I was always excited to buy him a big rib-eye steak to grill or to get his favorite snack for him...Now eats only to exist.
I paid little attention, ladling green salsa into a teeny plastic cup.
Later that night, my dad cooked broccoli and quinoa, and we reeled when he presented it as qwee-noah. It's keen-wah, Dad, how do you not know that !! We ate on paper plates to avoid washing dishes.
I grew up on that campus, attended summer camps in tents on the lawns, snuck out of dining halls with chicken nuggets bulging from my pockets, and had dinner with professors who were parents of good friends. My mom dropped us off near the Stanford bookstore, where on rainy days she had brought us for hot cocoa and madeleines.
She gave me a lump of brown-sugar oatmeal in a plastic cup, I ate it with a flimsy white spoon.
When my grandma crumbled blue cheese over our salads, Tiffany pinched her nose, and I'd wait for my grandma to turn around before shoveling her cheesy leaves into my mouth.
At every class party, I'd wrap half of my donut or snickerdoodle in a napkin so I could deliver it to her at recess.
My mom would make me lie in bed and drink a heated concoction with ginger.
Sitting in that parking lot, the only place I could think to go was In-N-Out. It was ten in the morning, early for burgers, but In-N-Out was different. We'd treated the White-tiled interior like a church growing up. It was where we gravitated when one of us was upset or celebrating or heartbroken. All the salt and sauce always made me feel better. But by the time we arrived, I felt embarrassed in my clothes and requested that we do drive-through. We ordered our burgers and pulled over to eat. I took one bite but didn't taste the sauce. I slipped the burger under its wrapper and set it down by my feet.
We stood waiting to be seated, next to red paper decorations, a bowl of melon candies, a tank full of frowning fish. We ordered an entire Peking duck. As always, my mom prepped us with a demonstration; lay out the circular bun, spread a dollop of plum sauce, add a crispy morsel of crimson duck meat, a few spring of green onion and cucumber stalks, wrapping it all up. Mom is rolling duck blunts. Mom, Mom look, Quack Kush.
I stood under the fluorescent light of the office kitchen. My strudel spun in the microwave. (...) My strudel was burning, microwave exhaling, I was dish towel flapping, before smoke could drift into the office.
The next day, a lemon pie sat on the counter next to a note. In the hushed hours of morning while I'd been sleeping, my dad had picked lemons from the backyard, boiled sugar and eggs over the stove, pressed fingertips into crust along the edge, sprinkled powdered sugar on top. I brought it into work to share. I sat at my desk with my yellow slice and opened my browser.
My days were wonderfully ordinary, full of movement and texture; fresh salmon dinners with crispy skin, long talks on the phone with Lucas, bike rides through the Baylands with my dad across crunchy salt and pickle weed.
But mostly, if she was worried about me, she'd make me a bowl of noodles larger than my head, or place her fingers on my temples, my stress slipping away beneath her fingertips.
I wiped my face, then cast a vote for gummy worms.
I got a job at a Chinese restaurant, trained to pack rice into take-out boxes for ten dollars an hour. My drink of choice was the bright blue AMF, short for Adios Mother Fucker.
It had been an uneventful afternoon, we'd gotten milk tea and egg custard tarts in Chinatown, he bought me a turquoise ring from a sidewalk vendor, and I wondered when, on this ordinary day, he had realized it.
When I arrived, there were large white poster boards he'd bought me for drawing, a freezer stocked with ice cream.
A cart stood on a corner; I'd exchange one crumpled dollar for a Styrofoam cup of coconut sherbet.
I was waiting for them to leave, so that I could take a long shower and chop zucchini into disks to fry in silence of the house.
Eating cherry pie, listening to dubstep remixes of the Seinfeld intro.
At night we unwrapped hamburgers by the river.
I spent more money on art supplies and no money eating out, sticking to my microwaved pizzas and raw vegetables.
An old man sat down beside me. He turned and said, Would you like a slice of bell pepper? He had glasses, a soft cotton shirt with a little notepad in his pocket, looked content and restful. He had a small knife in one hand, a sliver of green bell pepper in the other, a handkerchief in his lap where he had set the rest of the vegetable. I stared at the slice. What if he's poisoned the seeds? What if he's a pervert and rubbed his penis on the bell pepper and wants to watch me eat it? What if he slits me with his pocketknife? The little old man patiently held the bell pepper out to me. And that's when I thought, I'm losing it. There is a kind man wearing a fedora on a warm evening eating a bell pepper on a bench. You are allowed to be cautious but you don't always have to be afraid. Give yourself permission to enjoy this small vegetable. I took it, eating it in one piece, thanking him.
