An ode to onions

They always make me cry when I slice them. But this time I was glad I cried.

Karen Norris/Staff

Does anyone enjoy cutting onions?

No one does. Period. If you Google “How to cut an onion without crying,” you’ll find a variety of tips. Refrigerate it. Use a very sharp knife. Wear goggles. Hold bread in your mouth. (Apparently, this one works.) I have tried a few, but ultimately determined that I’m too lazy to figure it out. (And who keeps goggles in the kitchen, anyway?) So every time, it’s the same challenge: Can I cut up the onion fast enough to avoid weeping over the cutting board?

On one particular Sunday night, it was no different. I turned on Spotify, rolled up my sleeves, and started cooking in preparation for my rapid-fire week. The recipe called for one large yellow onion, minced. I wrestle the appropriate specimen out of its bin in the pantry and peel off its papery outer layer. Then I take out a cutting board as I hum along to the acoustic tunes filling my apartment. I place the onion in the center of the cutting board, grab the sharpest knife in the kitchen, and take a deep breath.

Slice. Goodbye top. Slice. Goodbye bottom. Slice. Hello, two halves. But before I can flip the cut sides down on the board, the fumes reach my eyes. It burns. I start slicing frantically, my arms outstretched, knife to board, my head leaned as far back and away from the offensive vegetable as possible. But the fumes snake upward, finding their way into my nostrils, tickling my nose, making my eyes water. 

Then the dam breaks.

The first tear falls, and I sniff aggressively. Slice, slice, slice. Now tears are streaming down my face, my eyes blinded as I furiously chop. At this point, I’m just angry. Stupid onion! Why do I not keep goggles in the kitchen? This is the last thing I need right now. 

As I weep, a stream of consciousness churns as aggressively as my chopping, my thoughts now accosting me just as offensively as the onion fumes. Why haven’t I spoken to my best friend in months? I don’t know, but I can’t bear to lose her friendship. How’s my life going? Should I be investing my time and resources in other things? Am I happy? There was that petty argument last week. My rent is increasing next month. I should’ve exercised yesterday. I haven’t slept well. And by the way, I miss my family. And I don’t know what to do about that. I’m just tired.

I put the knife down, sobbing, tears mingling with mascara, snot, and fumes. What started as a simple task – cut this onion – has not only unleashed a flood of burning tears, but also caused the walls I’ve built against some of the pain and heartache I’ve been avoiding to collapse. After the release of physical tears brought on by nature’s saddest food, emotions followed. Life seems so hard sometimes, I think. And it’s OK to admit it to yourself and your cutting board.

With the onion somehow chopped (I do not recommend using sharp objects while your eyes are closed) and thrown into the pot to simmer, the air begins to clear. As the burning sensation recedes, so does the magnitude of my problems. I open my eyes, and my vision comes back into focus. So do solutions: Ask for help. Pick up the phone and call your loved ones. Let them know you miss them. Breathe. 

I go into the bathroom and rinse my face. Looking in the mirror, I suddenly see someone who is capable of many things and empowered to do great things. Even if it’s just taking that first step toward getting a better night’s sleep.

Maybe I should cut onions more often.

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