All I really need to know I learned from doughnuts

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A selection of flavors from Dunkin' Donuts. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — We walked out of the club holding each other’s hands. I was drunk and she was high.

“Do you know that even at our happiest, I can only get 80 percent of what I need from you?” she said while looking into my eyes. “The other 20, I would have to find in someone else.”

“That’s OK,” I replied. “I only get 20 percent of what I need from you, and the other 80 I get from doughnuts,” I added in jest.

I am somewhat known as the doughnut connoisseur of Melbourne. There was a phase in my life when my Instagram feed was filled with doughnuts of all styles, shapes, and sizes: glazed, filled, fusion, mini — you name it, I’ve tried it. My heart would skip a beat every time I saw a doughnut I loved. Doughnut shops would follow me on Instagram and regularly repost the photos I took. I would walk into meetings with people I’d never met before and they would say, “I know this is a bit creepy, but I know doughnuts are your favorite food.”

IMG_4378.jpg Doughboys Donuts. Photo by SAMANTHA LEE  

My earliest doughnut-related memory was from when I was 6 years old. It was the day before our class field trip to the zoo and my dad had brought home a strawberry-frosted Dunkin’ Donut that I could take with me. I remember being really upset during the bus ride because the frosting was stuck all over the plastic and what I had in my hand was almost a plain doughnut. Since that experience, I would make it a point to accompany my dad whenever he went out to get doughnuts just so I could instruct the Dunkin’ Donuts girl to make sure that my strawberry-frosted doughnut didn’t touch the plastic, or any other doughnut, for that matter. But the doughnut girl never really learned how to save the frosting of my strawberry doughnut. It was a battle I constantly fought but a war I eventually lost. This was how I learned that I couldn’t control everything.

I was one of those kids who insisted on bringing a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts home from the States. Once when I was in line to order a dozen doughnuts, the girl behind the counter told me to be careful not to eat them all at once. We had to vacuum-dry a massive ziplock bag and freeze the doughnuts so that they would be in good shape after more than 12 hours of travel. When I got home, I ended up giving all those doughnuts away because it just wasn’t the same. What I had with me were 12 deformed sugar doughnuts now devoid of the idea of the retro-themed store, the friendly doughnut lady, and the actual joy of having those doughnuts to myself. This was how I learned how to handle disappointment.

doughnut time Doughnut Time in Melbourne. Photo by SAMANTHA LEE  

I once tried to prove my love to my then significant other by buying her doughnuts. It was when J.Co first opened in Manila and the wait to get doughnuts lasted for about an hour. Every week, I would buy her a box just to prove how patient and kind I could be in standing in line for doughnuts and in life. She later broke up with me by quoting words to Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”: “I told you to be patient / I told you to be kind.” I guess my being patient and kind wasn’t enough. This was how I learned that you could buy doughnuts but you couldn’t buy love.

A few years ago, I started working in an office located in the business district of Melbourne. Shortstop was a very popular doughnut store located two blocks away that served really good coffee. They served many different kinds of doughnuts: fried, filled, glazed, sprinkled, and torched unified by a moist crumb cake batter. I went there so often they knew what my name and order were even before I got to the counter. I once met up with a client there and took her to the counter to order some doughnuts. When she got to the counter, she asked the girl at the till what her favorite doughnut was and the girl said that it was the “maple walnut and brown butter.” I objected, saying that her favorite was actually the “earl grey and rose,” and she laughed while giving me this look that said, “You’ve been here too many times.” This was how I learned that people change, or lie, or both.

shortstop donuts A selection of doughnuts from Shortstop in Melbourne (clockwise from left): coconut, matcha, Australian honey and sea salt, maple walnut and brown butter, and earl grey and rose. Photo by SAMANTHA LEE  

One time, after I spent months away from Melbourne, my friend surprised me with a box of Shortstop doughnuts waiting on the car seat when I arrived. It felt like I was home, even though I wasn’t. These weren’t my doughnuts anymore. Throughout my visit, I made a point to try out all the new doughnut stores that opened while I was away. Some were good and some were OK, but I knew that I would never form a real bond with these doughnuts. I would have fond memories of them, sure, but I would never have a claim on them, nor they on me. This was how I learned how to not get hurt.

Once I came upon a doughnut shop called Donut Shop in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. In no time I found out that the cheekily named store served what to this day is the best (and only) matcha doughnut I’ve ever tried. It was strong and cakey on the outside with green tea custard within. It was the right amount of bitter with a sweetness that lingered. This doughnut can be compared to the most beautiful girl in class that you never thought you had a chance with until you found out she liked the same movies as you. After I left the shop, I got the feeling you get when you think someone is calling your name but there’s no one there. But after a couple of steps, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “You forgot something,” the girl who worked the counter said, when I looked back. She gave me the change I had forgotten to take. She was cute, but I didn’t make a move since I wasn’t staying. This was when I learned that some good things in life — and some probably good people — are ones I couldn’t come back for.