his name splattered big and bold on bright orange signs, their skinny
wooden sticks stabbed in snowbanks, toothpicks in mashed potatoes, I
used to think Frost Heaves was a person running for political office.
Every year, following Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast, the
ubiquitous signs canvassed town and I’d think, Man, that guy
just doesn’t give up.
no problem taking taxes but can’t figure out how to fix a
goddamn road!”growled my dad as he navigated the Ford Ranch
Wagon, Value Seekers Edition, around the obstacle course of mounds
and swollen cracks in the pavement. Free of seat belts, my sisters
and I popcorned all over the way, way backseat, taking cheap
amusement to a whole new level of adventure.
to save a
dime by spending a dollar, our nearsighted town officers recognized
the perilous road conditions yet did nothing to solve the problem,
other than plant warning signs. Void of action, signs and a token
will get you a turbulent ride on public transportation, praying like
an atheist in a fox hole.
signs that I was in an unhealthy marriage could fit in a fortune
cookie, their barely legible, delicate script disclosed in private,
they existed. They sounded like the rattle of a frying pan thrown
against the kitchen cabinet because it wasn’t cleaned the right
way. Or the spine of a book when it's crushed against a windowpane.
The pages screamed at me, indignant and offended by my apparent
indifference or lack of action.
road to perdition is paved with warning signs: here, there and
everywhere. On a house, with a mouse. In a box, with a fox. On a
train, in the rain. On a boat, with a goat. Standing alone, the
signs were small, stabbing moments that needled my ear and drained me
of sleep; thirsty mosquitoes in the night. Painful slivers disguised
times, the signs
were wrapped in unjust accusations: “Your cancer is putting us
in the poor house,” and indirect insults: “What kinda
idiot doesn’t know the right way to cut an onion?” But
always tied with a bow of cruelty, shot right between my eyes: “How
long is this dyke look going to last?”
tossed the eggplant parmesan in the garbage, gutting me on a
primitive level, the sign didn’t sound loud enough to end a
marriage. Or did it?
eggplant with its gourd-shaped body and little green hat, the Weeble
Elf of the vegetable kingdom, justify the dissolving of a holy
sacrament? What would Jesus say?
was late August,
and the back-to-school specials were in full swing with Staples
running its parody of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of
the Year” ad nauseam. For teachers like me who suffer from a
manageable addiction to office products, the sound of discounted
Sharpies and multi-colored Sticky Notes makes our veins pop with
glee. Except I no longer had a school to return to, having lost my
job. Or my second home.
pull from the dredges of gloom, I made my Nana’s eggplant
recipe, knowing it would bring me close to her and the promise of
good things to come.
harvest season, Nana’s kitchen was popping with perfect little
things becoming better than themselves. Fresh basil percolated in
tomato sauce while chopped oregano waited to be whisked into a
vinaigrette. Every vibrant pepper, every succulent strawberry, every
crisp cucumber was eager to evolve into something greater, to serve a
higher purpose, rather than spend another heated moment hanging on a
vine, vulnerable to rabbits and aphids.
there was the eggplant; perched stout and proud on the kitchen
countertop, waiting to be sliced into a pile of thin circles, then
covered by a dish towel and topped with a vintage iron, a cherry on
an ice cream Sundae.
weight draws out the bitterness,” Nana explained.
easier to catch the wind than one of Nana's recipes. Spine straight,
head up, eyes focused, fingers gripped white around a pencil, I was a
notetaking marine, prepared to catch each move she made, measurable
or not, secretly fearing the day she would not be around.
more interested in conversation than direct instruction. “Put
that away and talk to me!” My notebook, an annoying house fly,
I pointed to the importance of documenting family recipes, of
creating a visible thread to tie generations, Nana wrinkled her nose
in discontent, as if I suggested stuffing her head and mounting it
over a fireplace.
a family recipe is one way to shape an identity; my children would
know all the goodness they come from,” I argued.
That’s a lot of work for an eggplant!” Laughter rippled
through Nana’s skin the same way it always did, one perfect
wrinkle at a time, a single wave in an ocean of love. “Now…tell
me what’s cooking with you.”
eyes stretched wide at the all-important parts, Nana absorbed my
stories, my hopes, my fears; her laughter, a lullaby to my heart. How
I miss her friendship.
was a time when Nick and I strummed words together until the stars
winked to sleep. We harmonized the dream of a big backyard sprinkled
with children gliding on a swing set, their giggles bouncing off the
sweet scent of bug spray and sunscreen while Nick grilled hamburgers
and I gathered twigs for roasting marshmallows. I’d wake up,
nose nestled in the nook of his neck, intoxicated by the smell of his
skin, and dream of someday feeling our baby’s breath. Now,
with our story out of dialogue, I slept diagonally in bed, Nick’s
side empty, my half filled with loneliness and the wonder of how
things might have been different without cancer.
