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It comes out of nowhere, and can be brought on by anything, usually without warning.

A sound, a smell, a sight.

One instant, one flash, one second, and you can be struck by a memory.

I was standing in my kitchen buttering toast one recent morning, and my eyes started to well up with tears. My heart felt heavy in my chest, and I was swept up in a hazy, intoxicating swirl of nostalgia.

I was thinking of how my Grandpa would make toast for my sister and me. Two slices of cinnamon sugar for her, two slices of crumbly, chewy, country style “Grandma White” for me. The kitchen was bathed in the doughy aroma, matched only by the glistening, salty butter which dripped off of those glorious, golden brown slices, set on paper plates and wicker plate holders – a signature of Grandpa’s house.

We’d sometimes eat in the kitchen at the table, sometimes, we’d take our toast into the living room to watch TV. I remember picking up a slice and seeing the stains and pools of butter left behind.

What I wouldn’t give to share a slice of toast right now.

There’s nothing particularly unique about this memory compared to the minutes and hours of mental film reel I’ve imprinted other memories of Grandpa’s house on. This one’s quiet and personal—and, well, delicious.

With the world in such a state of tragedy and disarray, I’m trying to reflect more on these simple moments. So much is out of our control right now that it’s easy to get swept up in the marquee life events we’ve lost: birthday parties missed, travel cancelled, weddings postponed. But we’re also missing the quieter beats, the fleeting moments of what normal, everyday life used to be like. I let the tears fall and smiled while taking my first bite of toast. I remembered Grandpa’s smile, his laugh, and his ability to bring everybody together.

I’ve also been missing people, generally—like everyone is. The unpredictability and uncertainty of when it’ll be safe to fly again, when it’ll be safe to hug again, and when it’ll be safe to see the people I love—it’s all overwhelming to take in.

Thankfully, there’s FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, phone calls, texting, emails, Twitter and Instagram DMs, and every other platform to stay connected to each other right now. Yes, I can see everyone’s faces and hear everyone’s voices, their stories and their laughter. Yes, that is a precious gift. But the digital communication we are lucky to share now also comes with lagging internet speeds, pixelated faces, and warped voices: sharp reminders of the physical distance between us. Sometimes, I just miss the real thing. I miss the sights, the smells, the sounds. I miss the hugs, the hands to hold, the kisses, the people.

And if I’m being honest, in this case: I really, really miss the toast.

Something about the thickness of the bread, the way it toasted and crumbled, and the sound of the definitive crunch of my first buttery bite made it truly the best toast in the world. And of course, the people I shared this magical toast with made those breakfasts even better.

So I’ll stay in the memory for a little bit longer, cherishing those moments I took for granted, preparing to make more memories that I’ll never once take for granted again.

Eventually, I’ll shake myself back into the present. I’ll be reminded once again of the horrors of the world. I’ll go back to the new normal of my days. I’ll keep moving, keep trying, and keep fighting—until I get struck by the next memory to pull me back under again.

Erin Vail

Erin is the 2003 West Reading Elementary Geography Bee champion, a TV obsessive, and never not thinking about Buffalo sports.

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