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When I returned to Pittsburgh, I did nothing for six months. I enjoyed living off the grid. I spent afternoons in my mom’s garden, behind my parents’ new house, pulling weeds and planting bulbs. I stayed up late, read lots of books and wrote furiously in my journal. I helped my mom with her antiques business and cooked lots of meals for my parents.

Each time I chopped vegetables or seasoned a piece of meat, I thought of something that Charlie had told me, during that ill-fated trip to visit him one summer in Washington.

“I don’t usually go out to eat,” Charlie said, as he minced garlic for a pasta recipe that I continued to prepare, years after seeing him in D.C., with tomatoes, basil and fontinella cheese. “There’s something very soothing about preparing a meal, coo...

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