Today in Church, the pastor spoke about breaking bread. The term immediately sparked a flash back to a moment of my youth nearly 20 years in the past.
The most significant relationship in my life had just come to an end. I had endured all the cliches of resilience then, so please: spare me from hearing them right now. “You will move on. There are many fish in the sea. Your best years are ahead of you.” While there would indeed be better years ahead of me & possibly more suitable life partners would cross my path, I would never achieve a relationship as serious as the one that had just ended back then. It’s been almost nineteen years now.
I was living with my parents after having graduated from college and; being of Asian-American descent, this arrangement was not nearly as shameful as it may sound. I hated my job but today was a day off. It was a sunny fall day & I loved the fall, especially on days when the sun would still shine & it it wasn’t that cold yet. I loved watching football & there were many NFL games to watch. I was living in an overgrown college boy’s dream set-up: a private room in my parent’s huge house on the 2nd floor with a balcony & private access to & from the driveway; a huge queen sized bed; my own TV; & a lava lamp & black light to boot. It was a Sunday & should have been a day of peace—a day of refuge from the job I hated; but the inactivity only aggravated my loneliness.
She was a small town beauty. Forgive me if I only refer to her as “she,” but I refuse to use her name, in part over privacy concerns. She was simple, humble, & country: which were all qualities I cherished about her–while they lasted. Sundays were particularly hard for me because I would often spend many of them with her at her parent’s house. Her mom would fix country staples like chicken & dumplings; & I’m talking “fried” chicken & dumplings–real country. Although I loved my Mom’s cooking, I relished dinners at her house because they were an opportunity for me to feast on something different. My Mom was so focused on preparing what my Dad wanted that she rarely took requests from me, which is fine. I wasn’t paying the bills. Still, it was nice finally to have some input on what went on the dinner table.
Feeling restless, I slithered out of bed & out the balcony towards the driveway. I had ordered carry out from one of the the local restaurants we would frequent. She had only recently left me; some of our traditions still felt so fresh, it still felt as if we were together on the drive there. Of course, we weren’t.
I came home through the main door this time. My Mom saw me come in. She was slaving away over the stove. She took a quick look at the bag of food I was carrying & then looked back down at the stove. Before looking up, she began her question: “What–you don’t like the food here?” By the time she had finished speaking, she had locked eyes with me again.
I was grieving. I was young & selfish. It was difficult enough for me to hold everything together for myself; to avoid running afoul of my parent’s while living in their house, to avoid calling out sick everyday, to speak to customers about their trivial concerns as if every interaction was the most important thing in my world when all I wanted to do was hide in my room & drink the pain away. Grief can make us selfish; can make us lash out at people we care about; to start fights we really don’t want to fight. Have you ever heard someone say, “Just because you’re in a mad mood doesn’t mean you have to put the rest of us in a bad mood”? Well, that’s where I was. I came close to lashing out at my mother & telling her that I just wanted something different that day. But my softer self regained control by the time I answered apologetically: “Of course I do, Mom. I . . . just didn’t know you were cooking.” I was too nice to lash out; but too ashamed to tell the truth either. The truth was, eating the chicken planks & baked potato made me feel like she was still with me.
“Oh. Okay,” my Mother conceded. “Well, I will just save yours for later, then.” Although we had made peace verbally, my Mom’s disappointment was still obvious. She felt betrayed. In my period of grief, I had taken for granted that everyone else around me could still be strong; that they wouldn’t need me to be strong & positive for them too. It was clear then that this wouldn’t be the case. I would have to hold it together, find a way to cope, hold down my job–outlive my grief–& do it all privately. I didn’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings. The pain I felt then should have been enough pain for everyone in the house.
I ate the chicken planks & baked potato, but they didn’t taste as good as I had hoped. Looking back, I’m sure it was a big disappointment for me back then. But today, I’m mostly glad I refrained from lashing out at my Mom. The pain I held inside was enough pain for one day.