascinating about this experience is not the fact that my tastes have evolved, but that i've finally become that mysterious adult i misunderstood for so long while still being young enough to remember that 9 year old who felt betrayed by her parents pleasure. being caught between the image of what you imagined adulthood to be and the fashioning of that life feels like playing dress up, where all the clothes suddenly, and terrifyingly, fit.
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