Her food tasted of fear.
She cooked the way she lived – afraid. Every piece of meat, vegetable, even pasta had to have
the contamination scorched out of it, lest it harbor disease.
Botulism, trichinosis, streptococcus, staphylococcus, things that had nothing whatever to do with
undercooked food, but just to be sure, she would broil and boil the shit out of it. Just to be sure.
Dinner every night at 5:30 – gray, unidentifiable meat, mashed potatoes, vegetable and a glass of milk.
“Drink your milk, goddammit,” my father would yell at Kathy.
She was lactose intolerant; he was utterly intolerant. “It doesn’t give you a stomach ache – that’s all in your head,” he would yell.
There was no reason to yell; it was a small table and just the four of us.
I ate each food, one at a time, always saving my favorite for last. I still eat that way.
“What the hell’s the matter with you,” he would yell. “It’s all going to the same place.”
Kathy and I would constantly antagonize each other. Once, she put salt in my milk, just for fun. I took a sip
and complained – “my milk tastes salty.”
I forget how many times he yelled that I was imagining it before he tasted it for himself and proclaimed it to be salty. Because our parents prided themselves on being equitable with their daughters, we both got into trouble for that one.
We got on her nerves, her perpetually frail nerves. One night she hit her limit
and threw a plate full of food against the wall, then went to bed. It was an extreme reaction,
but that was always her favorite kind.
Anne Lamott once wrote about how hard it is to enjoy your dinner when you’re holding your breath.
I could relate.
Ian turned 13 today.
I remember being 13.
I remember my mother forcing me to keep my unruly hair pulled into pigtails, my teeth half-way
through the purgatory of braces, my ears freshly pierced. Catholic school uniforms,
meant to level the playing field, doing no such thing.
I remember falling in love with a boy named Scott. I remember sneaking out of Granny’s apartment
at midnight to meet him in the stairwell and spend the next two hours kissing and talking,
but mostly kissing. I remember Scott introducing me to Supertramp and David Bowie.
I still listen to them both.
I remember being told that when you fall in love at 13 it’s not really love. I remember thinking
that was bullshit. It pleases me now, at 50, to know I was right.
I remember trying out for cheerleading. I remember that my number was “7.”
I still have that number, the one that was pinned to my shorts, in case I ever forget my number, or
forget trying out for cheerleading.
I remember thinking I would probably need to be a writer when I grew up. That I would have no choice.
I remember at 13, being simultaneously sad, happy, resentful and ridiculous. I remember having no
idea of who I was or was supposed to be, but always suspecting that I would be fine, no matter what.
I remember realizing that I couldn’t trust my parents, that they didn’t have my back. I remember
thinking, at 13, that I couldn’t wait to be 18. To be a grown-up.
13 was sweet, and difficult; it was exciting and confusing. It lasted forever, and it was over in a heartbeat.
Ian is 13 and I have his back, and I think he knows that. But his 13 is his 13….
I was born in Oswego, NY,
"I had always wanted to be a writer, but was impeded by the belief that to be a writer one had to be extraordinary, and I knew I wasn't. By the time I was ready to give up my academic career I had realized that while books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else." The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield