Everyone loved Regina’s raspberry jam. No one could get enough of it, either. As fast as Regina could produce it, it’d get bought up and consumed within the first couple days. No matter what she did, demand always outpaced supply.
From the moment that one popular food blogger mentioned her jam, Regina was inundated with orders. Something about the jam was extraordinary. No one could quite put their finger on it, either. People even went so far as to investigate the suppliers of the raspberries to see if they were selling Regina something special, like a hybrid variety or something. Nope. Just regular, organic berries. They were high quality, but nothing you couldn’t find at a Whole Foods or another high-end retailer.
I befriended Regina in the first year of her fame. She was at the library and I screwed up my courage to go talk to her. I’ve always been a foodie and I knew about the jam she made. I’d only tried it once, in a sugar cookie my niece had made, and I had to admit: the stuff was heavenly.
I’d heard around town that Regina was shy and reclusive – even moreso since her brush with fame. Still, I wanted to meet her. I went to her after she’d put her book down and introduced myself. She was pleasant, albeit slightly distant. We got talking, however, and she seemed delighted that I wasn’t asking about the raspberry jam. Quite the contrary; I talked to her about the book she was reading. “Accelerando,” by Charles Stross. One of my favorites. Turned out it was one of hers, too.
We chatted about the book and the characters. She’d read it twice before, but she told me she liked to reread it when she was feeling overwhelmed. She said it helped her escape. It was only then that she hinted at being depressed. She was the first one to mention her job.
“I just can’t make enough jam for people to be happy,” she told me.
I felt guilty, as if I were taking advantage of her candidness. The only reason I’d talked to her in the first place was because of the jam. But she didn’t need to know that. I nodded and let her continue.
“I just put so much of myself into it. So, so much of myself.”
It was then I realized how pale she looked, as if she’d been drained of blood. I worried about her wellbeing.
“Why don’t you just walk away from it?,” I asked. “Or just take a break?”
Regina sighed. “I feel like it’s my identity now. Everyone who loves it has eaten a part of me and… I just…I just worry that someday there won’t be anything left.”
She stood up and shook my hand. “It was really nice meeting you.” She wrote her phone number on a piece of paper. “Call me at some point – I’d love to talk to you about books again.”
And that’s how my relationship with Regina began. We met many times after that and talked about books and television shows and movies. I’d hesitate to say we ever dated because we never got involved physically, but we’d given each other keys to our respective homes and saw one another almost every night. I felt like more of her confidant than her partner, and I was okay with that.
One evening in March, I called Regina. She didn’t pick up. I knew she’d been working on that month’s supply of jam, so I expected her to be busy. She always called back.
But she didn’t.
The next day, there was an article on the front page of our hometown newspaper talking about how Le Bernardin in New York had started using Regina’s jam. There was a small blurb from a Q&A the paper had had with Regina and she mentioned how she poured her all into the jam. I was so happy for her. I tried to call again. No answer.
Now I was starting to get worried. She usually didn’t wait this long to return my calls.
After another day of waiting, I drove to her house and let myself in. The rooms were quiet. The kitchen was uncharacteristically clean. Usually there were pots and pans and smudges of jam all over the place. Not that time.
I walked around the house, calling her name. No response. I ascended the stairs and looked around. I found her moments later.
Regina had hanged herself from a beam in the closet. From the looks of her, she’d been dead for days. I wrestled with her lifeless body, trying to get her down. I couldn’t. I sobbed as I dialed 911.
As I waited, I saw a note on the bed with my name on it. I opened it, and as tears flooded down my face, read the contents.
“I’m sorry, John. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciated your friendship. Had I not met you, this would have happened a long time ago and I never would have gotten to know the feeling of happiness I got when I was with you. But, like I said so many times, I put so much of my energy into my work. The expectations were too high. I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever. Please forgive me. Love, Regina.”