Elliot had lived in a brown apartment building, a block away from Sweet Alley, where I'd frequently buy bags of sour watermelon candies for long nights at the library.
At art galleries I filled napkins with free grapes and hummus-smeared chips. I was always exhausted, increasingly unhealthy. I wanted my mom's cooking.
I treated myself to vodka pineapples, watching kids catch lightning bugs and drink cream sodas out of red vine straws.
We called it a night, heading back to my friend's apartment, craving buttered toast and cold water.
I missed the cluttered streets of Philly, the way lives overlapped, the crowded elevators and shopping bags bumping into my legs and the smog of buses and flimsy boxes of red chicken smeared in white cream from silver halal carts.
My mom was uneasy in the sordid space, wanting to make it better somehow, and left to get us warm milk at a nearby café, some cookies, chopped honeydew.
I spoke about Arastradero Preserve at sunset, Tiffany and Julia, the taqueria, my open-faced chicken taco, drinking water because it was spicy, going home, my dad's dinner. Other than the stir-fry and broccoli and the taco did you have anything else to eat that day? No, I responded, then paused.
The italian delis encasing speckled sausage and pink meats, the butchers' smocks covered in rosy fingerprints. Soup with matzo balls as large as fists.
He introduced me to Big B, who sat with a chess set every day in the park, showed me his favorite place to get roast beef sandwiches.
I'd grown up coming home to my mom sitting at the dinner table surrounded by twelve women making dumplings, their hands fluttering to produce mountainous pile of doughy delicacie. I never participated, just sat in my room as bowl after bowl was delivered while I did my homework. Now I walked to Chinatown and back again, my arms looped with plastic bags sprouting long green chives and pink ground pork sealed in plastic. Usually I avoided raw meat, unnerved by touching the wet insides of animals. But I was chopping the chive of animals. But I was chopping the chives into tiny green circles, sprinkling them into the flesh, dipping my finger in water and tracing the crescent rim of each circular coaster of dough, plucking a morsel of meat to place in the center, sealing them into soft pouches. I didn't have a factory line of women, but I sat humming to myself, hunched over the counter, making over two hundred. My loneliness was turning into something edible, something good, when dipped in chili pepper and soy sauce. Having two mouths instead of just my own to feed was enough motivation. Every day, I would rip off a blank sheet of paper, write down a recipe, tuck it into my purse, go collect the required vegetables and meats and spices. It was over stir-fry that Lucas told me he was going to a rugby tournament for three days.
The custodian of my building, Anthony, was always refilling the hot cocoa machine on the fifth floor because he knew I drank two cups in the evenings.
When it was quiet in the lobby, I'd ride the elevator down in my slippers with two coconut popsicles, to spend a couple of hours conversing.
As winter approached, I was grateful for dark red and yellow leaves plastered over wet, gray stones, for the rugby players who ate my tortilla soup, for the students who invited me to coffee.
I bought myself a magnolia-scented candle, cookie dough. I would eat half the package of uncooked dough before falling asleep.
I biked to get a burrito, drank from an expired coke can, sat wearing my helmet on a bench at the park. I took a photo of the burrito and posted it online. I received thirty-two likes.
Grandma Ann took out a bag of dark chocolates.
I turned into the doorway, saw Lucas and Tiffany in crewneck sweaters, a hot pizza between them, beaming, You're alive! I rested my head on the table, my cheek pressed against the cool wood. Their arms enfolded me, relief. My sister was rubbing my back, tucking the hairs away from my face. I was starved, began feeding one warm slice after the other into my mouth. I closed my eyes, tasted melted cheese, crunchy pieces of olive and onion. Cold sips of coke, crunchy blocks of crust. Lucas surprised me with a bag of gummy worms, made one worm dance and peck me on my cheek. I was safe, growing sleepy. They had carved out a warm place to collapse into, without having to ask or explain anything. I felt fear dissolving, the world a gentle place again.
