WWC24 – A matter of time, by Allyson Noman

Spiral staircase, credit: T. Meltzer

In this bittersweet entry to our 2024 wine writing competition, writer and artist Allyson Noman writes about a moment of reflection on wine and time.

Allyson Noman writes Allyson Noman is a first-generation Pakistani-Korean writer and artist with ties to New York City, Miami Beach, and much of California. Her work explores identity, love, and addiction. Her fiction writing has received support from The Napa Valley Writers Conference, Electric Literature partner Writing Workshops' Paris retreat, and has appeared in The Hellebore Press. She was selected as a 2024 fellow of The Wine Writers Symposium, and currently writes about wine for renowned importer, Kermit Lynch. Her work has also been featured at the Center for Book Arts, New York and on The Well-Balanced Fish podcast.

A Matter of Time

Depending on who you talk to, time is either linear and straight, or a continuous spiral that exists all at once, each moment occurring simultaneously. I generally subscribe to the latter with a healthy dose of salt-grain-taking. But I do feel time’s boundaries especially blur at junctures that hold particular weight. Momentous occasions like births and deaths, unions and dissolutions. When I married my husband in late 2021, I saw years of celebrations laid out before us, each one happening in real time as we stood in one place, watching the memories yet to be made swirl around us. 

Two years later, as I organized my wine fridge on a Sunday afternoon, I suddenly found myself struck by a wave of grief. We’d known each other for over a decade, but the first years of marriage had been challenging. We grew closer, then farther, then closer again, ebbing and flowing with the tides of time. At some point though, the sand beneath us gave way, shifting us irreparably. Shortly after celebrating our second wedding anniversary, we separated. That Sunday in front of the fridge, young bottles of Burgundy and Barolo (his favorites) looked back at me, and a feeling of surrealness descended. Disbelief. That swirl of memories the night we eloped had felt so close I could reach out and touch them. But now they reappeared, drifting before me…and vanished. 

There were many reasons. Drinking was one. For two people who met at a bar in New York City while working in them, and who both continued to work in that industry for the next many years, this was a particularly difficult truth to face. We saw too many friends paralyzed by the lifestyle we’d led. Some couldn’t progress to the next stage of their lives, forever suspended in a state illuminated by dim dive bar lights and street drugs. Some tried getting sober. Some died. Right before we married, I had finally wrested my career free from running bars and restaurants and into the much more sane world of fine wine. My husband was managing beverage programs for a collection of luxury resorts. In this moment of stability, we looked at each other and how far we’d come: we were living in California, had a mortgage, two cars, and were in a season of deep closeness. After over ten years of fighting for each other, we agreed; we deserved to become family. 

When we were young city creatures, special occasions were always marked by food and wine. Lavish meals with glasses poured and cheers-ed. As we moved into our thirties, the planning and anticipation of those moments became their own experience. Selecting bottles of wine to stow away for days or evenings in the years to come: symbolic placeholders of memories yet to be made. That Sunday, as I felt those bottles waiting to be chosen, innocent, unopened, it hit me—I will never drink these with my husband. I finally saw them for what they had become: so many cases of broken promises.

Plenty of parts of losing the person you love strike full force as it’s happening. The searing pain as your heart breaks, the nights of crying, mornings of swollen eyes. But what’s more interesting, perhaps, are the moments that seep through later in the process, forcing you to come face to face with uncomfortable, sometimes seemingly unbearable truths. I can feel the energetic potential attached to those vanished memories still suspended, floating, waiting to be realized. I look over the labels every once in a while: 2018 Chassagne-Montrachet “En Remilly”; 2017 Barolo “La Tartufaia”; 2014 Grand Cru Riesling “Dudenstein”...and the one label that meant the most to me, his wife. What will become of us now? 

I suppose, like anything, it only makes sense to pick up those energetic potentials and put them toward something new. Recontextualize and redefine as we knit through the fabric of time. Those labels and I? We are young. Open to what the years have in store ahead. Certainly we’ll face phases where we could show better. But we’ll evolve, hopefully in a supportive climate, and become whatever it is we are meant to be. Truth be told, when I sit still and focus, the layers of time give way. The construct unfolds and I know, whatever it is I am looking for, and wherever it is I’m supposed to go, in fact, I am there already.