|Daily Prompt 11/1. "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry ..."|
I come from a family of what could probably be described as culinary geniuses. My father could heap a pile of seemingly incongruous ingredients on the kitchen counters one minute and present the most deliciously unique meal you've ever tasted an hour later. My mother, on the other hand, was a queen of staples. You might dine and break the fast and lunch for almost a month before you realized that ever single meal involved some new twist on chicken. I grew up in a home that always smelled of good food. A hot meal spelled love.
So perhaps this is why, in this season of unrelenting reminiscences of my mother, my memories are often triggered by foods.
Not long ago I found myself suffering from an overwhelming hankering for Philadelphia soft pretzels. Of course, my mind now hits the obvious: my mom grew up in Philadelphia, and my year spent there was full of snapshots of her youth, including the warm salty-sweetness of that twisty doughy treat. But this isn't really the memory I drift to--it only halts me for awhile before the real memory spill. No, what I really remember is the night in Washington, DC during a writers' conference that my mother called me while I was on my way to a restaurant with friends and told me that she had left my father. I remember how the story changed in a matter of seconds--first that he had kicked her out, then that she had left, then that she was staying with friends, then that I should tell her where I was (two states away from her at the time) so she could come and see me. It was all so ... twisted. It wasn't long after that I got a call from my brother, asking what I knew, and telling what he'd heard. It was the most time I had ever spent on my cellphone, ever. The more I talked to family, the more jumbled things became. Stories overlapped to unveil a stomach twisting truth: my mom was in a manic state, and was gone, both mentally and physically, to a place where no one in our immediate family could find her. I remember sitting at dinner that night with friends, smoothly twisting the story into nonchalance, mild family drama, staring at a shared bowl of pretzel appetizers with various mustard toppings and thinking, "It's not the same. They're wrong. Why is everything suddenly so wrong?" I had my first full drink (the first drink, anyway, that wasn't a compilation of stolen sips of other friends' grown-up beverages) that night, too, a cosmo ordered for me by a friend who knew me well enough to know a simple sweet drink was all I needed. It wasn't enough. Later that night I let a waiter order for me, a drink called a menage a trois, something lovely and twisted and dizzying to my senses and a drink I have never found again.
eat, drink, and be merry ...
I don't enjoy food as much anymore. I've grown accustomed to a diet of ramen noodles and pizza, an occasional home cooked meal that usually tastes too dry and too the-same-as-last-time. I don't possess the culinary touches of my parents. The other week I made baked macaroni and cheese, a House family delicacy, and almost wept with each bite. It was a dual almost weeping. One part joy over the sweet taste of so much cheese and reminiscing over shared meals with deeply missed family. One part sorrow over the realization that even in following a recipe to the letter from my dad, it just ... wasn't the same. It was like his touch--or my mother's--was missing. And then I began to miss her. Just like that. That's how quickly the triggering switch is pulled. Baked macaroni. Buried mother. The bitter and the sweet.
... for tomorrow we die
There are things that scare me now that my mother is dead. I used to love the rain. Now it terrifies me. It's a torture to walk through a rainstorm, or to hear the splash of water rising on the sidewalk. I used to fall asleep to the sound of rainstorms or ocean waves crashing. Now they only make me think of drowning. I'm afraid of the dark. I sometimes think it can swallow me whole. I'm afraid of choking. I think too often of the coroner's words explaining how it was probably a quick rush of water through my mother that drowned her, that it can happen that fast: the water rushes in, and you faint, and you drown. I think, if drowning can be that easy, dining alone should be terrifying. And it wouldn't be so quick. Those choking gasps would hurt. And I keep planning meals in her memory. I never make them. I'm not good enough to touch her culinary shoes. And I'm afraid if I have those things, the corned chipped beef or cabbage or other Rosita favorites, I'll weep, and choke, and die drowning and suffocating.
I miss rich, good meals. I miss my mom. I miss my dad. I miss the feeling of home that comes from knowing a meal was prepared with love. You don't get that with ramen. I suppose mourning is like the communion of a good meal. You just can't do either alone.
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