The sun streams through the window, illuminating the streaks that adorn the electric kettle.
The hills roll beneath the kitchen, framed by towering pines and dotted with pleasant, triangular houses. The instant coffee in my cup has a different texture to it, not earthy like from a french press but kind of muddy like instant cocoa. It tastes good. I am sweaty and my jeans are covered in mud. My girlfriend is still downstairs smacking her shoes against the stone steps so they can be acceptably left inside. A busied older woman is pulling something boiled and salty out of a pot and plating it for me. It is squishy and savory and filled with something fruity and sweet.
Her husband sits across from me. I will learn later that he has some unconscionable ideas about other kinds of people. The wife, though, is industrious, if beleaguered. She still cares for him even though she never wanted to, and he is mostly harmless now, anyway. Her son enters, a tall, bearded, balding man whose kindness and bluntness are in constant contention. He has been tilling soil and will eat much more than I will. Finally, my girlfriend slides onto the bench next to me and settles in for lunch, her soft skin tanned golden brown. The older man glances at her, and I look out the window. Three continents eat together.
We really can’t clap?
My friend is right. We can’t clap. This place is too stiff, too concerned with preserving the continuity of the music between movements or the posture of piety or the ambience of it all. My brother knows this, but he tries to get people to clap after every piece, anyway. He’s sixteen, and can still charmingly be an asshole. And so I play the middle, trying to be presentable yet responsive and not too stuffy in the deafening silence.
There’s still life in this house, but maybe it needs some waking up. This place was my home. It nurtured me. It supported me when I needed it, so why don’t I feel quite right? Hours before this, I was at my new home, where folks clap and laugh and protest and where the musician played right through my Magi reading. I wonder as I look down at my little scrap of bread that I grabbed from the brass plate, only a morsel given freely in cavernous resource.
The more I want someone to like me, the more terrified I am of spending time with them.
Whenever I lunch with a fellow student or mentor or coworker, especially one who is close to me in age (as a South Floridian, I am only at home among individuals 45 years my senior), I want to jump out of my skin. I want to ostracize myself, to promise them they won’t have to sit with me for long, to save them from the dislike I am certain they will feel for me. There are only two kinds of people around whom I can relax: those I am meeting for the first time who I will never see again and those I have known for a decade who I intend to snare for life. New, potentially long-term relationships can leave me well enough alone.
I am at the table with a whole horde of people who occupy this category of uncertainty and insecurity. I want to run, or to scream, but we arrived together and my full plate is mooring me to the table. My silence is broken by occasional bursts of nervous over-talking. These people are sitting there stubbornly including me in their good community, anyhow, offering me grace I typically refuse to give myself. They’re sadists. I’m grateful.
We’re tired as hell and we place our order appropriately.
I’m sitting on the couch in my underwear, occupying some glorious space between pride and shame. My girlfriend and I are watching The Great British Baking Show and chowing into the bounty before us. She’s been stressed about her search for a job she doesn’t want, I’m exhausted as I try to decompress from the jobs I just started. We’re both over our self-profaning cycle of using one another as targets and shields at the same time, but we planned tonight to repeat it regardless.
Instead, some benevolent fry-vat sprite descended on our home and inspired us to seek another path. We threw the bottle of Moscato d’Asti in the fridge and I charged to the drive thru. And here we are—buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches in our hands and chilly, effervescent juiciness in our glasses—sharing the dumbest, finest meal we’ve had in months, perhaps the only kind we could enjoy.