I crawled through the dusty corners of my mind, searching for the
ratio of breadcrumbs to egg, I contemplated whether my marriage was
riddled with frost heaves or if I was Kamikaze on a death mission,
opting for fatality rather than defeat.
I wished for a big, bold, bright orange sign that I could point to,
one that would validate the dismemberment of a family. Perhaps if
Nick had an affair or was involuntarily transferred to a remote
village on the outskirts of Alaska, where children must participate
in remote learning rather than in-person instruction, I could justify
our separation. Then the couple in the family portrait above our
fireplace would stop rolling their eyes every time I questioned the
authenticity of their smiles. Or quelled my urge to draw beer goggles
around their hypocritical eyes. Instead, Nick’s tiny,
capricious bites of cruelty were angry rain spilling through fingers,
crushing my castle to mud.
his way to mow
the lawn, Nick passed through the kitchen. “What’s this?”
he asked, mouth stuffed with potato chips, hand devoured by a plastic
bag, using his chin to point to the stack of sliced eggplant crowned
with an iron.
parmesan! It’s my Nana’s recipe!” My head exploded
with pride, having added another link, another generation, to our
family legacy. The epic ballad sang of surrendering a home to the
ravages of war, of paying smugglers to squeeze a child into the
vomit-splattered corner of a boat, of a factory job that gave more
blisters than dollars, and sleepless nights of rocking a child that
would never blow out 7 birthday candles. Above all, it rang of love,
love, love, an unconditional devotion to family that ended and
commenced with me.
up with the iron?” Nick mumbled between crunches.
weight of the iron forces out the bitterness.”
sprung from Nick’s cheeks, as if I implied the eggplant would
poop diamonds from the steamer. I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s
the way my family makes eggplant parmesan.”
corner of his upper lip curled in disgust. “Well…if
that’s how you make eggplant parmesan, then I’m not
yourself,” I said, masking my disappointment with indifference.
buzzed, I pulled the casserole out of the oven and swooned over like
Julia Child presenting her Boeuf Bourguignon to a speechless audience
of French food critics: “c’est
before me, applauded my dish, their dish, the recipe
that required my hand to mix the same ingredients they did. For the
first time in forever, I felt worthy.
set the eggplant
on the kitchen countertop to cool and joined my daughters on the
swing set, their ponytails catching sunbeams in the air. In one
swift move, I hopped on a swing and pumped my legs with a force that
I thought no longer existed. Within seconds I was air bound, the wind
dancing upon my cheeks.
Mom’s swinging!” My children bubbled with glee, as if
they just saw a flying unicorn.
the glide back, I tipped my head upside down, allowing my wig to fall
to the ground and the sun to caress my big bald head, fingertips that
warmed my worries away. The girls collapsed with laughter, holding
their little bellies as they rolled in the grass.
we returned to the kitchen, grass stained and hungry, I sent them to
wash up for dinner. Soon as they left, I sensed something was wrong.
Trepidation spidered up my spine and my heart began to pitter-patter
at the pace of angry rain on a windshield. I widened my eyes, trying
to absorb more than I could see, which painted me as a crazy lady not
knowing what to fear.
casserole dish sat on a different spot, holding the scene of mob
assassination at a restaurant booth. The savaged remains of eggplant,
torn and splattered with red tomato sauce lay crumbled in the
corners, with a string of mozzarella cheese dangling on the edge of
the pan, a cigar still stuck in the mobster’s mouth.
eyeballed at the
dog with suspicion. Could he? Would he? Eat my Nana’s
casserole? Buster perked his ears and smiled with hope not guilt,
the way only dogs can do when they sense the opportunity to
capitalize on a snack because something has gone wrong.
walked into the kitchen and smirked at the confusion on my face.
told you I’m not eating that crap.”
folded inside myself, lost for words. A toxic potion of anger and
hate boiled deep inside me, ugly enough to make a witch fly from her
house, but only spilled out in tears.
Nick told me. “We’ve got plenty of casseroles. I don’t
think there’s a person in the neighborhood who hasn’t
made us something for dinner.”
not about the eggplant,” I gritted through my teeth.
let out a skeptic snarl. “Yeah, it is.”
put my Nana in the trash!” I spat, still gasping for air.
rolled his eyeballs, grumbled something about the chemo going to my
head, and left the kitchen.
trash told volumes about what had occurred: how my heart was
corkscrewed and tossed in the garbage alongside spent coffee grinds
and chicken bones. A patriarchal society chastised me for being too
sensitive; it’s only an eggplant after all, I tried to
rationalize, a plant that has nothing to do with any kind of an egg:
boiled, fried or scrambled.
ancestors, though, dusted off their ashes and straightened their
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)