In a settling where every word was deliberate, why did he end with the broccoli and rice? After I felt I realized that my dad may have made quinoa, not rice---and quinoa may have lowered my alcohol tolerance.
Mac & cheese, salmon, and chicken soup for the heart. Be strong! A glass casserole of macaroni and cheese had gone cold from sitting out. I dug into it with a metal spoon.
My friend Matt and I went to my favorite Indian spot, sat outside scraping orange rice from a metal tin.
On the other side of the world a family member would be waiting to bring him to a dinner with pickled mustard greens, rice noodles, and quail eggs.
Summer afternoons he cooks risotto while singing along to Crosby, Stils, Nash & Young.
In the afternoon, my mom taught me how to make my favorite shrimp dish. Together we removed the shells, chopped garlic, sprinkled chilli flakes. When their watery gray crescents of flesh hit the hot oil, it spurted out, flecking my blouse.
My grandma pours a glass of cold grape juice and breaks the slabs of dark chocolate into pieces on the counter. I stuff the chocolate into my cheeks, let it melt on my teeth, chugging the sweet juice.
Are you sure you want to go in the morning, I cut up some strawberries, you can stay here as long as you need, pack a warm coat for the plane.
Our group made so much money from ticket sales we treated ourselves to the Barclay Prime steakhouse in Philly. I'd never been to a restaurant so upscale, the waiter walking around with a velvet box of knives asking us each to choose one. As I cut into my soft filet mignon, I wished I could exchange the slab of meat for cash that I could pocket. The meal cost more than I had in my bank account.
I hadn't seen since my teens. In middle school, her daughter and I had been a part of the same group of friends, biking to Blockbuster to rent Carrie, eating Cheetos, tucked inside sleeping bags in the little guesthouse.
I ate some Lucky Charms cereal in my pajamas, listening to my spoon clinking against the bowl in the silence, the diluted yellow sun cating the building.
They took us to Fogo de Chão, a Bralizian steakhouse, where we were each given a coaster; one side red, one side green. If you placed the green side face up on the table, waiters swarmed to you with racks of meat they'd slice straight onto your plate. Red side meant I am content for the moment, please leave me be. I loved the control, the way a flip of the coaster could send waiters into motion around me, the way the red made everything stop.
Lucas and I sat in the barren apartment, eating cold canned soup.
My friend took me out to get frozen yogurt.
My mom came in with a bowl of rice congee.
Two purple chocolate bars from a woman in Ireland, to replenish the supply that Grandma Ann had given me.
The dusty smell of sand. The scorch of cocoa, the sticky film of melted marshmallow. Spongy insides of bread sopping up tomatoes and vodka sauce. I am reminded of what I am capable of feeling.
She returns with a powderty chocolate drink, I chug it with a shaking hand.
On the worst days I abandoned it all and jogged to get a banh mi sandwich in my black down jacket, cilantro leaves pasted to my lips, eyes dry and red, and then I'd sit on the carpet in the children's section of the library.
I ordered blueberry pancakes, six of them. When I came back in and passed the man, I stared at him, grabbed powdered sugar, maple syrup, returned to my table in the corner. I'd learned by now how to tie myself back to reality, filtering my world down to a set number of immovable, tactile facts: I am eating delicious pancakes. The sun is out. I am warm. I see pink begonias.
It was odd because in China I'd eat meat cooked in unfamiliar oil, ate where men waded barefoot into the water to catch fish, gutting them on wooden stumps, stewing them before me. I wrote a list on a pink Post-it note: Thursday, pesto pasta, Friday, chicken.
Our teacher making us eat expired crackers called hardtack so we could empathize with a soldier's diet in World War II.
After my twenty-fourth birthday, I took the train to New York to sign a contract for my first book, celebrating with a dessert of grilled peaches.
That night I celebrated alone by buying Oreos, pouring them in a bowl of milk, letting them sit, scooping out the remains.
I listened to the night air full of honking, incessant, blaring horns, the beautiful rage, the support of my hometown, people packing the sidewalks I grew up on, these streets where I'd scootered with Tiffany, eating lemon drops.
My mom arrived, slipped me a red bean mooncake she'd been carrying in her pocket, and we walked into the crowd where Grandma Ann was waiting, chanting, We believe you.
Chanel Miller "Know My Name: A Memoir"